There aren’t any six-game days on the WNBA schedule this year, which at least goes some small way towards keeping me sane. Yesterday, however, was one of several occasions where we get the next-best thing – one day, five games. That’s a lot of basketball, and a lot of writing. So we’re going game-by-game, chronological order, Bullet Point Breakdown-style, and hoping you all find something mildly entertaining in there somewhere.
- The teams came out in the ‘wrong’ uniforms (Connecticut road, Washington home), in a desperate attempt to sell a few road jerseys to the Sun fans.
- Same starting fives as prior games for these teams, Matee Ajavon and Renee Montgomery still being used by their respective teams as bench energy despite typically playing starter minutes.
- It wasn’t exactly gripping stuff in the first half. The Sun have more confidence than the Mystics these days, especially on their own floor, and it showed at times. But the only player they had who could offer any scoring punch at all was Tina Charles. The lack of offensive support she received meant the half drifted along with the Sun up 5 or 6 points most of the way.
- Charles really was outstanding though, showcasing all the different ways she can score. Jump hooks, offensive boards for putbacks, running the floor for layups, mid-range jump shots – she’s got it all.
- Crystal Langhorne was the main threat for Washington, although she often had to work harder for her opportunities than Charles seemed to. But Langhorne got a little more help from her teammates, and a late run clawed Washington to a 35-34 advantage at the break. Charles had 18 points and 7 boards already, while her teammates had shot 6-22 combined.
- I’ve sent plenty of criticism Mike Thibault’s way over the years, mainly centered around the way players seem to tire of his approach and want to leave. But the Connecticut head coach is repeatedly one of the best in the WNBA at drawing a response from his team during the halftime interval. Time and time again, his squad come out and correct whatever was going wrong in the first half, often within seconds of re-taking the floor. Oh to be a fly on the wall in the Sun dressing room at halftime.
- This time around, the key requirement was for other players to take some responsibility upon themselves to help Charles out, and Asjha Jones finally decided to do just that. Whether on perimeter jumpers or little finishes in the lane, Charles finally had some support. It also put more stress on Langhorne, who now had some work to do defensively. She’d been able to rest at that end for most of the first half.
- Between Charles and Jones, the Sun began to pull away in the third quarter, and the gap grew as high as 14. Washington just don’t have the pieces to keep up with a team like this when they’re in full flow, especially when Ajavon and Monique Currie are offering very little help for Langhorne.
- However, once again, the Sun went cold and Washington came back into the game. Most of the offensive support for Langhorne was coming from second-year guard Jasmine Thomas, who has a low release but can knock down the three if you leave her open. There was an obvious concentration from Connecticut to help down on Langhorne to counter Washington’s biggest threat, but that’s always going to leave shooters open if the Mystics can move the ball quickly enough. The gap came down to 5 early in the fourth quarter.
- The Sun found their needed extra element in the shape of Kara Lawson, who knocked down a big three from the corner and a mid-range jumper in transition. Lawson looks in good condition this year, and obviously likes having her starting spot back, but she’d had a quiet afternoon until the fourth.
- Lawson threw in a nasty open-field block on Natasha Lacy that drew her a flagrant foul as well. Naughty Kara – but it showed how determined she was to get the win.
- Washington kept hanging around, right up to the end, largely through threes and Langhorne finishes in the paint.
- The gap was at 8 with only 39 seconds remaining, but the Mystics continued to foul and rain in unlikely threes – unfortunately for them, Connecticut went 19-20 as a team from the free throw line in the fourth quarter (including making the last 18 in a row). It’s hard to complete a comeback when the opposition does that.
- The Sun clung on for the 94-86 victory, and all those free throws and triples eventually added up to a 36-35 fourth quarter – the total of 71 setting a new record for the highest-scoring quarter in WNBA history.
- The Sun’ll take it, but it won’t be their prettiest win of the season. Typically this team has a ‘Big Three’ offensively – Charles, Jones and Montgomery – with fill in bonus points from everyone else. Not for the first time this year, Jones and Montgomery were both pretty quiet in this one. Jones had that burst to start the second half, but finished with only 10 points and 4 rebounds; Montgomery ended the game 1-6 for 8 points (although she did make a couple of nice defensive plays). It came down to Lawson’s late surge and Charles’s outstanding game to get them over the line, and they can’t rely on that every night. Charles finished 13-22 for 30 points and 9 boards.
