It was a unusual schedule for the WNBA yesterday. We had one game on so early that most people with ‘normal’ jobs couldn’t watch it; one game on national TV that everyone was petrified would be so excruciating that the league would lose fans rather than gain them; and one that was blacked out everywhere and impossible to watch until it was over. But as ever, WNBAlien is here to meet your needs, and cover all the action, Bullet Point Breakdown-style.
- It was the same starting five as usual for Indiana, with Shavonte Zellous starting despite the neck strain that forced her out early in Saturday’s game against Tulsa.
- For the Dream, Ketia Swanier started once again at point guard, ahead of Lindsey Harding. If Harding’s fit to play, despite the ankle injury she suffered last week, it’s hard to understand the rationale behind bringing her off the bench. But it’s often hard to understand what’s going on in Marynell Meadors’s head.
- The first quarter was Indiana’s. Tamika Catchings picked up two quick fouls (the first was cheap, the second could easily have been a charge on Angel McCoughtry instead), but Erlana Larkins came off the bench and filled the gap smoothly. McCoughtry was very quiet early on, and with the Fever taking good care of the ball Atlanta couldn’t get out on the break, leaving their offense utterly anaemic. So the Fever led 18-12 at the end of the first.
- And that, frankly, was as good as it got for Indiana for the rest of the day. The momentum of the game swung entirely in Atlanta’s favour in the second period. A couple of quick shots from the Fever created long rebounds that let the Dream stretch their legs, a couple of sloppy passes did the same, and suddenly Atlanta were off and running.
- Meanwhile, Indiana’s penetration had completely disappeared, and the only shots they were throwing up were perimeter jumpers, that wouldn’t fall. They shot 1-15 as a team in the second quarter.
- That same 10 minutes also represented Cathrine Kraayeveld’s best stretch so far as a member of the Atlanta Dream. She barely played in their game against New York at the weekend, but for whatever reason Meadors threw her out there to start the second quarter of this one. Briefly, she was the small forward in a ‘big’ lineup that directly contrasted with Indiana’s ‘small’ group featuring Catchings at power forward. Mostly, Kraayeveld was the 4, directly up against Catchings. She more than held her own, knocking down a three, crashing the boards, playing her part in the defensive effort that kept Indiana out of the paint, and even going by Catchings for a short jumper in the lane. Maybe that’ll earn her a few more minutes in future games.
- Harding also played the entire second quarter. Not that I’m suggesting she should’ve started the game in the first place or anything, of course. Atlanta won the period 25-8, and took a 37-26 lead in at the break.
- The Fever never really got going all afternoon, and it wasn’t much of a contest in the second half. They couldn’t penetrate to score at the rim, and Atlanta were closing out well to make any outside efforts difficult. Indiana trailed by as much as 19, and it was a bunch of reserves who somehow got them back within 8 points inside the final minute. Meadors was briefly a little worried – McCoughtry was sent back out to make sure the Dream held on – but there was never any serious danger.
- Both of these head coaches confuse me at times. I don’t pretend to know their squads better than they do, but Meadors seems to almost pick which players to use on any given day at random (beyond the blindingly obvious ones). And the Swanier-over-Harding thing is weird too. Nonetheless, it worked out nicely in this game, in front of all the screaming kids. It was their first win in three tries against Indiana this season, keeping them alive in the season series (and resultant tiebreaker). McCoughtry led the scoring with 22 points, while Sancho Lyttle was 7-19 for 17 as her primary sidekick (a bunch of those midrange jumpers actually went in this time), and several others chipped in. The defense and Indiana’s own ineptitude did most of the work.
- In Lin Dunn’s case, she seems to have given up on her reserves too easily. The strength of this Fever squad in the early weeks of the season was that support for the stars could come from anywhere. Now she often seems to revert to the old system of relying on the key players and rarely looking down her bench for help. Amazingly, not a single Fever player scored in double-digits in this game, and many of the reserves only got any real opportunity in garbage time at the end. It’d be nice to see Dunn go back to playing 10 or even 11 players, then picking and choosing which ones are working on that particular day – instead of using about 7, and only going to the remaining options if she’s pushed to the brink of absolute desperation.
- As a lifelong fan of pesky point guards, a mention should go to Harding for two superb defensive plays during this game. Both came as opposing players drove right at her. Instead of doing the standard thing these days of trying to step in front, flop, and hope for a charge call, Harding backed up, timed her jump perfectly, and blocked the shots as Erin Phillips and Briann January went in for layups. On the first occasion, Harding even managed to recover the loose ball and save it to a teammate before falling out of bounds.
- And don’t forget, Harding’s doing all that on a bum ankle that for some reason is keeping her out of the starting lineup.
- The starting lineups were the same groups we’ve come to expect – the same fives that started two days earlier when these teams met in Seattle. So Washington head coach/GM Trudi Lacey kept faith with the Jasmine Thomas/Matee Ajavon/Noelle Quinn perimeter that hasn’t been working at all in recent games.
