WNBA Today, 08/15/2011: Welcome to Big Syl’s World

Well I waited and waited, but it wasn’t to be. Unless some unlikely news is about to slide out beyond the deadline, the final day for WNBA teams to make trades this season passed without even a mild whimper. Not one single move. I’m not remotely surprised, but I am a little disappointed. Trades are fun, and they shake things up. It’s not like there are a plethora of teams who don’t need any help this season. Practically everyone has a hole somewhere, and in most cases more than one. The problem is that we’ve only got twelve teams. It’s hard to make a deal when the trading partners are so limited. Ah well, guess we’ll just have to concentrate on the basketball instead.

Two games yesterday, but the late tip involved Tulsa so it’s more like one-and-a-half. The game featuring two actual professional basketball teams was in San Antonio, where Chicago were the visitors. After losing four of their last five, and with Atlanta on a hot streak, the Sky had dropped 1.5 games out of the playoff spots in the East. It was starting to look like Pokey Chatman’s first year in charge was going to end exactly the same way as every other Sky season – counting lottery balls. So they had every reason to be up for this game. San Antonio were coming off their most impressive performance since Danielle Adams started missing games with her foot injury, a 13-point win in Connecticut that was significantly more comprehensive than that sounds. With Phoenix and Seattle having lost in previous days, San Antonio had the chance to create a little separation from those two in the Western standings if they could maintain that level of performance. Considering Chicago’s 2-9 road record, they seemed to have every chance.

However, the opening minutes of the game offered a glimpse of how the entire afternoon was going to play out. Sylvia Fowles hit a layup; Sylvia Fowles grabbed a board; Sylvia Fowles grabbed another board; Sylvia Fowles hit another layup – I think you can see the I’m trying to paint here. For the entire first half, Big Syl made it feel like this was her world and the rest of us were just living in it. San Antonio had absolutely no answer. Ruth Riley and Jayne Appel tried their best, but they both struggled horribly trying to contain her and ended up in foul trouble for their pains. A bad rebounding team against any opponent, the Silver Stars didn’t just get dominated by Fowles and the Sky in this one – they were utterly overwhelmed. If this was men’s sport, the appropriate clichĂ© would’ve been ‘men against boys’, but ‘women against girls’ doesn’t really sound right.

Chicago were up 8-0 before San Antonio got on the board (Fowles already with six points and four rebounds). Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes, as always, went to his bench looking for a spark and found Jia Perkins. His team still weren’t venturing anywhere near the paint, but at least Perkins managed to hit a couple of shots. It created a minor San Antonio run that briefly made the score respectable at 14-12 Chicago. But while she might’ve provided a little offense, Perkins couldn’t help stop Fowles. Syl just carried right on dominating, finished the first quarter with 12 points and 8 rebounds, and carried her team to a 20-12 lead.

It didn’t get any better for San Antonio in the second quarter. Fowles took a little rest to open the period, but they were so out of sync by this point that they couldn’t take advantage. With no inside game and the jump shots not dropping from outside, they looked bereft of ideas even when Fowles wasn’t out there prowling the paint. Once she came back, Chicago’s offense took off again. The Sky’s primary perimeter scoring option all season has been Epiphanny Prince, but she picked up her third foul on a dumb jump into Perkins that created a four-point play for San Antonio. It made no difference. Chicago have struggled both to find Fowles with passes and create room for her by hitting shots this season, but with the mood she was in, it became irrelevant. If her teammates jacked up bricks instead of feeding her down low, she just picked off the offensive rebound and stuck the ball back in anyway. Who needs passes when you can go get the ball yourself?

Hughes tried everything. All ten healthy players on his roster played in the first half, including the little-used Roneeka Hodges. When Riley and Appel were ineffective, he went small against Fowles and put Porsha Phillips on her instead (who must be at least five inches shorter than the Sky center, whatever the listed numbers claim). Nothing worked. By halftime, Fowles was comfortably outrebounding the entire San Antonio team (12 to 8), and putting up a strong challenge to outscore them on her own as well. Fowles was 10-12 from the floor for 22 points – her team led 47-29.

