Apologies for the late posting, it’s been one of those weeks where WNBAlien is restricted by non-WNBA related matters. In order to make up for it, we offer up a double dose of WNBA coverage – both of Wednesday’s games, and both of Thursday’s as well. So two later than usual, but two considerably earlier. See, it all evens out in the end.
Let’s hit the Bullet Point Breakdowns.
Washington Mystics 77 @ Phoenix Mercury 88
- Already without Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi, the Mercury were missing Candice Dupree and Nakia Sanford for this game as well. Both had picked up ‘left knee contusions’ in the loss to Tulsa on Sunday night. Assuming you believe the Mercury (more on that later). Alexis Hornbuckle and Krystal Thomas came into the starting lineup.
- Washington stuck with the same starting five they’ve used lately (including the blowout loss to LA on Monday).
- Most of this game was pretty awful, in terms of actual basketball. In the first half, against a woefully understrength Mercury team, Washington settled for far too many jump shots. Phoenix did the best they could with the personnel they had left, but came out with their 3-2 zone which constantly left shooters ludicrously open.
- It’s amazing how often Mercury players seem to be close enough to challenge shots, but their arms are down by their sides. How hard is it to stick your hand in the air and make some mild effort to contest? Don’t they teach you that when you’re five?
- Somehow, both teams were giving up an appalling number of offensive rebounds. The Mercury are typically terrible on the glass, so that was hardly a surprise on their end. But the Mystics were giving it back by letting players like Krystal Thomas and Avery Warley grab second chances off Phoenix misses. Eventually, it all pretty much evened out and the Mystics led 41-40 at the half.
- Washington were 6-13 from three-point range at the break – seriously, really really open perimeter shots from the corners. Not a surprising flaw in a 3-2, but something you ought to be prepared for.
- Looking far more comfortable playing almost exclusively man-to-man, Phoenix did better defensively in the second half. The problem was Monique Currie, having comfortably her best offensive night of the season. The Mercury couldn’t stop her, whether she was firing from outside or going to the rim.
- Offensive boards continued to hurt both teams in the second half.
- A string of plays in the middle of the fourth quarter looked like it had finally seen the Mystics take control. Currie missed a pair of free throws, but Crystal Langhorne grabbed the offensive board, and Currie made up for it by hitting a three when Langhorne kicked it to her. Charde Houston bricked an ugly jumper. Michelle Snow hit a pair of free throws when DeWanna Bonner reached and fouled her rather than just standing there to take the charge. Houston travelled. Then Noelle Quinn hit a three after Bonner faded too far into the paint and left her open in the corner. That left Washington up 70-63 with barely five minutes remaining.
- But we all know that the Mystics have made an art form out of blowing games they should win. And you absolutely have to credit the remaining Mercury players for fighting their hearts out in this game.
- In the final minutes, the key player was Mercury rookie point guard Sammy Prahalis. She hit a wild, off-balance three as the shot clock expired with two minutes left in the game, cutting a five-point gap to two. Then she fed Bonner in transition to hit another three to take the lead. After a Snow three-point play pushed Washington back in front, Prahalis made Jasmine Thomas look silly off the dribble, and finished over Snow at the rim to tie the game at 77 with under a minute left.
- It was even Prahalis who tracked down the rebound when Langhorne missed a long jumper on the ensuing possession, and then she drove by Currie for another tough finish at the rim. It left you wondering why she hadn’t been doing more of this all night, but it was still impressive to see the kid step up in the clutch.
- Down two with 23 seconds left, Washington inevitably found ways to screw up their remaining chances. Currie had one effort blocked, then missed a second, and the rebound resulted in a tie-up between Snow and Warley. Snow contrived to tip the following jump-ball to herself and catch it, which is illegal, giving the Mercury the ball on the sidelines with 1.5 seconds left. Even then there was one more breakdown from Washington, as they lost track of Krystal Thomas and couldn’t foul her until there was only 0.1s remaining. That’s too little time to accomplish anything, and the game was over.