- The Storm had learned from the fact that Crystal Langhorne scored 21 points against them on Sunday – they were double and triple-teaming Lang every time the ball went anywhere near her.
- It was a pretty excruciating first half to watch (much like most of Sunday’s matchup). Washington’s offense, if you can call it that, couldn’t create anything at all. There was barely any ball movement, little movement of the players themselves off the ball, so they went nowhere. The only occasions they managed anything was when Shannon Bobbitt or Natasha Lacy came off the bench and showed a little attacking intent.
- Seattle were a little better, although with the stress on little. They ran pick-and-rolls and slip screens just well enough to create some points for posts Ann Wauters and Ewelina Kobryn, and Sue Bird’s jump shot really does seem to have returned from Siberia (or wherever it was she’d left it). Combined with their defense and Washington’s general patheticness, Seattle held a 32-26 lead at halftime. It probably should have been bigger.
- Some of Washington’s transition defense in the first half was so lazy and half-hearted that it gave the impression that this team was finally quitting on Lacey. It’s somewhat shocking that they haven’t given up performing for her already. Maybe the reason Lacy and Bobbitt were their best players is that those two haven’t been in D.C. as long as some of the others – they haven’t had time to lose heart to the same extent.
- Based on what ESPN2 showed us, Lacey’s halftime speech seemed more likely to put her squad to sleep than inspire them to recovery, but maybe there was something fantastic that the Worldwide Leader cut out. She sent out Lacy, Bobbitt, Monique Currie and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton to join Langhorne at the start of the second half, showing precisely what she thought of how most of her starters had played. The new group responded, played with more energy and heart than we’d seen at any stage in the first 20 minutes, and tied the game up midway through the third quarter.
- Washington also seemed to realise – finally – that attacking Wauters with high pick-and-rolls might be a good idea. It only took them 60 minutes of basketball to work that out.
- As mentioned in previous articles, the Storm have a (recent) history of poor performances on the road, and they were in danger of slipping towards another one. They were playing down to Washington’s level. Fortunately, they came up with big shots in the third quarter which allowed them to survive a period of largely sloppy basketball. Bird, Smith and Wauters all hit threes in quick succession in the middle of the third, and they were important buckets to stem the tide.
- A late third-quarter burst from the Storm re-established their superiority. They threw in some zone defense to confuse the Mystics (it doesn’t usually take much) and hide their centers, played with a little more intensity for a couple of minutes, and Seattle were back up by 8 before the period was finished.
- The fourth quarter was a slow grind, with lots of whistles dragging the pace down even further. Despite all the attention Seattle had paid her all night, Langhorne was still somehow picking up her points on breakdowns, offensive boards and basic hustle plays. But the Mystics could never quite get back within threatening range. 6 points was about as low as the gap ever dropped in the final stages.
- Sue Bird pulled out her trademark killer instinct, hitting two huge shots down the stretch, the second an off-balance 18-footer that was verging on the ridiculous. Besides that, all the Storm’s work was being done at the free throw line, and 15-20 at the line in the fourth quarter proved enough.
- Maybe second-half performances like this one are going to be enough to keep Lacey in a job. Maybe the Mystics ownership wants to be in the lottery this year anyway, so just continuing to lose is good enough to keep her there. This is a truly pitiful Mystics team at times, and you have to feel sorry for their remaining fans. But at least they showed some heart in the second half, even if they never showed all that much quality (or organisation, or intelligence). Langhorne finished 7-11 for 20 points and 10 boards, despite being the central focus of all the Storm’s defense.
- For Seattle, well, at least they won. That’s the main thing. It adds up to a five-game winning streak, and a road victory – both of which are rare these days. But it was an ugly, scrappy game, and they needed all of Bird’s 9-14 for 25 points to drag them there. Wauters (5-9 for 14) and Kobryn (4-6 for 9) were the highest scoring extras, but most of that came in the opening stages. Sill, winning ugly and winning pretty both count one in the win-column, and with tougher opponents to come on this roadtrip it’s a good start.
- And the real Sue ‘Die Bitches’ Bird can take you a long way on her own.
- ‘Watching’ this one via box score and play-by-play before getting to see the action was interesting. But the Sparks got their asses handed to them whichever way you took in the game.
- Same starters everyone expected, same injuries to Anosike, Hoffman, Dorrell and Lacy taking both teams down to nine that we already knew about.
- I don’t dislike Kristi Toliver and her game anywhere near as much as some aggravated WNBA followers, but she’s an incredibly frustrating talent. She really is willing to pass a lot of the time – despite being a natural scorer asked primarily to play the point this year – but she never wants to make the simple pass. How often do you see Sue Bird or Lindsay Whalen making highlight-reel passes that you’d see in Globetrotter games or And-1 Mixtapes? Very, very rarely. Toliver tries too many one-handed bounce passes through traffic, or eye-of-the-needle look away feeds. Or she tries to make a pinpoint pass when there’s no real lane available. Sometimes the point guard’s job is just to move the ball, keep everything flowing, and keep everyone involved. That stuff doesn’t come easily to her at all. ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid!’, as an old coach of mine would’ve said.