- It was yet another good, but not-quite-good-enough display from Washington. Countless times we’ve seen them keep games close, but not be able to pull out the win. They got the outstanding offensive game from Langhorne (10-16 for 25 points), and even some support from Thomas and Noelle Quinn, but the other players they expect to show up were practically silent. When Matee Ajavon (1-4 for 8 points) and Monique Currie (2-11 for 5) don’t do much, this team will always find it hard to win games.
- For the third straight game, Liberty head coach John Whisenant made a change to his starting lineup. This time it was Essence Carson returning, replacing Nicole Powell on the wing. Kia Vaughn kept her starting spot at center ahead of Kara Braxton. No change for the 4-0 Fever.
- It was a strong start for New York, considering how poorly they’d played so far this season. There was more energy and life about them than we’d seen at any stage this year. Of course, they’d made a pretty decent start the day before against Indiana, only to finish with a 23-point loss, so no one was counting their chickens just yet.
- While it was an impressive team effort, the individual making the most significant impression for New York was Leilani Mitchell. The point guard spot has been something of a black hole for New York in their opening games, with both Mitchell and Kelly Miller offering practically nothing. Finally, Mitchell was penetrating both for her own points and to create for teammates, and with that boost to her confidence she started to knock down shots from outside as well. All this while matched up with Erin Phillips and Briann January, two typically frustrating defensive guards. The Liberty become vastly more threatening if they get play like that from the point.
- The main difference for Indiana between this game and their successes this season – including the night before against the very same opponent – was that their perimeter shots weren’t falling. New York were trying to contest, but most of the efforts didn’t look any less open than the shots that were sailing in before. They were just cold. Tamika Catchings was doing her usual job flying around and leading the offense, but the support wasn’t there as it had been in previous games.
- New York, meanwhile, had four starters in double-digits by halftime, 20 points in the paint to illustrate how well they’d moved the ball and penetrated, and finally resembled the team that won 19 games last season.
- Cappie Pondexter hadn’t even had to do that much, letting her points come within the flow of the team offense, rather than forcing herself to try to take over.
- Still, the lead was only 53-42 at halftime, and the game was far from finished.
- Katie Douglas was cold from outside practically all night, which is always going to make life difficult for Indiana. They’ve had strength in depth this season, but Catchings and Douglas are still the mainstays. When either of them isn’t playing to her optimum level, their chances of victory drop significantly.
- Even on the second night of a back-to-back, Whisenant had tightened his rotation. Kelly Miller didn’t play at all – Pondexter sliding over to the point when Mitchell needed a breather – and Kara Braxton played very limited minutes off the bench. A strong game from veteran post DeMya Walker helped keep everyone rolling despite only using 7-and-a-half players.
- Indiana’s depth has been a strength in their early games this year, and that always left them with the threat of a comeback if Lin Dunn could just find the right lineup. Especially if New York tightened up in search of their first win. Plays from big backup center Jessica Davenport, and a couple of shots from Douglas and January brought the gap down to 7 in the final few minutes of the game.
- Only for Mitchell to nail another three-pointer with two minutes left to essentially kill the game off. It was only fitting that the player who’d so noticeably stepped up her performance made the big shot to seal the victory.
- New York, obviously, will be hoping that this is the start of something. There’s plenty of time to get back involved in the playoff race, and if they can keep up the energy and execution from this game they’ll be a part of it. Pondexter was the leading scorer as always; Mitchell did a little of everything; and Walker, Plenette Pierson and Kia Vaughn did the dirty work inside. Essence Carson had a nice, varied game from her starting spot on the wing. Sometimes she looks for her own shot too much, failing to examine any other option. This time she knocked down the shots when they were there, but also ran the pick and roll nicely at times, and fed the post when that was on offer. Maybe being a starter will encourage her to diversify her game, rather than just trying to be a scorer off the bench.
- This was probably no more than a blip for Indiana – they won’t have been expecting to go 34-0, after all. One positive was a strong offensive game from January, who finished 5-11 for 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. With Phillips off to Europe to join the Australian National Team, January will likely take her starting spot for the next three games. If January keeps performing like that, Phillips might not get the spot back when she returns.
