WNBA Today, 07/11/2012: Early Starts, Same Results

Apologies for this piece being posted after subsequent games have taken place, but all these Camp Day games are throwing my schedule out of whack. Everything would be fine if it weren’t for those meddling kids. Anyway, four games yesterday, all witnessed by hordes of screaming children. And the same four teams won that you would’ve expected to win in front of the standard bunch of adults and families. So let’s get to it, and I promise not to whine too much about the high-pitched background noise prevalent throughout every game.

 

Connecticut Sun 77 @ Washington Mystics 70

  • Lineups as expected for both teams. Mike Thibault’s rotation is growing increasingly short, however – both Danielle McCray and Kelsey Griffin failed to log a single second of court time in this game, having been pushed out by other players performing better in their positions.
  • Matee Ajavon got off to a nice start for Washington, being aggressive offensively and knocking down perimeter shots. Mystics GM/head coach Trudi Lacey has been jerking her minutes around lately (and this game was no different), so maybe Matee felt she better get those shots off while she had the chance.
  • After that early Ajavon burst, Connecticut dominated the first quarter. Asjha Jones and Tina Charles were both far too good for Washington in the paint, and while the Mystics were grabbing multiple offensive rebounds, it only led to extra misses. The Sun lead was as high as 14 points.
  • Connecticut relaxed too much over the rest of the half, and allowed themselves to be dragged down to Washington’s level. Charles spending several minutes resting on the bench stalled their momentum as well.
  • Crystal Langhorne, looking only semi-healthy thanks to the ankle she sprained a few games ago, got involved offensively late in the half, and helped Washington hang around. They trailed just 34-30 at halftime despite being largely outplayed – thanks mostly to a 12-0 advantage on the offensive glass (led by Michelle Snow with 6).
  • Without a great deal to fix at halftime besides “Stop giving up offensive rebounds!”, Connecticut didn’t come out with their typical energy to open the second half, and a Washington burst actually took them in front. Even while watching it happen, it seemed hard to believe that it would last.
  • Now time for an apology. Right at the start of the season, I said a couple of times that there was a huge and noticeable drop-off whenever Connecticut had to take Jones or Charles off the floor. As the season’s progressed, Mistie Mims has settled in and proven herself a more-than-adequate backup post. Sorry, Mistie. It’s her level of performance that has left Kelsey Griffin glued to the bench, as Thibault’s ended up with essentially a three-player post rotation.
  • Mims was key to Connecticut turning this game back in their favour. She came in and offered extra energy, interior scoring, hustle plays, a nice feed to Charles for a layup and some solid defense. When Thibault brought Jones back into the game for the closing minutes, it felt like she scarcely deserved to be out there ahead of her backup.
  • Largely thanks to Langhorne, Monique Currie, and one of Snow’s better offensive games, Washington were still right in this game down the stretch. Some typically nonsensical coaching from Lacey didn’t help their chances. With a minute left, down six points, she killed her own team’s possession with a timeout when they were already in position to attack (Ajavon was literally on her way to the rim when the timeout was granted). Lacey’s done that countless times this year, and considering how bad her team usually is out of those timeouts, you’d think she would’ve learned to stay out of the way.
  • Noelle Quinn eventually cut the gap to 4 (the play drawn up in that timeout led to a forced Snow jumper over Jones that fortunately dropped to Ajavon). Trailing by 4 points with 33.7 seconds left, pretty much everyone watching was expecting Washington to foul to extend the game. Lacey just stood there on the sidelines with her arms folded, saying and doing absolutely nothing. Jasmine Thomas eventually took it upon herself to foul with 20 seconds left on the clock. Whether Lacey wanted her to or not, I have no idea. I doubt Lacey knows either.
  • After Kara Lawson made both foul shots for a six-point lead, Lacey inserted Natalie Novosel for the first time all day, just because she apparently felt the need to make one last fatuous coaching move. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work out, and Connecticut held on.
  • The main positive thing I can say about this Washington team is that they continue to surprise me. Every time I think they’ve quit – like with the pathetic loss to Tulsa on Sunday – they show up and keep fighting. At this point, I have to believe it’s a case of personal pride, more than belief in their coach. If anyone in a position above Lacey is actually watching these games they must be considering a change by now. This isn’t working, and it hasn’t been for a while.
  • Mike Thibault won’t be happy about his team getting murdered on the glass (38-23 overall, 15-3 on the offensive end), but the Sun shot well, worked hard, and eventually pulled it out. Lawson led the scoring with 17 points, but Charles, as ever, was the centerpiece it all revolved around. Strong performances from Mims and Tan White off the bench gave Connecticut a little more depth offensively than they’ve had in several games of late.

