WNBA Today, 07/12/2012: Speed, shooting and teamwork win the day

Sometimes basketball is an awfully simple game. If you’re quicker than the other guys, if you shoot better than the other guys, if you take better care of the damn ball – most of the time you’re going to win. Three games yesterday in the WNBA, and three times one side had greater team speed, shot the ball better, and had fewer turnovers. Guess which team won in every case?

 

San Antonio Silver Stars 77 @ Chicago Sky 68

  • It’s been ugly for Chicago lately. They started the season 7-1, then Epiphanny Prince broke her foot – and they’ve been 1-6 since. Even the one win needed a desperate fight back to beat Atlanta on the Sky’s own floor. They can’t find Sylvia Fowles enough in the post, and they’re struggling to score without Prince to bail them out. Even with the miserable seasons Washington and New York have had so far, Chicago are starting to drop perilously close to the chasing teams. That playoff spot that looked a virtual certainty a month into the season is back in doubt again.
  • San Antonio, on the other hand, have been on a tear. They’d won seven in a row coming into this game, including all three prior games of the Eastern Conference road swing that this encounter completed. They’d rather the Olympics were in October.
  • The Sky switched back to Ruth Riley in their starting lineup, after going small with Sonja Petrovic in their previous game against Indiana. This despite San Antonio being pretty small themselves with Sophia Young at the 4. San Antonio, of course, aren’t changing anything at this stage.
  • The problem with starting Riley against teams with agile power forwards, is that Fowles has to guard them while Riley takes the opposing center. So Fowles had to chase Young around, and Young took advantage with a couple of early jumpers from the perimeter. Fowles doesn’t really want to follow her out that far.
  • Meanwhile at the other end Young could relax, as her primary defensive responsibility is Riley, who does virtually nothing on the offensive end. Jayne Appel was the one exerting all her energy trying to battle Fowles in the paint.
  • Chicago ran an awful lot of pick-and-rolls and slip-screens with Fowles to try to find her in the paint early on, but it was painfully predictable. It worked once or twice when she managed to seal Appel under her, and she also drew early fouls on Appel, but it’s not like a slew of points were being produced.
  • The Sky’s turnover problems inevitably appeared again, with the desperate attempts to find Fowles often leading to giveaways.
  • Chicago received a burst of energy and perimeter scoring from Shay Murphy off their bench, although rookie Shenise Johnson provided something similar for San Antonio to balance it out. They exchanged threes in the closing seconds of the first half and the Silver Stars went in with a 37-33 lead.
  • The matchups in this game, especially in the second half,, were fascinating. Chicago, especially without Prince, are a big team. Tamera Young’s tall and long for a 2-guard, and with both Courtney Vandersloot and Ticha Penicheiro underperforming, the Sky even went without a point guard for stretches of the second half (making them even taller). Meanwhile, San Antonio often use Danielle Adams as their center, and frequently have all three of Danielle Robinson, Becky Hammon and Jia Perkins on the perimeter together. At one stage in the second half, Chicago’s de facto shooting guard – Sonja Petrovic – was the same height as San Antonio’s center – Adams.
  • So size was up against speed, and in the sport of basketball bigger is often better. But San Antonio move the ball more smoothly, they attack with greater fluidity, and they’ve simply got far more people who can shoot the rock. It felt like Sky coach Pokey Chatman was using gimmick lineups because nothing standard would work, while the attack mentality and finishing ability of Young and Robinson took the game away from Chicago in the third quarter.
  • Fowles was inordinately quiet in the second half, and Chicago were already trailing by 16 with 8 minutes remaining when Chatman sat her down. The game didn’t get much closer until a Sky run in the final two minutes, so Fowles never came back. They have to come up with better ways to utilise her. It doesn’t just mean more touches on the low block, although obviously that would be the prefered option. Put her in motion more, or even use her as a decoy rather than a stationary figure waiting for something to happen. The offense is so unbelievably predictable and lacks variation. She doesn’t have the high-post offensive game of a Tina Charles, which makes it harder to feed her, but it’s not this difficult. Even on a team with significantly fewer scorers than the Silver Stars.
  • Sometimes, they also just have to move the ball more. Part of the reason they turn the ball over so much is the absolute determination to try to feed Fowles virtually every time. San Antonio, in contrast, move the ball and look for the open man, trusting whoever it is to make the right play and take the open shot if it’s there. If Chicago did that more, Fowles might find more points simply within the rhythm of the offense, or on offensive rebounds.
  • It wasn’t San Antonio’s best performance, and they unsurprisingly got killed on the glass, but they did enough. Their teamwork and fluidity taught Chicago a lesson. Even on a day when Hammon and Adams weren’t hitting their shots, Young’s scoring and Robinson’s speed did the work instead. Even if a key scorer is cold or shut down by the defense, this team has other weapons it can go to. And while Chicago and Syl did some of the work themselves, holding Fowles to 2-9 shooting for 6 points and 7 boards is an achievement in and of itself.