- Tulsa coach Gary Kloppenburg made big changes to his starting lineup, in an attempt to kickstart his team towards their first win. Jene Morris replaced Ivory Latta at shooting guard, Karima Christmas came in for Scholanda Dorrell at small forward, and Glory Johnson replaced Chante Black at center. Phoenix continue to start Charde Houston in the absence of Diana Taurasi, and had Andrea Riley available off the bench after she was signed with a hardship exception to deepen their guard options.
- These are two teams that typically play at a very high tempo, which can be entertaining. Unfortunately, they’re also two teams that aren’t very good at the moment. The ‘not very good’ element overrode the potential entertainment offered by their style for most of the evening.
- Tulsa couldn’t buy a bucket in the first half, which allowed Phoenix to pull out a lead. The Mercury’s execution and shooting wasn’t great either, but they were dominating on the glass – which says a lot more about how poor Tulsa are in the paint than how strong Phoenix are.
- The extra chances kept Mercury possessions alive, and allowed them to build a 37-25 advantage at halftime. Phoenix were a poor 38% from the field; Tulsa were a horrendous 24%.
- The major positive for Phoenix both this season and in this particular game has been the play of rookie point guard Sammy Prahalis. There were fears from some quarters about how well she’d survive at this level, but she looks composed and in control, and she’s starting to attack more (rather than simply passing the ball off or firing from long range). This Mercury squad is going to be lucky to make the playoffs (or unlucky, if you’re praying for lottery balls), and if they sneak into the postseason it’ll be a surprise if they make any noise whatsoever. Therefore, Prahalis developing and gaining a comfort level in the WNBA for future years is probably the most important thing they can gain from this season. Y’know, unless they gain one of the star rookies entering next year’s draft.
- Andrea Riley made her first appearance in a Mercury jersey, and promptly overpenetrated and turned the ball over, then jacked a ridiculous three-point brick from ludicrously deep. Andrea hasn’t changed, and she’s a significant drop-off from Prahalis.
- Tulsa got back into the game in the third quarter, as the Shock’s little guards repeatedly penetrated into the Mercury’s defense. Temeka Johnson and Riquna Williams got into the paint and drew a series of fouls, and Tulsa as a team shot 16 free throws in the third quarter alone. That killed any rhythm that the Phoenix offense may have had, so the impact was felt at both ends.
- Referee Tom Mauer called a thoroughly dumb technical foul on Candice Dupree late in the third quarter that stopped a Tulsa fastbreak in its tracks. All officials know that you don’t blow the whistle for a tech when it’s going to hurt the team you’re sending to the line. That fastbreak could’ve tied the game; instead, Temeka Johnson hit the technical free throw to cut the gap to a point – and that was as close as Tulsa would get for the rest of the game.
- The entire fourth quarter flowed along with Tulsa right on the edge of completing their comeback, but never quite able to make that final score. They were within 4 or 5 points repeatedly, and had two possessions while within 3, but couldn’t convert. After the second failure, Prahalis careened through the lane and converted a layup while getting fouled for the and-1. That was just about it.
- This Phoenix squad still look desperately short of legitimate threats without Taurasi and Taylor. They scrambled over the line in this one behind the scoring of Prahalis, DeWanna Bonner and Candace Dupree, but none of them scored particularly efficiently. A better team than Tulsa would’ve beaten them with a performance like this, as has been illustrated in their previous games.
- That new lineup didn’t work out too well for Klopp, as Morris, Christmas, Pedersen and Glory Johnson combined to go 4-19 for the game. He has the deck stacked against him with this limited roster. Veteran Jen Lacy had an excellent game against one of her former teams, shooting 6-11 for 19 points, but the main offensive options for Tulsa remain their three little guards. It’s just hard to win basketball games behind three players who wouldn’t look out of place at an elf convention.
- The same fives started the game as in the teams’ respective last outings. So Jayne Appel kept her place at center, and as always one of the tiny Danielle Robinson/Becky Hammon backcourt was going to have to guard one of the far bigger Minnesota wings.