 

New York Liberty 82 @ Indiana Fever 84

  • With Plenette Pierson, Kia Vaughn and DeMya Walker all out through injury, New York had one of the weakest benches in recent WNBA memory for this game. Nicole Powell had to step in to start at power forward, leaving rookie center Kelley Cain, little-used second-year wing Alex Montgomery, and recent seven-day contract signee Katelan Redmon as the only backups. It looked like being a long afternoon for the Liberty inside.
  • Indiana were missing just one player (that makes them almost lucky in current WNBA terms), with backup guard Erin Phillips missing due to concussion.
  • On the bright side for New York’s post rotation, with Indiana playing Tamika Catchings at power forward this year, Powell wasn’t as overmatched as she might’ve been. They’ve faced each other many, many times before at the small forward spot, so it was nothing new for Powell to have to try to handle Catch.
  • However, New York’s star guard Cappie Pondexter didn’t make things any easier on the Liberty by picking up two fouls after barely two minutes of action. A team already short on bodies had their best player sat on the bench for the vast majority of the first quarter.
  • Indiana were finding an array of open perimeter jump shots in the early stages of this game. You couldn’t really blame them for taking them – you’re supposed to shoot when you’re that open. But it kept them away from attacking the weakness of the Liberty in the post. Any foul trouble for their miniscule post rotation would’ve left New York completely screwed, but the Fever seemed happy taking most of their shots from outside.
  • Things got more difficult for Indiana early in the second quarter, when Briann January suffered a sprained left ankle. Already missing Phillips, it left the Fever without a recognised point guard, forcing Jeanette Pohlen and Katie Douglas to cover the spot as best they could. Typically, Douglas and Catchings do so much of the ballhandling and distribution for this team that you’d think they’d be able to cope, but they struggled to avoid turnovers for a couple of minutes and let New York shoot themselves back into the game.
  • Catchings helped negate some of the ballhandling issues by simply putting her head down and driving to the cup late in the half. Finally there was a little offense that wasn’t just perimeter jumpers, and Indiana went in at the half up 52-43. They might not have attacked the paint as much as they should have, but they still shot 61% in the half. Those open shots were going in.
  • At halftime, New York had 22 points in the paint; by the end of the game that had risen to just 24. And yet, the Liberty made a comeback. Not for the first time this season, Indiana contrived a way to give up a seemingly comfortable lead and allow their opponent back into the game.
  • They didn’t do it all on their own. When New York had the ball, this was Cappie’s World and we were just living in it. Pondexter hit a series of increasingly difficult and ridiculous jumpers in the second half, and it was largely all her own work (all but one of them was unassisted). It was the purest exhibition of Pondexter’s scoring ability that we’ve seen all year, and Indiana couldn’t stop her. They tried a variety of defenders, even going back to a ‘big’ lineup at one stage so that Catchings and Douglas could switch onto her whenever possible, and Cappie just kept going. Occasionally Essence Carson took a turn, but it was largely just a matter of watching to see whether Pondexter could carry them over the line.
  • It nearly worked. A dumb technical on January, who’d returned late in the third quarter despite the ankle sprain, let Pondexter give New York their first lead since the opening minutes at 74-73 with 4 minutes remaining.
  • Indiana even got desperate enough to go to a zone late in the fourth, something they’ve barely used this season, and both Leilani Mitchell and Pondexter drilled threes right over the top of it. It didn’t look like Indiana had spent much time practicing that defense.
  • For the thousandth time, it was Catchings who helped drag Indiana out of the fire. Just as New York had taken a four-point lead and seemed to be taking control, she nailed a huge three over Montgomery. After a rare Pondexter miss, Catchings sank another triple over Powell. Any kid in the building who wasn’t already a Tamika Catchings fan was quickly learning whose jersey they needed to go home and ask mom to buy.
  • After a Douglas three gave Indiana the lead inside the final minute, Pondexter stepped right up at the other end with a three of her own to tie it again. With 17 seconds left and a short shot clock, the Fever got away with a terrible inbounds pass from Douglas (because you’re allowed to inbound to the backcourt in last-minute situations, so the violation wasn’t an issue). It still forced January to rescue the ball and rush up a shot which didn’t go in, only for Catchings to come steaming in from the weak side for the offensive rebound. Mitchell made a silly mistake of reaching in on Catchings after she’d corralled the ball, drawing a whistle and sending Catch to the free throw line. She calmly sank both, and Indiana were back up by two with only 8 seconds remaining.
  • Ludicrously, LiveAccess viewers never saw most of the final possession. We were still watching a graphic while it took place, and Carson missed a shot in the lane. Kara Braxton was on the floor after nearly grabbing the offensive board when pictures reappeared, as Indiana came away with the ball. They played keep-away and ran out the clock, holding on for the win. I’d love to be able to tell you why Pondexter didn’t touch the ball on that final play, but I can’t.
  • Indiana probably should’ve won this game more comfortably. They shot 53% from the floor, and 9-18 from three-point range. Catchings and Douglas combined to shoot 50% for 43 points, far better than they’ve managed in several recent games. But getting beaten 33-26 on the glass, and giving up 13 offensive boards, to a Liberty team missing three key post players, is a little embarrassing. They need to crash the glass better as a team, because Tammy Sutton-Brown and Jessica Davenport aren’t good enough on their own at the center spot, and Catchings can only do so much from the 4. They won’t shoot well enough to outscore teams every night.
  • Of course, they won’t run into superstars performing as Pondexter did every night either. She finished the game 13-19 for 33 points and 5 assists, simply putting the team on her back and saying “follow me” in the second half. And came desperately close to pulling it off. After the Olympics gives them time to recover, hopefully New York will have some of their post rotation back. Otherwise, it’d probably take outings like this one from Pondexter for the Liberty to have any shot at winning games.

