Well you can’t blame me for posting this one a little late. No games on Wednesday in the WNBA, and just the one late, late game on Thursday. And what a glamour matchup it was. Oh no, wait, it was Tulsa on the road. A masterful piece of scheduling by the WNBA once again. At least their hosts, Seattle, have Lauren Jackson back to add a little interest and excitement to the contest. A win in this game would pull Seattle into a virtual tie with Phoenix for second place in the Western Conference. A win for Tulsa would break a 19-game losing streak and send everyone watching into shock.
Both teams kept faith with the same starting lineups that they’d used in the last couple of games. For the third game in a row since her return, Lauren Jackson scored the opening points, this time on a little catch-and-shoot jumper in the lane (while being fouled). She’s like a nice little security blanket for Sue Bird – the first option and the final option on a possession if there’s nothing else available. As a whole, the first quarter resembled the early stages of Tulsa’s game against Minnesota on Tuesday – Seattle looked comfortably the better team, but not all that interested or invested and without a great deal of energy to start the contest. As a result, a Tulsa team that was knocking down a few shots from outside and has generally been playing with a little more composure lately hung around, and Seattle only led 18-17 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was ugly. Ug-ly. If the Storm could’ve made a shot, inside or out, the game would’ve been a blowout by halftime, but they weren’t making anything. At the other end, Tulsa had run into the Storm defensive wall and been splattered all over the tarmac. Turnover after turnover – some forced, several not – killed Shock possessions before they’d even begun. Part of it was frustration at being unable to penetrate the Seattle defense, but a lot of it was simply sloppiness with the ball and poor passing. But Seattle couldn’t score. They were missing layups inside – Swin Cash’s offense continues to be utterly MIA – and missing open shots from outside that they’d expect to knock down, so they failed to take the game away from Tulsa.
It was six-and-a-half minutes into the second quarter when the Shock scored their first points of the period on a Jen Lacy jumper – and that was only their third shot, as eight turnovers had prevented them from even putting the ball in the air. It cut the score to 25-19. Two layups from Tiffany Jackson and a length of the court spinning drive from Ivory Latta provided the last six points of the half for the Shock, and somehow they went in at halftime only down 28-25. 13 turnovers in the half, endless carelessness with the ball and only down by three points. That’s pretty good, considering.
Seattle’s problem in the first half was a combination of simply failing to convert shooting opportunities and failing to impose themselves inside. The footwork and basic talent level of their post players should’ve given them an edge, but Cash, Jackson and Camille Little were 2-15 combined in the first half. That was allowing Tulsa to stay within range. The Storm came out for the second half and immediately indicated their intent to kill the game off as quickly as possible. LJ found deep post position and took another Bird feed to open the half with a three-point play again, then followed up by hitting a trail three from the top of the arc. After 1-6 shooting in the first half, including 0-3 from outside, this was the Lauren Jackson that Storm fans were hoping to see.
Seattle continued to attack in the third quarter. Bird curled around a screen and hit her standard pull-up 15-footer; Wright made Amber Holt look silly in transition for two consecutive driving scores at the rim; even Cash finally sank her first basket of the night on a post move over Sheryl Swoopes. The only thing keeping Tulsa remotely in the game now was shooting from outside. First Holt, then Holt again, then Swoopes knocked down triples, which had Tulsa as close as 49-41 late in the third quarter. Then Katie Smith hit a couple of free throws, Bird set a nice down-screen to break LJ open for another three from out top, and Le’coe Willingham found great post position to take a feed deep in the paint for a layup. Suddenly the lead was up to 15, and Seattle were coasting.
The only remaining action in the third quarter came off the ball, as Lauren Jackson and Shock backup center Abi Olajuwon got tangled up in the paint. LJ wasn’t happy, and things almost got heated for a second, but Bird stepped in to make sure nothing too untoward occurred. The officials called a double technical on Jackson and Olajuwon, as they tend to do in these situations, but there was nothing much there to get too excited about. Seattle took a 56-41 lead into the fourth quarter.
That was just about it. The one mildly interesting aspect to the lineups in the fourth quarter was that Tulsa coach Teresa Edwards grew so tired of standard point guard options Ivory Latta and Andrea Riley, that she had Sheryl Swoopes running the point for the final six minutes of the game. With Swoopes leading the way and sinking a couple of shots herself, the Shock narrowed the lead to nine at 62-53 with 3:23 left, but the Storm were never in any real danger. At least not on the scoreboard. With under three minutes remaining, Olajuwon and Wright were setting up under the basket to rebound a shot, when Olajuwon swung what looked like a vicious and intentional elbow that caught Wright directly in the head. It left her prostrate on the floor, but presumably none of the officials saw it because there was no call. If anyone from the League office bothers to check the tape, Olajuwon should find herself heavily fined, and possibly suspended for Tulsa’s next game. That looked nasty. Fortunately, Wright returned to the game after a timeout, and seemed fine. The game itself drifted to a close, and even Storm coach Brian Agler found some minutes for his bench players by the end of a comfortable 74-57 victory.
As is often the case with Shock games, it’s hard to find anything new to say about them. Amber Holt had a decent game, despite constantly hitting the deck due to one collision or another. She shot 4-10 for 10 points, and Swoopes and Tiffany Jackson had 12 each to lead the team. They cut down on the turnovers in the second half after that miserable second quarter, but they just don’t have the talent to compete with teams like Seattle when the opposition wakes up and plays anywhere near their full potential. Aussie center Liz Cambage was quiet in limited minutes, and fellow rookie Kayla Pedersen has all but fallen out of the rotation entirely in recent weeks. Reportedly Pedersen’s been fighting through a leg injury which has limited her effectiveness in the second half of the season, which is a shame after displaying an all-court game that was one of the few highlights for Tulsa early in the year. Once she regains full-fitness, she should be a central part of the Shock’s future. Along with a whole bunch of people who aren’t even on the roster right now.
For Seattle, it was eventually a comfortable win, but they sure took their time getting there. Fortunately, against Tulsa, time is a luxury that’s freely available. Jackson shot 4-9 for 14 points to lead her team in scoring, and only had to play 15 minutes to get there. The central difference in the second half – besides simply shooting a little better – was that Seattle forced the ball inside and drew whistles that sent them to the free throw line. They haven’t been particularly successful at doing that this season, but having their MVP center on the sidelines for most of the year has obviously limited their post game and their ability to draw fouls. In the second half of this game they were 18-21 after a 4-5 first half, which illustrated the change in approach. Yes, it was only against Tulsa, but it’s all preparation for playing better teams. Anyway, their next two games are against LA – whose defense is essentially just as bad as the Shock’s.
In other news…
If you really want to, you can now vote for the Top 15 Moments in WNBA History (presented by Boost Mobile, of course). However, I warn you that you’re not picking the top 15 – you’re just organising the 15 they’ve already picked into your favoured order. Which is less fun. But there are video clips of the 15 moments, so that provides a little entertainment at least. I’ll be stunned if Spoon’s Shot doesn’t finish top of the heap.
Today’s Games (already completed):
Tulsa @ Seattle, 10pm ET
Phoenix @ Connecticut, 7.30pm ET
San Antonio @ Minnesota, 8pm ET
Washington @ Chicago, 8.30pm ET
Tulsa @ Los Angeles, 10.30pm ET