WNBA Today, 06/16/2012: Blowouts, a squeaker, and a little bit of history

It was another heavy evening of action in the WNBA on Friday, with five games taking place in one night. Fortunately for me, the teams decided to take it easy on us poor writers and offer up an array of blowouts. Some of them even would’ve benefitted from a WNBA version of the mercy rule. Nonetheless, there were still some interesting moments, and one game that went down to the wire, so let’s get to it: WNBAlien Bullet Point Breakdown-style.

 

Indiana Fever 66 @ Washington Mystics 67

  • Tammy Sutton-Brown returned to the starting lineup at center for Indiana, after being losing her spot to Jessica Davenport for one game. Briann January continued to start in place of Erin Phillips at the point, with the Australian still in Europe with her national team.
  • Washington switched things up, with Jasmine Thomas, Matee Ajavon and Noelle Quinn starting on the perimeter. Dominique Canty was waived earlier in the week, and Monique Currie went to the bench. Mystics coach Trudi Lacey was clearly trying to avoid the horrendous starts her team has made a habit of lately, and was opening the game with the lineup that keyed Washington’s comeback in their previous game. She also had Canty’s replacement, Shannon Bobbitt, as a new point guard option off the pine.
  • The fresh starting lineup seemed to work for the Mystics. They avoided digging their typical first half hole, and even built a small lead in the second quarter. Indiana’s problem was that when they couldn’t get out and run off steals or long rebounds, their halfcourt offense wasn’t creating anything. There was very little going to the rim, resulting in a lot of jumpers, very few of which were falling.
  • Crystal Langhorne, unsurprisingly, was the star for Washington. She was earning points by running the floor to beat the defense to the rim, posting up in halfcourt sets, knocking down an occasional jumper from midrange to keep the defense honest – this was the exceptional and versatile offensive talent that we’ve seen Langhorne become in the last few years. She was also doing a solid job on Tamika Catchings at the defensive end.
  • The depth and bench production that was so useful for Indiana in their first few games didn’t present itself here, and Washington’s backups outplayed them. Natalie Novosel was given more of a chance to show her skills than she’d received so far in her rookie year, and contributed a typical ‘find a way to score’ drive and a three from long range. Bobbitt entered the game and instantly won over the crowd with her energy and attack mentality at both ends. Washington led 37-31 at the break.
  • The third quarter was an ugly stalemate, with neither side able to make any shots, and the only consistent scoring coming at the free throw line.
  • Washington’s Jasmine Thomas really isn’t much of a ballhandler. She has a constant potential to turn the ball over, and Indiana were trying to attack that.
  • Washington had a 59-49 advantage heading into the fourth quarter, but everyone on both teams and everyone watching knew the history. This Mystics team had the capacity to collapse, and we all knew it. A one-point loss still seemed far more likely than easing home with a nice, comfortable double-digit victory.
  • There were a hell of a lot of perimeter bricks thrown up at both ends in the fourth quarter. Credit the defenses for keeping their opponents out of the paint as much as possible, but you expect better shooting at this level. For Indiana, both Catchings and Katie Douglas were struggling, and none of their teammates were stepping up to help them out.
  • Still, Washington’s issues with keeping hold of the ball and hitting their own shots were allowing the Fever to creep slowly back into the game. A Sutton-Brown finish in transition and the free throw that she added on top cut the gap to two points with under three minutes to play.
  • Bobbitt’s ballhandling and energy were vital for Washington in this game, but you could see her negatives as well. She’s so small that she has trouble finishing at the rim, and when she runs the middle pick-and-roll that Washington favoured late in this game she has tunnel vision. It’s either score herself, or try to feed the roller. The other three teammates may as well not be on the floor.
  • Nonetheless, a nice assist to Michelle Snow on one of those pick-and-rolls, plus one drive Bobbitt did manage to finish, gave Washington a five-point lead with 46 seconds left.
  • The Mystics still had plenty of time to try to throw it away. They had a five-second inbounding violation, nearly a second one, almost a backcourt-violation, and then Snow threw up a brick in the lane far too quickly. There were 15 seconds left and they should’ve been running down the clock. You could feel the panic from the Mystics, and their desperation to hold on the win was causing mental errors.
  • So it was Indiana ball, down by a point, with 14 seconds left. They almost made a mess of it themselves, with several players looking tentative and reluctant to shoot. Ultimately, Catchings had a good look on a step-back three (which came up short), and Douglas had a chance with a little lefty-hook at the buzzer (short as well). Indiana’s inability to make a shot overcame Washington’s talents at giving games away.
  • Washington will be delighted at finally winning a tight game, albeit by the skin of their teeth. Langhorne finished 7-11 for 22 points and 13 boards, with a little support from a variety of sources. Bobbitt’s 4-10 for 8 points and 5 assists, along with her neverending energy and positive attitude was vital. She’ll drive you nuts in the various games where her style doesn’t work, and brick follows turnover follows brick, but in one night she’s outperformed Canty’s season by a country mile. She could be just what this team needs.
  • It’s the third loss in a row for Indiana, and while it’s too soon to panic there are some warning signs starting to show. In the early games it looked like their bench was giving them excellent depth, and a variety of options for Lin Dunn to choose from. Instead, recently it’s flipped back towards what we’d expected coming into the season – that they’d go as far as Catchings and Douglas could drag them. The two stars were a combined 6-26 in this game, and ultimately that killed their chances. Going 17-26 as a team at the free throw line hurt as well. Getting Phillips back next week will increase the depth a little again, but the support players have to keep stepping up. Two players isn’t enough, even two as talented as Catchings and Douglas.