- This game started to go away from the Sparks as early as the first quarter. Tulsa were more energetic and more active from the start, with Glory Johnson providing a real physical presence in the paint, especially defensively.
- The most noticeable difference between the teams in the first half was basic team speed. Every time the Sparks would brick a jumper, or give the ball up on a turnover (and there were lots of those), the Shock were instantly flying towards the other end of the floor. More often than not, it resulted in either a layup, or an easy pullup jumper from 10 feet. They were constantly beating LA down the floor.
- Watching the boxscore, I was expecting to see a first half where the Sparks cold barely get the ball over halfcourt, succumbing to Tulsa’s fullcourt pressure. LA had an extraordinary 16 turnovers for 21 Tulsa points in the first half, and the Shock had 22 fastbreak points. But most of the giveaways weren’t due to fullcourt pressure. They were in halfcourt sets, where LA couldn’t move the ball, couldn’t execute simple sets efficiently, and couldn’t handle the ball.
- Candace Parker had a nightmare, annoyed constantly by Glory Johnson’s presence, and by the general progression of the game. She didn’t help herself by trying to do too much from the perimeter, which primarily resulted in turnovers or long jumpers. Candace is a much better player when she does most of her work in the paint, but even she seems frequently to forget this. LA’s lack of reliable ballhandlers and distributors somewhat presses her into service further away from the rim, but a lot of this is just how she plays. And it tends to get worse when the game isn’t going her way.
- So with guards Riquna Williams and Ivory Latta doing most of the scoring – and largely on layups and high-percentage twos, not the barrage of threes we’ve seen in many Shock games this year – Tulsa had a 48-25 advantage at halftime. Supposedly the second-best team in the West was getting absolutely taken apart by the minnows from Tulsa.
- The Sparks showed a little life in the second half. They pulled within 13 points a couple of times, but thanks to defensive breakdowns and Tulsa shot-making, never got any closer. Parker played as many minutes as I did in the fourth quarter, and the 16-point margin at the final buzzer flattered LA.
- Glory Johnson had a generally excellent game, but two controversial moments should at least be mentioned. She picked up a flagrant foul early in the second half for a push on Nneka Ogwumike, which seemed a little harsh to me (she didn’t want to give up an inch of position, which is precisely what made her so effective against Parker and Ogwumike all night). Then there was a technical foul a couple of minutes later for pushing the ball into Ogwumike’s face, which barely even looked intentional to me. Whether she deserved the calls or not, Tulsa coach Gary Kloppenburg won’t mind these plays at all. Johnson’s got that little bit of nasty in her game that every team needs from somewhere. As long as she keeps it under control, it’s an asset.
- Part of this blowout win came down to simply making shots – players like Amber Holt and Chante Black won’t usually be quite so efficient. Some of it came down to LA’s issues. But much of it showed the qualities that this Shock squad does possess. They’re quick, and annoying, and they’ve got a lot of heart. They’re still lacking in legitimate size, and the Latta/Williams pair won’t be 20-40 for 48 points every night, but they’ll put a scare into a lot of teams this year. And when you beat up on a team this badly in the first three quarters, you don’t even need to know how to close out a game. It’ll close out itself.
- The main hope for LA to come from this game is that the players will have been sufficiently embarrassed by the performance to respond to it. The defense was miserable at times, including the simple act of turning around and running back down the floor when your team loses possession. Offensively, they need to come up with some new ideas. More ball movement, more cutting, more concepts directed towards finding Parker, Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender in the post – it’s fairly basic stuff. The hot start to the season may have given this team a false sense of its own quality. They need to realise that it’s going to take some serious effort and improvement if they want to keep winning games.
In a slightly surprising move, Seattle decided to cut Victoria Dunlap rather than Alysha Clark in preparation for the signing of Svetlana Abrosimova (which we all know is coming, but isn’t official yet). Dunlap’s had issues with concussions, so the Storm decided to keep the healthier player. The mid-point of the season – where all contracts become guaranteed for the year – is coming up in early July, so there’s still time to cut Clark and add someone else (including, potentially, a re-signed Dunlap). Abrosimova is already in Seattle, and should be a Storm player again shortly.
Chicago waived Sydney Carter after just one game. They were required to, because Ticha Penicheiro finally returned from the injury which had kept her out since the first game of the season, so the hardship exception used to add Carter was no longer valid. Carter also got taken apart by Lindsay Whalen and Candice Wiggins in her one appearance, but she’s hardly the first person that’s suffered that fate.
Today (Wednesday June 27th):
Indiana @ Chicago, 12.30pm ET
Phoenix @ Minnesota, 8pm ET
Tomorrow (Thursday June 28th):
Los Angeles @ San Antonio, 12.30pm ET