- A miserable performance from the Mystics, who failed to beat a team missing four starters (that doesn’t play any defense at the best of times). Head coach Trudi Lacey continues to make a mess of this whole situation, and her rotations make little sense. It’s also hard to understand why she doesn’t just start her five best players. Ajavon, Currie, Langhorne and Snow haven’t started together in any game this season – the fifth member of the ‘top five’ is a complete crapshoot with this roster. Of course, ‘crapshoot’ has become an oft-mentioned term with this franchise, thanks to their owner Sheila Johnson using it to describe the process of hiring a new coach/GM. Maybe it’s time to roll the dice again.
- The Mercury get a lot of criticism here. Obviously, I feel it’s all warranted or it wouldn’t be published, but it’s criticism of coaching, system, performance and sometimes technique. Rarely effort or desire. The players that Phoenix sent out onto the floor for this contest were clearly giving everything they had to win the game. They crashed the offensive glass, they attacked as best they could, and the finishing sequence from Prahalis will have heartened Mercury fans for the future.
- But you can’t finish talking about this game without addressing the gigantic elephant in the room. People started mentioning ‘tanking’ far too early this season, and in regards to teams that clearly weren’t. It was dumb. But this Mercury team is clearly the most likely current culprit. Taylor’s actually hurt – she went down in a very important European game, and blew out her knee. She’ll be missing the Olympics due to that injury. But would Taurasi really be missing all these games if the Mercury had a decent team? Are Dupree – who walked off looking pretty much fine on Sunday – and Sanford really unable to play? Or are the Mercury just far more interested in some lottery balls this year than winning games? Either way, the players on the floor – who no one with an actual brain would accuse of actually trying to lose – clawed their way to a win for Phoenix.
Tulsa Shock 79 @ Los Angeles Sparks 95
- With Scholanda Dorrell and Jen Lacy ruled out due to knee injuries until after the Olympic break, Ivory Latta and Karima Christmas were promoted into Tulsa’s starting lineup. On the bright side, new pickups Amber Holt and Courtney Paris were available to play for the first time.
- LA had the same starting five as usual, and the same nine healthy players available to take the floor.
- This… was not the most gripping game of basketball in the history of the sport. To say the least.
- Temeka Johnson got to attack another one of her former teams, but it seems like that happen in every other game she plays.
- Paris made a solid debut for the Shock, using her body to crash the offensive glass and finish in the paint. We’ve always known she could rebound – it’s just a matter of whether she can defend anybody, and survive physically for decent minutes.
- Tulsa’s offense ground to a halt in the second quarter, as LA’s mediocre defense did enough to keep them quiet (it often doesn’t take much). LA’s inherent overwhelming advantage in talent began to tell as players like DeLisha Milton-Jones and Kristi Toliver knocked down a few shots, and Candace Parker started to take over.
- The Shock just don’t have anything close to an answer for Parker if she decides to show up and play, and she already had 17 by halftime. 8 offensive boards was really all that had kept Tulsa as close as the 49-39 scoreline at the break.
- Tulsa hung around throughout the second half, and occasionally cut the gap back to 9 or 10, but never seriously threatened to challenge for victory. As is so often the case, they just didn’t have the personnel.
- Credit the Sparks for managing to take much better care of the ball than they did in their previous game against Tulsa, when Toliver had 14 turnovers (and had to hit a last-second shot to salvage the win). The Shock’s pressure didn’t trouble them as much this time, and Toliver only had 3 turnovers. Her 22 points – including 14-14 at the free throw line – were useful as well.
- But Parker was the star, finishing 14-21 for 33 points, 8 boards and 9 blocks (although the official scorer was damn generous on several of those nine rejections). Her defense still has flaws – she’s becoming so keen to slide into the paint as a help defender that her own man is often left open – but at least the work rate has been more consistent this year. And when her varied offensive game is flowing, she can dominate games at that end.