 

New York Liberty 55 @ Connecticut Sun 97

  • Blowout isn’t a strong enough word for this one. You have to start searching for terms like ‘shellacking’ and ‘old-fashioned ass-whooping’.
  • Connecticut messed around with their starting wing players once again, benching Danielle McCray for the first time to allow both Allison Hightower and Kalana Greene to start. The Liberty had veteran DeMya Walker in at power forward in place of Plenette Pierson to start the game. Pierson played off the bench, but wore a huge knee brace and didn’t look at all comfortable.
  • The game was virtually over inside the first quarter, and it was dead and buried by halfway through the second. Connecticut came out firing and hitting shots, offering the right response to their loss against LA on national TV two nights earlier. New York were a mess, Cappie Pondexter barely touched the ball, and they got taken apart.
  • It was hard to pick out anything in particular that was leading to Connecticut’s domination – they were just on top in every conceivable way. They were shooting better, moving the ball quicker, playing more cohesive defense, attacking the boards harder, taking far better care of the ball – everything. Varsity against the J.V. would’ve been far too kind; this was varsity against the kindergarten.
  • It was 30-14 by the end of the first, 44-18 after 15 minutes, and 61-27 at halftime thanks to a Greene layup at the buzzer. If any Liberty fans made the trip out to the Mohegan for the game, they probably spent the rest of the game in the bar.
  • The second half was an inevitable 20 minutes of garbage time. The lead was 43 at its highest point. Just a flat-out embarrassment for New York.
  • Picking out any one player to criticise for the Liberty seems almost unfair. This was a collective shambles; a team that just didn’t show up. While there’s the odd fan grumbling about Agler in Seattle or Lacey in Washington, John Whisenant’s position in New York may be under the most threat. Besides a couple of games where they looked like they might be turning things around, this Liberty team’s been a mess this year. The only player they lost from last season was backup post Quanitra Hollingsworth, the only injury they’ve had is the one Pierson is trying to play through, and yet this is a miserable shadow of last year’s club.
  • Cappie Pondexter, unsurprisingly, is receiving much of the blame. I even took a shot myself on Twitter last night. The problem with her performances has been how little she seems to be actively trying to take over and will her team on. She’s been too passive, too often, and she’s the superstar – she’s meant to carry this team forwards. But you look at the numbers, and she’s still averaging around 19 points per game (albeit with dubious percentages). She’s still doing something right. But something in this team is broken right now, and it might take major changes to fix it.
  • After they blew New York away, there wasn’t much left for Connecticut to do but coast home the rest of the way. They finished with six players in double-digits, and even rookie Chay Shegog got to play. The miserable Liberty performance helped them out, but this is how you respond to a loss. You come out with renewed energy, and wipe away the memory of that previous game. The Sun did just that, and did it with style.

 