 

Minnesota Lynx 107 @ Tulsa Shock 86

  • It’s not quite as true as it used to be, but when you need to break a losing streak there aren’t many better options in the WNBA than heading out to play the Tulsa Shock. As with New York, Minnesota were short of three post players – Rebekkah Brunson, Devereaux Peters and Jessica Adair – due to injury. But at least with Tulsa as their opponents, it was unlikely that the lack of size would be a huge factor. Maya Moore slid over to power forward to start the game, with Monica Wright coming in on the perimeter.
  • Tulsa kept the same starting five from their previous game.
  • Offensively, having Moore at the 4 is usually an advantage. Like Catchings in Indiana, she’s quicker and more agile than most opposing power forwards, and can use that edge along with her shooting range to increase the scoring threat. The question’s always been whether Moore can survive on the defensive end. Against a team starting Glory Johnson and Kayla Pedersen in the post, it wasn’t a big issue. Pedersen isn’t a big offensive threat. But Moore’s still getting lost at times, not knowing where she’s supposed to rotate to or help. The 3 (mostly wing) and the 4 (mostly post) carry significantly different responsibilities in most pro systems.
  • The first half was largely pretty even, with a couple of small leads for Tulsa in the first quarter quickly snuffed out. For Minnesota, Lindsay Whalen was doing an impressive job of attacking the basket when she wasn’t distributing to the other Lynx scorers, while players like Moore and Seimone Augustus were knocking down shots far better than they have in recent games.
  • Courtney Paris had a brief first half appearance, and quickly illustrated why she hasn’t yet established herself in this league. Minnesota instantly put her in pick-and-rolls at the top of the arc, and either through comprehensively beating her or forcing help to come over, ended up with wide open shots. She can score inside and she’s a natural rebounder, but defense and mobility is what’s keeping Paris off WNBA floors.
  • Minnesota shot an outrageous 65% in the first half, and still only led 51-46 at the break. With limited post options for the Lynx to protect the paint, and players like Ivory Latta and Roneeka Hodges firing in threes from the perimeter, Tulsa were hanging around.
  • It looked like the Lynx were taking control early in the third quarter, as some lax passing and missed jumpers from the Shock allowed Minnesota to stretch out to a double-digit lead. Then Latta intervened once again. Little Ivory has become a key scorer for this Shock team, and while Temeka Johnson was having a very quiet game, Latta was both raining in threes and driving to the rim. She quickly shot Tulsa back into contention, and her layup to start the fourth quarter cut the score to 76-75.
  • It was 79-75 when Latta sat down for a brief rest; 92-77 and essentially over when she came back three minutes later. The Lynx finally killed the game off in that stretch, with perimeter bombs from Candice Wiggins and a couple of buckets from Taj McWilliams-Franklin doing most of the damage. When a team scores at an insanely high percentage, eventually it’s going to wear you down. Minnesota rarely played defense as they’d like to for most of the afternoon, but their offense was back in prime form and won the day.
  • The Lynx set a new WNBA record by shooting 69.5% from the field (41-59) for the game. Wiggins (8-12 for 25 points), Moore (8-12 for 24) and Augustus (7-10 for 17) led the way, as a team effort picked the Shock apart. It never felt like they were just rolling up score after score – partly because Tulsa’s own offense was working pretty well – but those are still some very impressive numbers. Outside of Erin Thorn, who never took a shot, Minnesota’s worst scorer on the day was Monica Wright, who went 3-6 for 6 points.
  • Latta was the star for Tulsa, shooting 10-14 for 25 points, with Roneeka Hodges showing Shock fans what she can produce from long-range as well. They had the misfortune of running into an angry Lynx team who desperately needed a win and shot out every light they could find. They get another chance to face the reigning champs back in Minnesota on Thursday afternoon.

