Sorry for the lack of post yesterday – it’s been a busy few days in WNBAlien-land. Everything should be back to normal next week. For now, we’re going to catch up on Friday night’s game, as well as everything that happened on Saturday. Everyone who was supposed to win eventually took care of business, but some of them did it with far greater ease than others.
- Both teams went with the starting fives we’ve come to expect from recent games. Seattle’s bench was slightly shorter than usual with Victoria Dunlap out again due to concussion – but then, Brian Agler probably wouldn’t have used her anyway.
- Those starting lineups created a matchup at center between Ann Wauters and Jayne Appel, and once again it didn’t reflect well on Wauters. The Belgian is supposed to be a top-level pivot, one of the better centers around, at least offensively. Appel, on the other hand, has been a huge disappointment for most of her WNBA career, and we’re still waiting on her to prove she even belongs at this level. Wauters makes her look good. It seems like the perfect matchup for Appel, who bodies Wauters just enough to make her uncomfortable, usually without drawing whistles. Wauters should be able to do better against her, but it’s the second time in two games between these teams that the Storm center has done practically nothing.
- Meanwhile, defensively, Wauters continues to be a conspicuous flaw in the Storm’s structure. Everyone else is starting to work it out and find their old form, but her rotations and mobility are weak, and she gets lost an awful lot. A central part of the Storm starting the season so poorly is that Wauters was meant to be better than this. Replacing Lauren Jackson with her has proven to be a huge step down.
- As a unit, it didn’t feel like Seattle were playing that poorly in the early stages, but they couldn’t make any shots. The team defense was still largely working as it should, but Jia Perkins came in for San Antonio and actually tickled the twine. The Silver Stars led 17-11 at the end of the first quarter as a result.
- Danielle Adams offers a balance to Wauters: she can’t move or guard anyone either. In this game, she also couldn’t hit any shots, which essentially made her useless.
- Seattle finally started to find a few points in the second quarter, with veterans Katie Smith and Tina Thompson the main contributors. Considering Perkins remained the only one with any rhythm for San Antonio, it didn’t take much for Seattle to push in front.
- It’s very, very nice to see something resembling the real Tanisha Wright back on a basketball court again. No idea what was wrong with her to start the year, but she’s back to being aggressive and driving at times offensively, while still chasing around the primary opposing scoring guard. There’ll still be the odd mental or ballhandling error, and the shooting percentage will take a while to rise back up, but this is more like the Tanisha we remember. Not that horrible mess that opened the season.
- Seattle led 32-28 at the half.
- Let me tell you the story of Sue Bird’s first two made baskets in this game. In the first half, Thompson set a screen on Perkins to open Bird up, then rolled to the hoop and made very sure that her roll blocked off Perkins’s path. It left Bird wide open to knock down the jumper. In the second half, Smith set a nasty, borderline illegal off-ball screen on Becky Hammon, which left Bird in all kinds of space to hit a three. These veterans know all the tricks, and a lot of them come into play away from the ball to help teammates more than themselves.
- Seattle had a strong start to the second half, forcing San Antonio coach Dan Hughes into early substitutions. He went to Perkins, obviously, and Ziomara Morrison as a replacement for Appel. Morrison doesn’t have the same defensive impact on Wauters as Appel, but she keeps her far more occupied at the defensive end. Morrison is more of a threat, even as a rookie.
- San Antonio got back in the game largely at the free throw line. The willingness of the Silver Stars to move the ball and use everyone available to create was part of it, but a lot of the production came down to some seriously inconsistent officiating. It was hard to tell what was a foul and what wasn’t for much of this game.
- Rookie Shekinna Stricklen had a nice sequence for the Storm, adding some energy and directness to their offense. If she can just become a little more consistent – and actually convert more of her drives and open shots into points – she can be a useful piece for this team in the future. They need that extra player who actually wants to drive the ball.
- Endless whistles gave us a very stilted fourth quarter. For the first time all night, Hammon was starting to wake up a little offensively, which was worrying for the Storm. They’d been in control and in front for most of the night, but never enough to feel comfortable.
- San Antonio went to their 2-3 zone several times in the fourth quarter, which made little sense considering how Seattle were already struggling to find points against their standard man-to-man. Maybe they were banking on Seattle firing up misses from outside as a response, as the Storm have often done this season.