- One of the unlikely moves San Antonio used to unsettle the Lynx in their playoff series last season was defending Maya Moore with Hammon. Obviously, Hammon’s far smaller than Moore, but Maya has a tendency to do nothing but fire jumpshots offensively, so the Silver Stars felt they could get away with it. And it worked, for much of that series. It was intriguing whether San Antonio head coach Dan Hughes would go there again, but Hammon started the game on Lindsay Whalen, with Robinson on Seimone Augustus and Shameka Christon on Moore. Maybe Hughes is saving that move in case they see the Lynx in the playoffs again this year.
- Appel picked up three fouls inside the first six minutes of the game, two while trying to challenge Rebekkah Brunson and a harsh third while fighting for a rebound with Taj McWilliams-Franklin.
- It took Minnesota a little while to assert their dominance – the entrance of Candice Wiggins and Monica Wright yet again gave them a boost from the bench – but it was ultimately a vintage first half from the Lynx. The ball movement and speed of their offense eventually overwhelmed the Silver Stars, as Minnesota’s balance and finishing ability simply took control. San Antonio’s offense couldn’t remotely keep up.
- After a horrible night in their last game in Connecticut, Moore was putting on a show in the first half. Perimeter jump shots, finishes from the wing in transition, even two consecutive scores on low-post moves over the smaller San Antonio defenders – this was the Maya Moore they’d like to see every single night. She finished the half 7-8 for 15 points.
- The Lynx shot a ridiculous 69% in the first half, had 26 points in the paint (largely off ball movement, penetration and team execution, not post-ups), and were in complete control. San Antonio only cut the halftime score to 50-29 on a Becky Hammon prayer from halfcourt at the buzzer.
- Of course, memories of surrendering a 51-31 halftime lead over Washington only four days earlier were still fresh for the Lynx. Surely they wouldn’t let that happen again, right?
- The Minnesota starters looked determined to avoid a repeat early in the second half, piling on the pressure and extending their lead as high as 26 points.
- Then both teams went to their benches, and the worm turned.
- For the final 12:40 of the game, San Antonio had a lineup that principally featured Tully Bevilaqua, Jia Perkins, Shenise Johnson, Danielle Adams and a mix of Ziomara Morrison and Sophia Young for the final spot. That’s four-and-a-half bench players getting nearly all the minutes. But that group went to work, Adams in particular firing away from long range and progressively cutting into the Lynx lead. Even when Cheryl Reeve went back to her starters, the momentum was now rolling downhill, right on top of Minnesota.
- After trailing by 25 with less than 13 minutes to play, amazingly the Silver Stars were close enough to warrant fouling in the final seconds. And the Lynx obliged by missing several resulting free throws.
- An Adams triple cut the score to 79-73 with 42 seconds remaining, and Seimone Augustus returned to the game as one of the Lynx’s best free throw shooters. Augustus hadn’t had her best night, and was benched in favour of Monica Wright for some of the fourth quarter, but she’s still clutch, and she can shoot with her eyes closed. But she promptly missed a pair at the line.
- Adams was practically given a layup with 30 seconds left – McWilliams-Franklin was desperate to prevent the three, and avoid fouling. That cut the gap to 4, before Whalen went 1-of-2 at the line. Amazingly, any San Antonio basket now had the chance to make it a one-possession game.
- Fortunately for Minnesota, the Silver Stars finally went a little cold. The Lynx were playing up on the three-point line to challenge that option, but after an Adams miss from mid-range both she and Perkins had open shots for three as a result of offensive rebounds. After a 26-point lead in the third quarter, Minnesota were having to use their Get Out of Jail Free card to hold on to this one.
- Yet another offensive board and a foul allowed Perkins to cut the gap to three points, before McWilliams-Franklin went 1-of-2 to push it back to four with under five seconds left. Ridiculously, there was still drama to come.
- McWilliams-Franklin and Augustus got far too close to Hammon after she received the inbounds pass, and Hammon leaned in to draw the foul on a three-point attempt. She calmly sank the first two to cut the score to 81-79, only to try to miss the third intentionally. The problem is, Becky’s apparently much better at sinking them on purpose than missing them. She missed, but only hit the net – no rim or backboard – which handed the ball to Minnesota on the sidelines. Moore almost overthrew the inbounds pass, but Brunson tracked it down and hit a pair at the line to complete the scoring at 83-79. Another heart-attack finish for the Lynx in a game that never should have been close.