 

Atlanta Dream 70 @ Seattle Storm 59

  • Yet again, the injury report had plenty of important names on it heading into this game. Ann Wauters (achilles) and Tina Thompson (knee and ankle) were both still out for Seattle, reducing them to 8 fit players (and only 2 real posts). Atlanta were once again without leader and primary offensive option Angel McCoughtry (knee). Both teams, of course, have also been missing key bigs all season, with Lauren Jackson and Erika de Souza preparing for the Olympics with their respective national teams.
  • The opening quarter was one of those periods where Seattle finished it saying “after playing like that, being down by only six isn’t so bad”. The Storm came out without much energy, and the greater speed and intensity of the Dream took them quickly in front. Sancho Lyttle, as has often been the case when McCoughtry’s been out, was leading the way.
  • The Storm were also already in foul trouble. A couple of tough calls went against them early on, but then Camille Little picked up her second foul on an obvious charge, and her third with a stupid jump right into Tiffany Hayes in the fight for a rebound. Ewelina Kobryn already had two fouls herself, and without any true backup posts behind those two, Seattle were looking very small.
  • Still, the Storm showed some impressive fight in the second quarter. They took better care of the ball, which slowed down Atlanta’s offense, and Tanisha Wright hit a couple of shots to provide a few points.
  • Meanwhile, defensively, they were making do with what they had left. Some bizarre lineups – including, briefly, the 5-10 Alysha Clark playing center – just about survived through activity and hard work. Also, Atlanta without de Souza don’t really have anyone who wants to post up and score on the low block, which helped. Seattle trailed only 36-32 at halftime.
  • After her offensive explosion against Phoenix a couple of nights earlier, Sue Bird had been very quiet in this game, but it was the fans watching Bird who went silent early in the third quarter when she looked to have hurt her left knee. Already carrying a hip injury, the very last thing Seattle needed was to see Bird pick up some other ailment. Fortunately, although she hobbled back to the locker room, it wasn’t long until she reappeared and re-entered the game.
  • Atlanta never quite turned this game into a blowout, but they were comfortably in charge for essentially the entire second half. Their speed and length defensively; their greater ability to attack off the dribble through Lindsey Harding, Lyttle and Hayes; their superior size and resultant rebounding – it all kept them a consistent 8 or 10 points clear.
  • Especially considering their lack of size, Seattle did a solid job defensively. Even in a game played at the Storm’s pace, holding a team to 70 points is fairly reasonable. But they never had the offense to threaten the Dream. Little and Kobryn grew more tentative after all those early fouls, which restricted any interior scoring they might’ve had. Bird never got involved offensively (the defense of Armintie Price and Harding is rather more advanced than what she saw from the Mercury on Sunday). So Seattle could never even string enough points together to bring their crowd into the game. The kids wanted to cheer and shout, but there wasn’t much to scream about.
  • The bright points for the Storm within the loss were the performances of their bit-part players. Clark and Shekinna Stricklen both took the opportunity to produce more than we’ve seen from them before in the WNBA. Clark was 3-7 for 7 points and 3 boards, while fighting it out with much bigger players most of the afternoon. Stricklen was 6-9 for 16 points and 9 boards, showing what she’s capable of even at this level. Clark’s still fighting to stay in the league, but as the #2 overall pick Stricklen’s expected to offer performances like this. Now they need to see them happen more often than once in a blue moon.
  • Considering they sometimes look awful without McCoughtry, it was a strong performance from Atlanta. Lyttle was 10-19 for 21 points, taking on the scoring load once again (although still firing away from outside far too much). Harding joined in, knocking down several big shots from outside to maintain the Dream’s advantage whenever Seattle showed any inkling of making a comeback. You really should beat a team missing three of their top four post players, but the Dream were hardly at full strength themselves. so they’ll be delighted to have sent all those kids home miserable.