Los Angeles Sparks 59 @ Atlanta Dream 92

  • It’s a case of rinse and repeat from that last one. Except that we’ve come to expect rather more from the Sparks than we do from the Liberty.
  • LA had their expected starters, but Atlanta had Tiffany Hayes in the lineup in place of star Angel McCoughtry. She was apparently benched for a ‘violation of team rules’, which both she and coach Marynell Meadors refused to elaborate on after the game. It’s not the first time that something like this has happened with McCoughtry, who’s a little bit wild, and likes to speak her mind. But if she comes out and plays like this as a result, the Dream will live with the occasional indiscretion.
  • The Sparks coughed up various turnovers early in the game, which helped the Dream get out on the break and into their rhythm. It’s the single-worst thing you can do against Atlanta, who thrive on their running game and are perhaps the WNBA team most reliant on momentum.
  • It was 6-0 before McCoughtry got involved, and when yet another hit to Hayes’s face allowed McCoughtry into the game, she came out firing. She joined her teammates in raining in a barrage of jumpers, along with the easy points they were getting in transition, and Atlanta were up 28-12 by the end of the first quarter. LA had never made it out of the blocks.
  • Maybe their exertions in Connecticut on Wednesday night had drained the Sparks, because however many timeouts head coach Carol Ross called, and whatever substitutions she made, LA couldn’t muster much of a fight back.
  • After her dominant, MVP-level performance on Wednesday, Candace Parker was peripheral to the entire game. Atlanta were obviously focussing on her, but that’s hardly unusual. She wasn’t touching the ball particularly often, and generally had very little impact. Without her, the Sparks had no one to carry them through the game, and trailed 47-28 at halftime.
  • It only got worse for LA in the second half. McCoughtry kept scoring, the likes of Lindsey Harding, Cathrine Kraayeveld and Sancho Lyttle joined in, and Atlanta rolled. You could say that the Sparks quit, but they’d basically never shown up in the first place so it was hard to tell. Somehow they have to recover quickly and get their minds ready for another game tonight in San Antonio.
  • Teams have games like this from time to time, where they just get blown out of the building for no apparent reason, but it was still shocking to see the Sparks capitulate. It showed what can happen when Parker is a no-show. Nneka Ogwumike will never stop fighting, and Kristi Toliver will never stop shooting, but there aren’t as many places to turn on this roster as there are with some other teams. The key players, Parker in particular, must show up.
  • Disappointing to see such a terrible performance on Ross’s return to Atlanta as well, where she was a key assistant coach during both of their runs to the WNBA Finals.
  • Odd, also, that we saw so little of the 2-3 zone defense that gave Connecticut so many problems on Wednesday night. Maybe Atlanta just started off so hot that Ross never felt there was an opportune moment to switch to it, but it surely would’ve been worth a try.
  • Atlanta needed a game like this, and what they need now is to show some mild level of consistency. McCoughtry was an outstanding 11-18 for 31 points off the bench (and claimed not to have broken any rules after the game). Practically the whole game, at least until it was completely out of hand, was played at Atlanta’s pace. When they can force games to be played in the style they favour, careening from one end to the other with barely enough time to pause for breath, they’re a threat to anyone. Of course, if the other team doesn’t get out of bed, it’s easier to win.
  • ‘Rookie’ Aneika Henry (she’s 26, and has played professionally in Europe for several years), is looking like a useful pickup for the Dream to help in the post. Which is good, considering how poorly Kraayeveld and Yelena Leuchanka have played at times. She should face a much tougher test when Connecticut are the visitors on Sunday.

 

Seattle Storm 86 @ Tulsa Shock 73

  • With records of 1-7 and 0-8, this was a matchup of two teams desperate for a win. The Storm only managed to achieve that ‘1’ by winning their first encounter with Tulsa.
  • Both teams kept the same starting lineups as in their previous games. So Katie Smith was at small forward for Seattle, and Tulsa began with a big five featuring Scholanda Dorrell at shooting guard and Jen Lacy, Kayla Pedersen and Glory Johnson in the frontcourt.
  • Especially considering how these teams have performed this year, it was an insanely high-scoring and offensively efficient first half. Shots were raining in at both ends. Sue Bird was sinking everything, Tina Thompson was tossing in her trademark rainbow threes, and the likes of Lacy and Temeka Johnson were doing the same at the other end. By halftime the Shock were 7-11 from three-point range, and the Storm were even better at 8-12. It was a barrage of bombs.
  • Seattle were finding some points in transition as well. While they sometimes have trouble with turnovers, the Storm would apparently be fine if they could play Tulsa every night. It’s just those pesky other ten teams that are causing all the problems. Seattle led 53-43 at halftime, and were shooting 68% from the field. For a team that hasn’t been able to hit water from the side of a boat this season, it was dreamland.
  • The Shock hung around in the third quarter, but it couldn’t last. Seattle have had their issues defensively this year, but they’re still smart enough and solid enough to mostly keep Tulsa out of the paint, and the Shock don’t have the talent or offensive execution to pick them apart. It left Tulsa continuing to fire away from long range, and they couldn’t find the net consistently enough to stay in the game. Seattle pulled away in the fourth quarter and eased home without much trouble.
  • One slightly worrying element of this game for Seattle, despite the win, was that they did a lot of their good work with Ann Wauters on the bench. The big Belgian center was meant to be a key addition for them this year, and it hasn’t really worked. The team can’t find her enough in the post for her offensive production to outweigh her defensive issues, and she’s often been pushed around in the paint. She played less than 20 minutes in this game, and the Storm seem to work more smoothly with her on the bench. Maybe she’ll be more effective in the second half of the season when she can be a complement to Lauren Jackson, rather than expected to do a lot of work as a key piece.
  • On the positive side for Seattle – oh, the shooting! Bird couldn’t miss for most of the night, hitting her first 9 shots and finishing with 21 points, 4 assists and 7 boards. Smith and Thompson were hot from outside, while Shekinna Stricklen and Tanisha Wright both offered a little penetration and direction for the offense. But this is all with the standard caveat – ‘it was against Tulsa’. The Storm have to carry this kind of production over against other teams, and they’re yet to prove that they can do that. Even against Tulsa, most of their scoring came from outside, and it’s hard to win consistently by just firing up endless jump shots.
  • It’s gotten to the stage where you have to feel sorry for Shock head coach Gary Kloppenburg. He has made this team better. Honestly, he has. Their defense is noticeably more cohesive and structured than it was in previous seasons. But without Liz Cambage and Tiffany Jones (née Jackson), his team’s desperately limited inside. They just don’t have the offensive weapons to hurt teams, and they’re reliant on perimeter shooting to score. Stay patient, Shock fans, and stick around for 2013. The improvement should come.