- It has to be at least a little concerning for the Lynx that they’ve now thrown two huge leads away in the space of a few days. As stated after the first occasion, building big leads is something that will likely happen pretty frequently for this team, so they have to be able to kill games off afterwards and avoid complacency. Primarily, it’s on the bench to perform. Players like Wright, Wiggins and Jessica Adair have done an excellent job of keying runs in the first and second quarters of games, but when the entire bench unit is on the floor and expected to at least compete, they’ve allowed opponents to take control. The Lynx bench is young, but they’re too talented to capitulate like that, especially when they’re typically playing against the other team’s reserves. Time for the young pups to grow up.
- What seemed like it was going to be a miserable annihilation eventually threw out several positives for San Antonio, even if it ultimately ended up in the loss column. Adams showed what she can do with easily her best game of the season, and maybe she’s better off as a bench player who can provide some scoring punch when she comes in. Perkins, Johnson and Bevilaqua all got to build some confidence. And Ziomara Morrison had a few minutes to show Hughes that he may have another true big on the bench who can offer something when Appel isn’t working out (which does tend to be disappointingly common). Morrison’s still learning how to fit in both on the Silver Stars and in the WNBA in general, but there’s some talent there.
- Same starting lineups for both teams, Seattle sticking with Katie Smith at small forward over former Spark Tina Thompson.
- It wasn’t the most gripping first half of basketball. Seattle were firing up a lot of jumpers, with Smith the only one hitting most of her efforts. LA were largely depending on Candace Parker, Kristi Toliver and not much else. Parker was trying to attack Ann Wauters, but sometimes was so eager that she rushed herself and messed things up. Also, Seattle were doubling down whenever the ball was entered to Parker, well aware of where the primary threat lay. Wauters was getting plenty of help in trying to restrict LA’s big gun.
- Backup Storm center Ewelina Kobryn had some decent minutes in the first half, for the second game in a row. She’s showing some signs that she might be a decent backup big at WNBA level after all, and Storm coach Brian Agler is finally gaining some confidence in her. At least that deepens Seattle’s rotation a little.
- 34-32 Seattle at halftime, very little in it.
- Tanisha Wright spent most of this game looking just as poor as she has for much of the season. She can’t find her shot – and you get the feeling she’d miss in an empty gym right now. Her defense still isn’t to the level that we expect of a player often voted to the WNBA All-Defense squads, either.
- While Seattle weren’t always capitalising, LA still have problems defensively. They were trapping Bird fairly frequently, trying to force the ball out of her hands, but their recovery and rotations behind the traps aren’t crisp at all. It’s like they don’t quite know who’s supposed to be rotating where, so when they’re left defending 4 players with 3 after the ball’s moved out of the traps, it invariably ends up in a wide-open shot. That was a large part of why Smith continued to light them up from outside.
- The easiest alternative to the traps, which LA changed over to late in the game, is simply switching whenever anyone’s remotely held up on a screen. The problem then, obviously, are the mismatches your defenders get caught in. Fortunately for LA, Seattle didn’t often do a great job of finding their bigs when they’d been left with much smaller defenders trying to check them.
- LA’s defensive issues allowed the Storm to build a small lead in the third quarter, and they clung to it for much of the fourth.
- Sparks head coach Carol Ross tried a variety of lineup changes to find some offense, and eventually Toliver, Ebony Hoffman and Marissa Coleman managed to make a couple of shots and drag them within range. A perfectly executed pick and roll finished with a Toliver feed to Parker for a layup with 1:49 remaining in the game, and LA had their first lead of the second half at 61-60.
- Two poor plays – Wright driving right into Parker to present her with an easy block, then Parker missing a wide open layup at the other end – were followed by a Smith missed 3. Nneka Ogwumike extended LA’s lead with a pretty spin move on Wauters under the basket, only for Smith to make no mistake from long range this time to tie the game. Now it was a matter of who could execute better in the final 30 seconds.