 

Los Angeles Sparks 90 @ Phoenix Mercury 71

  • The lineups were as expected – usual players available, same group of barely-walking wounded.
  • LA’s defense has been better of late. They’ve gone back to switching at every feasible opportunity, but they look a little more cohesive and sensible about when they can switch and when they have to make every effort to stick to their assignment.
  • Not that defense is a big issue against this current Mercury squad. They’re pretty much down to DeWanna Bonner, Samantha Prahalis and Charde Houston as scoring options, and none of them have been particularly efficient lately.
  • The situation got even worse for Phoenix early in the second quarter, when Houston hurt herself on a drive against Nneka Ogwumike. She stayed down in pain, with what looked like a left knee injury. It didn’t appear particularly serious, but as we know by now, if you pick up an injury and you play for the Mercury – any injury – you stop playing. Often for quite some time. So it was the last we saw of Houston for the rest of the night.
  • Phoenix have done reasonably well on the glass lately, with youngsters Krystal Thomas and Avery Warley giving them a physical presence inside, but they were struggling with LA’s athleticism. Candace Parker and Ogwumike were all over the offensive boards in the first half, although their stats were bolstered by the number of times they tried to tip the ball in and failed, only to immediately grab another rebound.
  • The score stayed reasonably close for most of the first half, with an early LA lead cut back while Parker and Kristi Toliver were resting. Andrea Riley hasn’t taken long to remind Sparks fans why they were happy to get rid of her the first time.
  • With four minutes left in the half, trailing by only two points, Phoenix had a possession which included four offensive boards – but five missed shot attempts. The Mercury immediately gave up an easy layup to Parker in transition, and then two more wide open layups on the following possessions. They basically stopped playing anything even remotely resembling defense for a couple of minutes, and LA’s lead was up to 10. The Sparks led 44-36 at the break.
  • The highlights of the second half for Mercury fans were a couple of nice, quick moves by Thomas on the low block, which made superstar Parker look silly while trying to defend her. But that was about it. In terms of the players who are currently healthy, this Mercury squad might be the least talented team in the league. They’ll fight, but as we’ve all been saying with Tulsa over recent years, it’s hard to bridge the basic gap in player talent.
  • Missed jump shots by Phoenix, and then a series of poor turnovers, allowed the Sparks to push a 10-point lead closer to 15 late in the third quarter, and that virtually killed off the game. Back when Taurasi and Taylor were on the floor, you might’ve worried about a storming Mercury comeback; with this group, it’s highly unlikely.
  • On the bright side, they did get another nice offensive cameo appearance from recent pickup Lynetta Kizer, who still looks far more useful than Chante Black (a player Tulsa kept, while cutting Kizer). She’s got a little range, and some scoring talent, and may find a place in Phoenix in future seasons.
  • The Sparks took care of this game without ever particularly exerting themselves. They didn’t need to. Parker totalled 22 points and 14 boards without moving beyond second gear, while Toliver finished 7-13 for 19 points. They’ll be wishing all the games could be this comfortable, but it’s still their fourth win in a row (and the last three have been by an average of nearly 20 points).
  • Random note: there were 45 combined offensive rebounds in this game, 23 for Phoenix and 22 for LA. That’s insane, and a new WNBA record by some distance.

 

Notes

A tweet from Katelan Redmon’s college coach tonight suggests that she’s been re-signed to another seven-day deal by New York. So there’ll presumably be no extra post help arriving for their final game in Washington on Friday.

 

Upcoming Games

Today (Wednesday July 11th):

San Antonio @ Chicago, 12.30pm ET

Atlanta @ Seattle, 3pm ET

Washington @ Connecticut, 7pm ET

—–

Tomorrow (Thursday July 12th):

Tulsa @ Minnesota, 1pm ET

Los Angeles @ Indiana, 7pm ET

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