Connecticut Sun 61 @ Indiana Fever 95
- Connecticut beat the Fever two nights earlier – building a 2-0 edge in the season series – so this game gave Indiana the chance to gain quick revenge over their Eastern Conference rival. Both teams sent out the same starting groups that began the previous game.
- The Fever came out on fire, and barely cooled off for the rest of the night. They were moving the ball well, playing aggressive defense, and most important of all – knocking down everything. Barely four minutes into the game, Sun coach Mike Thibault was already tired enough of what he was seeing to earn a technical from the refs. Katie Douglas sank the free throw for a 15-4 Fever lead.
- It just kept snowballing. The Sun would turn the ball over or throw up a brick from outside; Indiana would move the ball for a good look and finish – often from beyond the three-point line. The lead hit 20 barely three minutes into the second quarter on a Jeanette Pohlen triple, and a Briann January bomb from outside closed out the half with a 57-30 advantage for the Fever. This was a massacre.
- Indiana had already illustrated in the first two games between these teams that they’re one of the better squads in the league at restricting Tina Charles. Their defensive organisation and physicality causes it, and it was working again in this game – Charles was virtually anonymous. Unlike in the previous games, none of her teammates had stepped up to fill the hole. A gaping chasm had simply opened up instead.
- For the Fever, Catchings hadn’t even been required to do much scoring. She was moving the ball around nicely and attacking at the defensive end, leaving Douglas, January and Shavonte Zellous to lead the point production. They were 60% from the field in the first half, including 9-15 from beyond the arc, and they were even on top on the glass. It was pretty much a perfect half from a Fever perspective.
- The gap never dropped any lower than 18 in the second half, and it was essentially a matter of playing out time. Charles picked up a tech for very little late in the third quarter, and moments later Thibault decided he’d seen enough, whining his way into a second tech and the resultant ejection. “Bullshit” was the only word I definitely caught as he left the court, but another expletive or two seemed like they were in there as well.
- It’s an overused cliché, but it just seemed like one team wanted this game more. A lot more. After two losses to the Sun, now back on their own floor, Indiana were determined to take this one and they were out of sight quickly. Connecticut barely seemed to have their heads in the game, and didn’t offer up much resistance. From their perspective, it was hopefully just an off-night.
- If it hadn’t been such a blowout, Catchings might’ve had a rare WNBA triple-double, finishing as she did with 13 points, 10 boards and 8 assists (in only 28 minutes of action). But it was a collective demolition job. Amazingly, Indiana’s accuracy from outside improved from that 9-15 start, finishing 15-24 overall, with January, Pohlen and Erin Phillips leading the way. It was an absolute barrage. Once they got rolling in the opening period, the Fever were like a runaway train.
New York Liberty 70 @ Minnesota Lynx 102
- Still no Plenette Pierson for New York due to her hyperextended knee, and Jessica Adair was out for Minnesota and will undergo arthroscopic surgery on her right knee tomorrow. She’s done until after the Olympics, at least.
- After giving up their winning streak last time out in Seattle, the consensus of opinion was that the Lynx would come out angry in this one and take it right to New York. It didn’t really happen initially. Minnesota looked sleepy to open the game, there was too little penetration, and early in the second quarter New York led 28-17 as a result.
- Seimone Augustus was the catalyst for the Lynx to finally wake up and start competing. The Lynx had settled for too many jumpers early, but when Augustus starts being the one taking the shots, it often works out pretty well. She scored in a whole variety of ways in the second quarter, and eventually her teammates started to follow her lead.
- Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve made the smart move in leaving backups Devereaux Peters and Monica Wright in the game through most of the second period, when the lineup they were a part of led the Minnesota revival. Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson played under 10 minutes apiece in the first half – which is very unusual – but the Lynx had turned the game around and led 45-42 (and it was only that close thanks to a Leilani Mitchell buzzer-beater from halfcourt).
