WNBA Today, 06/12/2011 (Part Two): She’s on Fire!

Part One of today’s coverage was posted earlier here, if you missed it

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Friday night, the San Antonio Silver Stars blew out that rec-league team from Oklahoma again, moving to a completely meaningless 2-0 record. Saturday night, they finally had to play a real basketball team, when the 0-2 Atlanta Dream came into the AT&T Center searching for their first win of the season. Atlanta finally had their full roster available, with Angel McCoughtry starting for the first time this year after recovering from her knee sprain. The first play of the game was McCoughtry’s layup attempt being smacked right back in her face by Ruth Riley, but Atlanta still took the initiative early, opening up a six-point lead by the end of the first and a 35-28 advantage by halftime. As the scoreline might suggest, this was by no means the prettiest game of basketball you’ve ever seen.

As expected by anyone with eyes and a modicum of sense, Atlanta’s size was giving San Antonio problems, especially on the glass. Outside of Riley the Silver Stars have no height at all, which is likely to give them rebounding problems all year, and led to the 27-12 rebounding advantage that Atlanta held at halftime. It’s going to be hard to win games with numbers like that. One positive for San Antonio was rookie Danielle Adams, who’s currently sharing Riley’s minutes at ‘center’, despite being barely 6-feet tall. She’s huge – unfortunately not vertically – but her nice touch and copious range had already led to 13 points by the break, and it only got better. The second half saw the sort of offensive explosion you don’t witness very often, especially from rookies, and even more especially from rookies taken 20th overall who many felt couldn’t survive in this league. Adams rained in shots from all over, finishing the game 11-19 for 32 points, including 5-11 from three-point range. If she’d been a character in NBA Jam, there would’ve been flames shooting out of her hands for pretty much the entire second half. The likes of Sancho Lyttle really should’ve done a better job defending her, but the fact that Lyttle and co. couldn’t do anything about it shows just how hot she was.

In effect, Adams won the Silver Stars the game. Her gunning – including a memorable three threes in the space of 44 seconds in the third quarter – led the San Antonio comeback and created all the momentum that they carried into the fourth quarter. Adams was actually sitting on the bench during the run that took the game away from Atlanta in the fourth, with Ruth Riley getting in on the action herself with five key points and a couple of blocks, but the Dream still seemed shellshocked from the barrage they’d suffered earlier on. San Antonio ultimately eased to an 86-74 win without even having to sweat too much in the final few minutes.

If you want me to be entirely honest, I’m still not really drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to San Antonio, even after this thoroughly enjoyable win. They got outrebounded by twenty-two (46-24) and yet somehow still won the game. That’s the first time that’s happened since the WNBA went to four quarters and a 24-second shot clock in 2006, and it’s simply not sustainable. Adams was their leading rebounder last night with seven, and no one else had more than four. Unless a healthy Cheryl Ford is walking through that door sometime soon (which is very unlikely), they’re going to need to outshoot teams by something similar to the 47% vs. 38% advantage they managed over Atlanta to win games. I find it hard to believe that they can sustain that either. But in the meantime, the Silver Stars can enjoy being the only undefeated team left in the WNBA. Other positives include Jia Perkins looking like a very useful addition to their scoring arsenal in the backcourt, and even at her advanced age Tully Bevilaqua is a clear upgrade on the Darling/Lawson-Wade disaster they’d been working with at the point. Adams is the wildcard. Obviously they won’t be getting 32 points every night, but her scoring touch could be a huge bonus for them if she can keep this going. Her weight is going to continue to be raised as an issue, just as it was for Tamika Whitmore, her most obvious comparison as a WNBA player. But Whit was a very useful player for a lot of years in this league, and if they’re really lucky Adams might play herself into better shape as the season goes on. What a player they might have then.

As for Atlanta, I’ve repeatedly said there was no need to panic after their previous losses – well, after three in a row you’ve kinda got to start worrying at least a little. You’re really supposed to beat teams when you win the rebounding battle by 22 and grab 17 offensive boards, but they simply couldn’t hit enough shots. McCoughtry working her way back into true game shape will help, but she and Izi had games like this last year as well – they’re just not that consistent if you make them put it up from outside. Still, Lyttle and de Souza should’ve been able to take advantage of San Antonio down low, and their defense ought to be able to do a better job than they’ve done in any of their three games so far. Losing three in a row to start the year is hardly terminal – they lost six of seven to finish the regular season last year and swept through the Eastern playoffs into the Finals regardless – but they have to find some confidence from somewhere. Sancho Lyttle’s leaving to play for Spain in EuroBasket Women after their trip to New York on Tuesday – missing six Dream games – which isn’t going to help.

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The only game I haven’t mentioned yet from Friday and Saturday was the late game on Friday night, between Phoenix and Los Angeles. I probably would’ve talked about it already if I thought there was much to say about a game that LA won comfortably 98-84. Phoenix’s defense is pathetic. I’m tired of saying it, and there aren’t any signs that the situation is going to change. They don’t guard anyone, they don’t even threaten to stop anyone, and that trumped LA’s lack of perimeter defense and miserable rebounding in deciding the winner on Friday. Parker seemed quiet but ended up with 22 points, 8 boards and 5 assists, which sure isn’t bad for a quiet night. Tina Thompson and DMJ were strong in support, and for the third straight game, Kristi Toliver had double-digit points off the bench. I still don’t like her much as a point guard, but Kristi is already illustrating just how useful she can be to this team as a scorer off the pine. They need that perimeter offense.

They’ve only played two games, so once again I stress that it’s early, but man, Phoenix are unimpressive so far. Like I asked in the season preview, why am I supposed to think that this team is any better than the one that finished 15-19 last season? According to her fans, Taurasi was supposed to come out aggressive and refreshed this year, with a renewed enthusiasm for the game. Friday night, she barely looked like her head was even in Los Angeles, going only 2-9 from the floor (including 2-8 from three-point range, which shows just how little she was attacking the defense). Without her driving them, this team is going absolutely nowhere. However, the real problem is that I’m not convinced they can go anywhere much even when Taurasi and her electric offensive game show up. 50% of the game of basketball is played when the other team has the ball, and Phoenix can’t really be bothered with that half.

In other news…

WNBA All-Star Game voting opened yesterday, and you can vote here if you’re so inclined. Each team gets to name five players to be on the ballot, which is why Tan White and Ruth Riley are apparently both forwards now. They also misspelled Kia Vaughn’s name, which is a little embarrassing.

I’ll cover this afternoon’s Tulsa @ Connecticut game in tomorrow’s column, assuming I can bring myself to write about the Shock again. Do I really have to?

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