 

Washington Mystics 73 @ Connecticut Sun 85

  • This was the second half of a home-and-home after Connecticut won 77-70 the previous night. Washington made a change at point guard, bringing in Jasmine Thomas for Shannon Bobbitt, presumably in the search for someone who’d take better care of the ball, even if she doesn’t break down the defense as much. Or just because Trudi Lacey pulled a name out of a hat – who knows?
  • One mildly interesting aspect to Connecticut’s defense on Washington which I forgot to mention yesterday – most of the time Tina Charles takes Crystal Langhorne, while Asjha Jones defends Michelle Snow. In some ways that seems the wrong way round – center on power forward, power forward on center – but it makes sense with how they play. Langhorne’s the low-post scorer most of the time, so the primary low-post defender takes her on.
  • I go to notes like that one when games are desperately tedious. Connecticut are just better than Washington. Overall they have better players, but they’re also far better coached, better organised, and a much more collective team. Plus we all watched this game the day before, and much of it went exactly the same way. Charles and Jones led the Sun’s scoring early on while they established a lead; then Connecticut relaxed too much and Washington came back into it in the second quarter. The Sun led only 40-33 at halftime
  • Lacey’s an endlessly reactionary coach. Admittedly, a lot of coaches would constantly be looking for answers when their team’s losing nearly every game, but it seems like every time she spots a hole – Bobbitt turning the ball over too much, Snow being unable to guard Charles, Monique Currie doing… something – she tries to jump in and fix it. There’s no continuity within the team, no cohesion or structure, and everyone frequently looks frustrated. It’s often painful to watch.
  • For whatever reason, Natasha Lacy and Noelle Quinn started the second half over Thomas and Currie. Why Currie had played only 4 minutes in the first half, your guess is as good as mine.
  • Connecticut spent the second half toying with the Mystics, easing out to double-digit leads, letting them close enough to think they might get back in it, then shutting the door again. Charles and Jones did most of the work offensively as usual, with the perimeter players chipping in with an occasional bucket.
  • The final minutes were absolutely interminable, with Washington continuing to foul for no apparent reason when the game was well out of reach. Lacey’s a law unto herself at times.
  • Apologies for the lack of real game coverage here – this was just such a nothing contest. The better team won without exerting themselves unduly; Langhorne was Washington’s best player yet again; Lacey made coaching moves no one could understand; and Connecticut’s scoring was led yet again by Charles, Jones and Kara Lawson. Everything went just as you’d expect.
  • As I said in a tweet just as the buzzer finally sounded to end this game: it’s time to stop dancing around the issue – Lacey needs to go. This team is a mess, despite some reasonable talent. They wouldn’t be great under anyone, but they should be better than this. Significantly better. The only question left is whether the Mystics brass pull the trigger over the Olympic break, or ask everyone to stick this out through the 16 games they have left after London.

 

Notes

For those interested in the Olympic warm-up tournament between Great Britain, Australia, France and Angola being held this Friday/Saturday/Sunday, live webcasts can be found here. At time of writing, it was unsure whether it’ll be just the GB games or all six that will be broadcast, but the action starts tomorrow either way.

 

Upcoming Games

Today (Thursday July 12th):

Tulsa @ Minnesota, 1pm ET

Los Angeles @ Indiana, 7pm ET

—–

Tomorrow (Friday July 13th):

Washington @ New York, 11am ET

Atlanta @ San Antonio, 8pm ET

Connecticut @ Chicago, 8.30pm ET

Seattle @ Phoenix, 10pm ET

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