That was about as dominant a half of basketball from any one player as you’re ever likely to see. We’ve known all year that San Antonio were undersized and poor on the glass, but Fowles came out like a beast and viciously exploited all their key issues. On their own floor, too. The Silver Stars had done a good job of containing Tina Charles just last week, but against her fellow Team USA center it was a different story. Big Syl’s athleticism and additional length over Charles apparently made all the difference, or maybe it was just one of those days. Whatever Syl had for breakfast, she needs to make sure she eats exactly the same thing before every game for the rest of her life. She was a one-woman wrecking crew.

Inevitably, San Antonio made a little bit of a push in the second half. They’re too good of a team not to, especially in front of their own fans. The still had Perkins making shots, and rookie point guard Danielle Robinson was far too quick for any of the Chicago point guards to deal with (including the PG drafted three places higher than her this year, Courtney Vandersloot), but it wasn’t enough. The options for defending Fowles were still the same, and Chicago had mountains of confidence and belief built up from their first half performance. The Sky led by 20 at the end of the third quarter, 66-46.

It almost got interesting in the fourth. Michelle Snow did her Fowles impression when Syl took a rest to start the period, scoring seven straight Sky points to take their lead as high as 25. At that point, you wondered if Fowles would even see the floor again for the rest of the game. But finally, San Antonio started making some shots. Nothing much had changed – there was still no interior game, nearly every shot they took was a jumper from at least 15 feet – but the Silver Stars started knocking them down. With Phillips back in as the preferred option on Fowles – quickness and lots of help from teammates apparently far more effective than pure size – the lead dropped as low as eight with two minutes left in the game. But it would’ve been a travesty for Chicago to blow this game and waste such a dominant performance from Fowles, and they held on. The chasm was simply too big for San Antonio to cross, and the Sky ran out 85-73 winners.

The second half was nowhere near as overpowering, but by then Fowles ha done the damage. She finished with 28 points on 12-16 shooting and 17 rebounds (including six offensive), carrying her team on her back to a much-needed win. Tamera Young had another nice performance to add to her recent run of solid games, with 15 points on 5-10 from the floor, but this was all about their MVP-candidate center. Fowles is so big, so powerful and so athletic in the paint that she can simply take over games at times, and that’s just what she did against San Antonio. She’s personally keeping this team in the playoff hunt, still only a game behind Atlanta (and 2.5 behind New York, who’ve been stumbling of late). The Sky have a run of games to the end of this month that will decide their season. After nearly a whole week to rest up and prepare, they’re in Washington on Saturday, before hosting Atlanta, Washington and New York the following week. Then they wrap up August with a trip out to Jersey to face the Liberty again. That’s five winnable games against Eastern Conference rivals, two versus the worst team in the East, three against the teams that they’re chasing. They have to go an absolute minimum of 3-2, but if Fowles can carry them to 4-1 or even 5-0 over that stretch they’ll be right in the mix. And Big Syl will be a significant part of the MVP discussion.

Not a nice afternoon for San Antonio. They dealt with Fowles reasonably comfortably earlier in the season, allowing her just eight shots and barely being outrebounded during an 84-74 victory in the Windy City. This time around, it was a disaster. On the bright side, they’re in the West, so they don’t have to face her again this year, barring a decidedly unlikely WNBA Finals matchup. Sophia Young finished the game 6-13 for 16 points, but it took the halftime interval to wake her up, and by then the game was practically over. Her lack of size at the power forward spot really stood out against all the length of the Sky’s posts. It was another game where the Silver Stars really missed Adams, who would’ve given them another offensive option, stretched out Chicago’s defense with her shooting, and simply offered a different look from the likes of Appel and Riley. Fortunately for San Antonio, Phoenix and Seattle have had their own problems of late so the middle of the West remains utterly congested. There’s only half a game between the three of them in the standings. Also positive for San Antonio – there’s only one Sylvia Fowles in the world.

—–

I’m tired of saying the same things over and over again, so our look at yesterday’s second game will be brief. How many times can you say that Tulsa suck? This time, they went into the lion’s den in Minnesota (which actually makes it the wolf’s den, I suppose), to face the league-leading Lynx. The bookies had the line at Minnesota -17, which to me seemed generous to the Shock. I should’ve put my money where my mouth was.