- The third quarter was where the game was decided. Barely a minute into the period, Liberty forward DeMya Walker went down in pain after losing the fight for a rebound with Rebekkah Brunson. But Walker got up, and waved at the bench (several times, demonstratively) that she was okay to continue. Nonetheless, New York head coach John Whisenant sent Nicole Powell into the game to replace her.
- Now Whisenant had gone the whole first half using actual post players for the post positions. He got 40 minutes total out of Walker, Kia Vaughn, Kara Braxton and rookie Kelley Cain. So why he decided that two minutes into the second half was the right time to swing Powell in at power forward, I have no idea.
- It didn’t work. It really didn’t work. Taj McWilliams-Franklin immediately took advantage of the mismatch she had over Powell, and backed her down for a three-point play seconds after Powell had replaced Walker. This continued for several possessions, with either McWilliams-Franklin dominating Powell, or the help New York had to send over unbalancing the team enough to open up holes elsewhere. It was a disaster, that Whiz took far too long to rectify.
- The only reason the third quarter wasn’t an even greater shambles for the Liberty, was that Cappie Pondexter was putting on a show offensively. She hit a series of insanely tough shots, or forced her way to the free throw line, or generally found some way to score.
- But it wasn’t enough. The five minute stretch where Powell was at the 4 opened the floodgates, Minnesota had their rhythm and their shooting touch back, and suddenly we were watching an absolute blowout. Pondexter was 6-9 for 17 points in the third quarter alone – but her team lost the period 35-21. Taj had 9 points, Peters had 10 in barely 4 minutes, and the Lynx were 16-4 on the glass in the period. It turned a basketball game into an ass-kicking, and Minnesota led 80-63 heading to the fourth quarter.
- The fourth was basically a waste of everyone’s time, after the third had decided matters.
- For Minnesota, it was a nice path back to winning ways. They started slowly but figured it out, and their MVP candidate rediscovered her shooting touch (Augustus finished the game 9-12 for 26 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds). Special mention should also go to Peters, who stepped up on the night we discovered that Adair is going to be out for a while – opening up even more guaranteed opportunities for the rookie. She ended the night 6-10 for 18 points and 6 boards (4 offensive), and played 19 minutes largely on merit, not because she was running out garbage time. With Amber Harris’s early injury and Adair’s recent woes, the performances of Minnesota’s rookie post have been a very useful bonus for the Lynx. She still has some breakdowns defensively, but Taj is old enough to be her mom – you’d expect the veteran to be a little stronger on the finer details of pro basketball. The kid’ll learn.
- Who knows what Whiz was thinking in the third quarter. He’d avoided putting Powell at the 4 in the first half because Minnesota are just too big and athletic in the post, and that was still true in the second half. It made little sense. Taking so long to rectify the situation when it was clearly failing was even worse. Pondexter had a hell of a night individually, shooting 11-21 for 30 points and 5 assists, but there was very little help. Ironically, the only real additional scoring came from Powell, who was hot from outside for once. She was just as hot out there when she was playing small forward, though.
In case you skimmed the pieces above, recent injuries have taken out Dupree and Sanford in Phoenix, Dorrell and Lacy in Tulsa, Pierson in New York and Adair in Minnesota (on top of all the players already missing). This is getting sadly ridiculous, but at least the Olympic break will give a lot of players time to heal for a few weeks.
Australia just announced their 12-woman squad for the Olympics, and bizarrely left out Indiana’s Erin Phillips. Weird choice for a team that doesn’t have any other guards as dynamic as her.
Today (Friday June 22nd):
San Antonio @ Seattle, 10pm ET
Tomorrow (Saturday June 23rd):
Chicago @ Minnesota, 12.30 ET
Indiana @ Tulsa, 8pm ET
Los Angeles @ Phoenix, 9pm ET
New York needs to let Whiz go seriously because he’s playing Nicole at the power forward position which is not good and they lose to Minnesota in a blowout which is inexcusable and unacceptable.