- LA had the first chance, and ran a high pick and roll with Ogwumike and Toliver. Seattle switched, leaving Camille Little on Toliver, and Kristi decided to go to her favourite option – keep the ball and score. She drove past Little, the help didn’t come quickly enough, and Toliver finished with her left hand at the rim.
- Out of a timeout, Seattle took advantage of LA’s now-switching defense, running a double screen which left Bird faced up with Ebony Hoffman. She went right by Hoffman to the hoop, only to blow the layup. Fortunately for Seattle, LA were still scrambling to recover from the screens and switches, leaving Little wide open under the hoop to tip in Bird’s miss. Tied game, 5 seconds remaining.
- LA nearly screwed up the inbounds, but after review got a second chance. The ball went to Ogwumike beyond the three-point line, after Seattle cut off the passing lane to Parker. Ogwumike drove a few steps, leaned in past Wauters (who was desperately trying to avoid fouling), and sank an off-balance effort from just below the elbow. With no timeouts, Seattle inbounded to Bird who flung up an effort from halfcourt that was well off (and was probably after the buzzer anyway). LA sneak another one, 67-65.
- This was a dispiriting loss for the Storm, in a game they were in control of for much of the second half. There are conspicuous holes in this LA defense, but apart from Smith’s outside firing Seattle were pretty poor at taking advantage of them. On the positive side, the defense looked crisper than it has in several games this season, which gives them something to build from. The rotation was back to eight players though, with heavy minutes for the three perimeter starters. The potential arrival of Svetlana Abrosimova in a few weeks will help a little, but some of these players are getting worked hard for little reward right now.
- Also, barely two weeks into the season, LA sealed the season series with Seattle with this win. That could be important later in the year, although the Storm are going to need to improve dramatically to get close enough to the Sparks for tie-breakers to matter.
- LA go to 5-1 with this win, and have to be delighted with that start to the season, while still a little worried about the issues that remain. Parker and Toliver both finished this game 7-16 from the floor (for 16 and 23 points respectively), but Ogwumike (3-9 for 10) was the only other Spark with more than one basket. They need other players to offer a threat, and some extra ball movement to involve those other players more wouldn’t go amiss. There are also the defensive problems mentioned above. But if you can fight through early problems to start the season 5-1, you’re obviously doing plenty of things right.
Although nothing official has been confirmed by the team, sources and subsequent media articles suggest that Coco Miller is about to join the LA Sparks to help with their backcourt depth. After working with Miller for several years in Atlanta, Coach Ross obviously knows what she’s getting. Just having someone else in the backcourt who can dribble the ball up the floor, make a pass and hit a shot or two will take some pressure off Kristi Toliver and Alana Beard. I’ll wait until official confirmation of exactly how they’ve added Miller to the roster before examining the impact on LA’s cap situation or future roster.
Atlanta have finally given up on Courtney Paris, and cut her today in order to sign Jessica Moore. The Dream and head coach Marynell Meadors had obviously grown tired of Paris and the limitations placed on her game by her weight and lack of mobility. Meadors had stopped using her, and even when Atlanta were getting annihilated on the boards on Saturday, Paris was still left glued to the bench. If she’s healthy, Moore knows the job of a backup post in this league, something she’s done for several teams in the past – most recently Connecticut last year. She can at least give Meadors another option to turn to when her posts aren’t getting the job done – and while they wait for Erika de Souza to show up after the Olympics.
Player of the Week Awards were handed out today, to Chicago’s Epiphanny Prince and Phoenix’s DeWanna Bonner. Prince absolutely deserved it for her outstanding performances, especially in crunch time, teaming with Sylvia Fowles to lead the Sky to three straight wins. Bonner, on the other hand, is an absolutely ridiculous choice that makes very little sense. Firstly, team record often plays a big role in these awards, and Phoenix went 1-2 this week (with the one victory being over winless Tulsa). Secondly, Bonner simply hasn’t played that well, piling up a large proportion of her stats after defeat was already virtually certain against Atlanta and San Antonio. She also shot an ugly 38% on the week. Another example of scoring average trumping anything else, and awards being handed out by people who don’t watch the damn games.
Tonight (Monday June 4th):
Tomorrow (Tuesday June 5th):
Atlanta @ New York, 7pm ET