Teresa Edwards was back on the sidelines for Tulsa, after missing their last game due to the Hall of Fame festivities. After frequently playing Andrea Riley for heavy minutes off the bench in recent weeks – no, I still have no idea why – Edwards finally bit the bullet and simply started her against the Lynx. She replaced Amber Holt in the starting lineup that had opened the previous four Shock games. Minnesota went with their usual five.

To be fair to Tulsa, they kind of hung around for a while. Minnesota had trouble completely killing the game off. But it seemed almost through disinterest or pity more than anything else. The gap in basic talent is ridiculous. Minnesota’s bench would probably all start for Tulsa. It just felt like the Lynx could get any shot they wanted whenever they felt like it, and if the Shock somehow made a bit of a move to make the game competitive, they would’ve opened things up a little and taken the game away. It was practically over from the opening tip.

As ever, cheap turnovers hurt the Shock, who were travelling all over the place and throwing poor passes on other possessions. Their one bright spot in recent games, rookie center Liz Cambage, had a painfully frustrating evening. She was struggling against the Lynx interior defenders, being called for offensive fouls and travelling violations whenever she actually received the ball in the paint (finding her in the first place has been a frequent issue this year). She became visibly annoyed and discouraged as the night wore on, not that you can blame the Shock players for losing heart considering the season they’re enduring. This was their 17th loss in a row.

By halftime the Lynx were up 39-25, not playing their best basketball but looking thoroughly comfortable. In the second half, head coach Cheryl Reeve seemed to remember that her bench was more talented than practically anyone Tulsa could throw out, and gave them some significant minutes. The likes of Jessica Adair, Amber Harris and Monica Wright responded by helping their starters turn the game into a blowout reflective of the true discrepancy between the sides. Minnesota ran out 82-54 winners (and I wouldn’t even have had to bite my nails about them covering that 17-point spread).

For Minnesota, a nice little practice game and an extra workout for some of the reserves. It actually would’ve been nice if Reeve had looked to her bench a little earlier and gone a little deeper – Alexis Hornbuckle and Charde Houston barely played – but most of them worked up a sweat and none of the starters played more than 27 minutes. Job done.

For Tulsa, more of the same, without even the saving grace of a Cambage performance worth watching. They’re eleven bench players in search of a starting lineup, and even that might be generous to some of the eleven. It’s just depressing. I hope they end up with the #1 pick in next year’s draft, because this franchise needs something fresh to inspire them. I’d try a new front office, new coaching staff and dump at least half the roster as well. Time to start over.

 

In other news…

Big news from Los Angeles today, as it filtered out of the Sparks camp that Candace Parker is expected to make her return from injury against Atlanta tomorrow night. After tearing the lateral meniscus in her right knee on June 26th, Parker has missed 15 games, of which the Sparks have won only five. Currently three games outside the playoff spots in the West, there’s still time for LA to make a late push for the postseason. It becomes far more likely if Parker is anywhere near full-fitness, but it’s still going to be a struggle. The issues on that Sparks team aren’t all going to disappear solely because their star has returned.

Players of the Week were named as Diana Taurasi in the West, and Sylvia Fowles in the East. The Western Conference award easily could’ve gone to Ticha Penicheiro, who put up strong numbers and impressive performances in helping LA win both their games this week (including one over Taurasi’s Mercury). But Ticha’s stats were boosted by a game against Tulsa, and that’s almost cheating these days. So it wasn’t too much of a surprise that they went with Taurasi. In the East, despite my wild praise of Fowles in this particular piece, the award probably should’ve gone to Tamika Catchings. She was far and away the leading light for Indiana in their two impressive victories this week. But her name doesn’t even appear in the ‘other candidates’ section of the official release, suggesting that her team didn’t even nominate her. Whoops. Whoever’s job that is in the Fever organisation needs to be called into the principal’s office and given a stern telling-off.

One piece of news I never officially confirmed – Krystal Thomas was signed by Phoenix to fill the roster spot opened up when they waived Olayinka Sanni. They only gave her a seven-day deal, so there’s still room to try someone else if it doesn’t work out.

 

Today’s Games:

None

 

Tomorrow’s Games:

Washington @ New York, 7pm ET

Minnesota @ Connecticut, 7.30pm ET

Indiana @ San Antonio, 8pm ET

Seattle @ Phoenix, 10pm ET

Atlanta @ Los Angeles, 10.30pm ET

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