WNBA Today, 05/31/2012: Champs survive a scare

Because today’s column is already running late, we’re going Bullet Point Breakdown on both of last night’s games, and keeping it brief (compared to the usual diatribes, anyway). Tomorrow’s post will be significantly earlier, I promise.

 

Minnesota Lynx 79 @ Washington Mystics 77

  • Same starting fives as last time out for both teams, with Washington resisting the temptation to promote Matee Ajavon from the bench despite the fairly obvious fact that she’s their best guard. People worry too much about starting spots, anyway.
  • The first half was an absolute massacre, and made it look like this game would be about as newsworthy as some of Minnesota’s other blowout victories so far this year.
  • The Lynx were playing with speed and confidence, moving the ball up the court quickly and knocking down the open shot. Washington were struggling to create anything easy. There were some pretty offensive plays from Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Monica Wright, anything that didn’t go in was being hoovered up by Rebekkah Brunson’s typically voracious rebounding, and Minnesota just flat-out dominated.
  • Minnesota’s depth came through again as well, with no drop-off in their momentum when the reserves came in.
  • In fact the Lynx were so comfortable, Cheryl Reeve even sent 11th woman Erin Thorn into the game before halftime. You can do that when you’re already up by 19. It was 51-31 at the break.
  • For all the world, this game looked dead at the half. Problem is, the Lynx players looked like they felt that way as well. They actually started the second half okay, maintaining the lead, but then Taj McWilliams-Franklin picked up a painful back injury and went to the bench (she wouldn’t return to the game, although she stated today that she’s fine going forward). What was to follow certainly couldn’t all be put down to the loss of their veteran center, but it definitely didn’t help.
  • I remember writing this about a thousand times last season in regards to Trudi Lacey’s Mystics – they didn’t quit. For all the criticism of Lacey – and there’s been plenty, much of it richly deserved – her players still seem to perform for her. Sometimes it just takes them a while to show up.
  • The introduction of Natasha Lacy and Ajavon off the bench in the third quarter played a big part in raising Washington’s energy level and pushing them back into the contest. Noelle Quinn was having a throwback game as well, actually being aggressive and knocking down open shots when they were presented to her.
  • Lynx post Devereaux Peters looked like the rookie she is in the third quarter, making several poor mistakes that allowed Washington buckets or gave up turnovers on the other end. These are the growing pains you expect with rookies, but it highlighted what this team loses when McWilliams-Franklin is out of the game – basketball smarts. The likes of Peters, Amber Harris and Jessica Adair all have the physical tools, but Taj always knows where she’s supposed to be and is invariably right there. The Lynx don’t get quite the same reliability from their collection of young backup posts.
  • In fact, Reeve got so desperate at one stage in that third quarter she went to Moore at power forward, with Brunson at center and a Wiggins/Wright/Augustus perimeter. That’s very rare for Reeve, and it didn’t last long when Crystal Langhorne went straight at Moore and scored over her.
  • Down 68-58 heading into the fourth quarter, Washington now had all the momentum, and anyone who’s ever played basketball knows how powerful that can be in this sport. Minnesota had lost their spark, and between Ajavon and Monique Currie the Mystics had tied the game up at 68 less than four minutes into the period. Somehow, we had a ballgame on our hands.
  • One thing you do notice about the Lynx, especially when they get a little rattled, is that this is predominantly a jump-shooting team. Their speed and execution means that they find players heading to the rim and get their fair share of points in the paint, but when it comes down to it, most of their possessions require someone to knock down a shot. And sometimes, shooters go cold. Even when they’re as good as Augustus or Moore.
  • In the final few minutes, Augustus and Lindsay Whalen took it upon themselves to try to will their team to victory. Augustus’s jumper wasn’t dropping as sweetly as it sometimes does, but Whalen was more than prepared to put her head down and bull her way to the rim (and the free throw line). But Washington were hanging around.
  • Two minutes left, Whalen went 1-of-2 at the line to tie the game at 75. Washington ran an ugly possession involving zero passes and a Lacy shot that missed badly. Then came the possession that made you feel like the Lynx might just cling on. Moore missed a three, only for Brunson to track down the rebound; Moore missed again from outside, but Peters got it back; Augustus missed yet another three attempt, and Peters once again pulled down the offensive board. After a timeout, Whalen decided she’d had enough of all this perimeter gunning, went to the rim and drew a foul. This is part of what makes Whalen so good – she’ll step up when the situation requires it. She wants that responsibility.
  • With Peters once again being pulled out of position where McWilliams-Franklin probably wouldn’t have been, Washington found Langhorne underneath the hoop for a layup to tie the game with 26 seconds left.
  • Guess who? Whalen attacks, doesn’t get the call this time, but the offensive board falls to her and she forces it back up and in with one second left on the clock. Langhorne and Ashley Robinson were right there with her, but Whalen wouldn’t be denied.
  • After a timeout, the Mystics’ sideline play didn’t work at all, with Moore doing a nice job of challenging the inbounder. The pass eventually went to Robinson way beyond the three-point line, and Peters comfortably blocked her effort (which wouldn’t have been close anyway). Lynx cling on for the 79-77 win.
  • Hopefully, that was a little bit of a wakeup call for the Lynx. They didn’t exactly get sloppy in the second half, but there’s no way they should be giving up a lead that reached 24 points at one stage. Especially not to the Mystics. There’ll be other games like this during the season, where they build huge leads. You can’t get complacent, and you can’t simply assume the game is over.
  • Washington, on the other hand, showed a lot of guts. Ajavon (8-13 from the floor for 20 points) was the leader, but they eventually got contributions from a lot of sources. The most notable surprise was Noelle Quinn, who’s played a lot of minutes without doing anything worthwhile so far this year. 5-9 from the floor, including 3-4 from beyond the arc, for 13 points total, is closer to what they’re looking for from her.
  • Langhorne has had a quiet start to the season and had only 12 points and 4 rebounds in this one. Defenses focus on her, but she played through that the last couple of years and put up big numbers anyway. The Mystics need to do a better job of making her central to their offense, and then maybe 24-point comebacks won’t always be necessary.