 

Minnesota Lynx 78 @ Phoenix Mercury 60

  • The scoreline might be rather closer, but this was nearly as unwatchable as the destructions in Atlanta and Connecticut.
  • Seimone Augustus was back in the lineup for Minnesota, after two games out with a quad injury. Phoenix continue to struggle on with Charde Houston replacing Diana Taurasi in their starting five.
  • It was a weird game. No one for Minnesota found an offensive groove all night, and point guard Lindsay Whalen became their only consistent scoring option, mostly on broken plays and in transition. But the Lynx were still far too good for the current edition of the Mercury. This was a Lynx team putting up a C-level performance, maybe even a C-minus, and they were up 43-27 at halftime regardless.
  • Phoenix just don’t have the horses at this point. DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree are trying to offer what they can, but it’s nowhere near enough. The Mercury’s run-and-gun system just doesn’t function when talents like Taurasi and Penny Taylor are missing (along with Cappie Pondexter, of course, if you want to go back to when the system really worked).
  • The Mercury tried to do something extra defensively in this game, breaking out a zone for the first time this year. It wasn’t quite the ‘rover’ zone that they’ve used extensively in previous seasons, but it was some kind of 3-2 that looked pretty similar. While a lot of Minnesota’s inability to score seemed to come from them simply missing shots, you have to credit the Mercury somewhat for keeping the Lynx in check. However, Phoenix are never going to win many games if they start relying on their defense.
  • Augustus looked rusty coming back from her injury, Maya Moore was cold most of the night, the starting Lynx posts were quiet and only Monica Wright and Devereaux Peters provided them with anything off the bench. That left Whalen to take on the bulk of the scoring, and she stepped up. She hasn’t had the greatest start to the season, but Whalen’s invariably at her best when others falter and her team needs her to produce. She finished the game 11-14 for 29 points, far and away her most productive scoring night so far this year.
  • Mercury point guard Sammy Prahalis took some inevitable criticism for Whalen’s scoring outburst, but very few of the opposing point guard’s baskets were Prahalis’s fault. Maybe three of them, and that’s being ultra-critical. Most of Whalen’s production came in transition, or off broken plays, and several were when Prahalis wasn’t even on the floor. The rookie will have her problems defensively in this league, but she didn’t do that badly last night.
  • Andrea Riley continues to be utterly terrible as Prahalis’s backup. As does Alexis Gray-Lawson at the 2.
  • Regardless of the performance, this win took the Lynx to 10-0, the best start to a season in WNBA history. It also makes them a remarkable 26-2 in their last 28 games if you include their finish to last season. The targets remaining are LA’s 18-game win-streak, which they’d break with their last game before the Olympic break, and – whisper it quietly – the small possibility of 34-0. Obviously, a perfect season is a hell of a long-shot. The Lynx themselves won’t even be thinking about it yet, and there’ve been close calls already. But it’s fun to speculate about.

 

Notes

Tulsa’s Chante Black is out for about a week with a jaw injury. And we’ll notice her about as much while she’s injured as we have while she’s been healthy.

Spain suffered a big upset in losing to Sweden in EuroBasket Women qualifying today – so expect the calls to bring Sancho Lyttle over to intensify, if the agreement isn’t already set in stone.

 

Upcoming Games

Today (Saturday June 16th):

Chicago @ Indiana, 7pm ET

Los Angeles @ San Antonio, 8pm ET

—–

Tomorrow (Sunday June 17th):

Connecticut @ Atlanta, 3pm ET

Phoenix @ Tulsa, 4pm ET

Minnesota @ Seattle, 9pm ET

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3 comments on “WNBA Today, 06/16/2012: Blowouts, a squeaker, and a little bit of history

  1. Jack says:

    Like the bullet point format. Makes sense for your content.

  2. Damian says:

    I credit Cappie for stepping up to the plate for admitting she’s lost some of her mojo but again she needs help in the frontcourt and the backcourt and the there’s a need for a new head coach.

  3. Shelly says:

    Cappie and D.T. need to get back together. They are better together. Nither one of them can win a championship alone.

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