As a break from the previews, here’s the very first installment of the regular daily coverage. I’m making a concession to the fact that most of my readers are American and going with the silly US way of writing the date.
After all the talking and all the debates, the games that matter finally got underway last night. Seriously late last night, if you live anywhere besides the West coast of the US (or far enough east that it was early today instead), but regardless, we’re off. It was a pretty good game too, as openers go. The WNBA tends to be a mess in the early weeks, thanks to players arriving late due to overseas commitments and the short preparation time available in the first place. However, in years such as 2011 without a World Championships or Olympic Games, that issue is alleviated somewhat. Most teams had everyone in town from the first day of training camp and that should lead to better performances to start the season than we’re used to
LA held off Minnesota in Staples Center last night, 82-74, behind Candace Parker showing what she can do when her arms and legs are solidly attached, and a ridiculous barrage of three-pointers from their guards in the second-half. The Lynx played some decent basketball in the first-half and pushed their lead to 50-40 early in the third quarter, before LA went off. Toliver hit a three, Noelle Quinn hit three of them, and then Aussie import Jenna O’Hea came in and hit three of her own from long-range in her first ever WNBA game. In nine minutes of game-time, that ten-point deficit became a 67-61 Sparks lead and LA never trailed again. Minnesota did manage to tie the game up with three minutes left (after a nice pump-fake by Maya Moore got Tina Thompson in the air and Moore hit all three resulting free-throws) but LA pulled away again behind a couple of nice moves by DMJ, some offensive boards and a ridiculous defensive breakdown from the Lynx. Taj challenged Parker way beyond the three-point line for no particular reason, Candace went straight past her and found a wide open lane down the middle for a layup to push the lead to 79-74 with a minute left. Ballgame. It was a mistake by Taj, but the help has to come across quicker than that from her teammates behind her.
It’s the first contest of the season so you never want to overreact, but I wouldn’t be too happy about this game as a fan of either team. We all know how good Moore can be, and 21 points on your pro debut’s hardly a bad start, but holy crap Maya you do have teammates. Way too many quick shots, and too many from outside (Moore went 4-11 from three-point range. Four of eleven. Yikes). Augustus didn’t look good, which was hopefully an off-night rather than a sign of the times. It didn’t look like Reeve knew what to do with her rotation, unsure how to balance out all these pieces on her roster. Wright barely played yet Hornbuckle got 10 minutes, and the questions about what happens behind Brunson and McWilliams-Franklin were played out for all to see. Houston did nothing in 9 minutes, and Harris looked awkward, gangly and kind of lost in just 5. When Taj fouled out with 45 seconds left in the game, Reeve didn’t seem to know who the hell to turn to as the replacement (she ended up going small with Wiggins and moving Moore to the 4). Be nice if they could occasionally close out on ridiculously hot three-point shooters as well. Like I said, no overreaction, but issues to deal with for the Lynx.
LA got the win, and there were plenty of positives. Thompson looked strong and Gillom managed to keep both her and DMJ’s minutes way down which is a good sign. Parker was outstanding despite missing a couple of layups and going 2-6 at the free throw line, although you have to hope Gillom won’t feel the need to play her for 37 minutes every night. However, if they’re banking on 8-16 from three-point range from Toliver/Quinn/O’Hea every night it’ll be a long season, and there are questions about the guards. Ticha was very quiet, and Gillom turned to Natasha Lacy as the first option to back her up. Lacy proceeded to play like her standard headless chicken and cough up six turnovers. Toliver got the gig instead in the second half and did a reasonable job, but I still can’t understand why they don’t just go with Quinn, who’s a better point guard than either of them. Bizarre.
As a neutral though, that was a pretty nice way to start the season. Entertaining game, former Tennessee star vs. former UConn star, and an attendance well into 5-digits. Shame it wasn’t on national TV, really. Good start, WNBA.
In other news… First transaction of the regular season has already occurred, and if you happened to read my Connecticut preview yesterday you may remember the line about Kerri Gardin that said she “might be cut by the time you’re reading this in favour of any post player Thibault could find on the street”. Well guess who just got cut? (yes, I know it wasn’t exactly an extraordinary piece of insight) The Sun picked up Jessica Moore instead, who was Indiana’s final cut on Thursday afternoon and could provide some help backing up Jones and Charles. Plus, of course, she went to UConn, which always seems to enhance your chances of being acquired by the Sun. Moore’s reportedly carrying a knee injury though, so don’t expect too much right away.
Phoenix @ Seattle (live on ABC), 3ET
Washington @ Connecticut, 7ET
Chicago @ Indiana, 7ET
Tulsa @ San Antonio, 8ET