 

Chicago Sky 77 @ San Antonio Silver Stars 63

  • Same starters for the Sky, with Ticha Penicheiro still unavailable as an option due to injury. San Antonio replaced Jia Perkins with rookie Shenise Johnson to bring a bit more size to their perimeter, and maybe a little more scoring punch to their bench. They also had Tangela Smith in street clothes, listed as ‘did not dress – coach’s decision’. No idea why, at this point.
  • It was an oddly uninvolving, meandering game of basketball, so you’ll forgive me if there aren’t too many highlights to report.
  • The notable sequence was in the second quarter, when a tiring Danielle Adams was replaced by Jayne Appel, and Chicago scored 9 straight points to go from 28-25 to 37-25 on the scoreboard. As was the case all night, Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince scored most of the points in that key stretch.
  • San Antonio don’t really have an answer to Fowles in the post. And while that’s true for practically every team on the planet when Big Syl’s in the mood, it’s especially true for the Silver Stars. She’s too big for Sophia Young, too quick for Adams, and just all-around too good for Appel. We haven’t seen enough of Ziomara Morrison yet to know what she can do, but she didn’t have much chance last night either.
  • Watching Appel is becoming depressing. There’s a vociferous group of Silver Stars fans that really don’t like her, which makes me want to see her go out there and prove them wrong. But so many times she just looks awful out there. Bad hands, poor passes, slow rotations – it’s not good enough from a player a lot people liked when she was in college. She’s big, and true size can keep you hanging around the WNBA for a while in some cases. But it can only take you so far.
  • And while watching Appel is depressing, watching Adams is still a little embarrassing. All that pure offensive skill, in a wildly out of shape body. She can’t move, which makes it a challenge for her teammates to cover for her when she’s run into screens. It wasn’t the extra inches of height that Fowles has over her that caused problems in this game – it was that Fowles is so much more mobile.
  • San Antonio made a few little runs in the second half, but could never get any closer than six, and were usually around 10 points back. It never felt like they could stop Chicago enough times in a row to truly fight back into it.
  • It was a good sign for Chicago though, who would’ve undoubtedly found a way to lose this game in previous years. Holding on and closing games out has always been a problem. They did it with some ease in this one.
  • Other individual notes for San Antonio: Sophia Young was very quiet again, scoring just 9 points in over 33 minutes. Danielle Robinson has worked on her mid-range jumper, and rightly has far more confidence in it this year. Becky Hammon was 8-11 for a hyper-efficient 21 points, but didn’t get enough help. Shameka Christon is going to have to do something besides jack up three-pointers to be really useful to San Antonio.
  • For Chicago, it was all about Fowles (10-13 for 23 points and 12 boards) and Prince (6-14 for 22 points, 6 boards and 5 steals). Fowles is her usual self, but Prince has had an especially strong start to the season. She’s going to the rim hard, and avoiding forcing up too many jumpers. It’ll vastly improve her efficiency if she can keep that up.
  • A mention to for Courtney Vandersloot, who quietly had 7 assists and only 1 turnover. Sky head coach Pokey Chatman has got her playing under control and within herself to start this season. It’s less exciting and entertaining for the neutral, with less of the highlight reel stuff that she showcased at Gonzaga, but more effective for the Sky. And easier on Chatman’s fraying nerves.

 

Notes

The big news today was that Diana Taurasi is out ‘indefinitely’ due to her hip flexor injury. It’s a surprise, considering she’d returned from that injury to play in the Mercury’s last two games, including 26 minutes last time out against the Sparks. She didn’t look too bad in that game against LA, but either the pain is too bad or the injury just isn’t getting any better. Of course, the conspiracy theorists immediately cried “Tanking!” and this wouldn’t be a bad year to slip into the lottery (thanks to Griner, Delle Donne, Diggins etc.). Considering the number of teams with problems, however, it could be hard work staying out of the playoffs this season.

Phoenix can now apply for a hardship exception, assuming Taurasi’s going to be out for at least a few games. However, after finally officially adding post Krystal Thomas to replace Zane Tamane (because a squad with only three fit guards desperately needs a fourth-string center), they’d probably only sign another pointless big. The return of WNBAlien-favourite Andrea Riley might be the option if they did decide to add a guard.

In case you skimmed over some of the above entries, Taj McWilliams-Franklin says she’s fine, despite missing most of the second half last night. Took a nasty elbow in the back, but that’s it. Taj tends to pick up all these little injuries over the course of the season, but typically play through them all.

 

Upcoming Games

Tonight (Thursday May 31st):

Phoenix @ Atlanta, 7pm ET

—–

Tomorrow (Friday June 1st):

Minnesota @ Connecticut, 7pm ET

Phoenix @ San Antonio, 8pm ET

Washington @ Chicago, 8.30pm ET

Tulsa @ Seattle, 10pm ET

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One comment on “WNBA Today, 05/31/2012: Champs survive a scare

  1. […] If you’re Minnesota, you’re barely missing a beat, even when you have a hiccup. […]

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