- In the final minutes, Dan Hughes drew up a nice play to get Hammon a three which cut the score to 65-62, and Agler responded moments later with a nice design for Smith to hit from outside as well.
- It was still largely a procession of free throws, at both ends of the floor. Wright missed a couple, but then hit seven in a row when they really mattered down the stretch.
- Notably, the Storm were going with Thompson and Camille Little for the final minutes, while Wauters was glued to the bench. Seattle just work more smoothly without her right now. Little had a couple of monster offensive rebounds in this game, as well.
- San Antonio nearly pulled it out of the fire, thanks to an insanely hot Jia Perkins. She came through a picket-fence screen to nail a three, and hit another off a curl when the same play for Hammon was broken up. It got them within 78-76 with 18 seconds left, but all the made free throws from Seattle were keeping their noses in front. When Hammon lost control of the ball while trying to line up yet another three attempt, the game was finally iced. Wright snaffled up the ball, came away for a layup, and it was over.
- It wasn’t the prettiest game you’ll ever see, but it was certainly a lot nicer for Storm fans than many of their earlier games this season. The defense is working better, and they ultimately made enough shots to complete the win. Wright finished 6-11 from the field for 20 points, 7 assists and 5 boards, leading six Storm players in double-digits. Much, much better from her.
- Special mention should go to Tina Thompson, who was 5-11 for 12 points and 9 boards. Importantly, those shooting numbers only included 4 three-point attempts. She’s playing a little more inside now, more like a real power forward, and it helps this team. Yes, they need her shooting from (insanely) deep; but they need her guts and veteran nous inside too.
- It was a quiet game from virtually every Silver Star besides Perkins (8-16 for 20 points). The only impact anyone else made offensively was at the free throw line. They simply won’t win many games when players like Hammon, Adams and Sophia Young can’t make – or don’t even take – many shots.
- As ever, San Antonio got killed in points in the paint (34-14 in this case). It’s an illustration that the second and third lines of Seattle’s defense are sliding into place far more smoothly now – San Antonio couldn’t find a way to penetrate with any consistency. Considering Seattle looked like they barely knew what penetration was earlier this season, they’ll be delighted by numbers like that.
- This was Chicago’s first game without leading scorer Epiphanny Prince from the opening tip. Tamera Young continued to start on the perimeter, with Ruth Riley coming back into the starting five in the post. They had Sydney Carter as an option for the first time after signing her with the hardship exception that Prince’s injury made available.
- Minnesota had their usual starters, and were once again without backup post Jessica Adair after surgery on her right knee. She’s out until after the Olympics (at least).
- Really nice pregame speech from Cheryl Reeve to her team about the importance of Title XI, and how they should be playing this game to honour that. ESPN were recognising and celebrating the 40th anniversary of that landmark US legislation all day.
- Unfortunately, it meant this game was on the ‘Worldwide Leader’, which meant we had to listen to Carolyn Peck.
- Remember that ‘Fowles pins fronting defender, ball reversed on perimeter, entered to Fowles for layup’ play that Chicago ran with success against Indiana? It worked exactly once against Minnesota. This Lynx team are so damn big on the perimeter, and so smart at helping each other defensively, that it’s hard to complete that kind of play repeatedly. Arms were in passing lanes, hands were poking balls away, and it was just difficult to get Fowles the ball all afternoon.
- For all her talents as a big, smart defender, Ruth Riley’s recovery time when she has to rotate back after showing on screens is not quick. At all.
- Welcome to the WNBA, Sydney Carter. The young rookie got destroyed in her first appearance in the WNBA, with first Lindsay Whalen and then Candice Wiggins going right by her for scores. She made other errors as well, before Sky coach Pokey Chatman pulled her and put Courtney Vandersloot back out. Sloot had been benched in the first place for turning the ball over. How Chatman must wish that Ticha Penicheiro had been healthy at any stage this season.
- With Fowles the only real threat for Chicago, and Minnesota spreading the ball around and finding some points in transition, the Lynx eased into a double-digit lead in the first quarter. It looked like a bit of a mismatch, frankly.
- But then the rhythm of the game was established: Lynx build big lead, become a little complacent, Sky drift back into the contest.
- Even with Fowles on the bench for much of it, Chicago made a run in the second quarter. Sonja Petrovic was a nice boost off the bench, as they’ll need her to be. Without Prince, the likes of Petrovic, Vandersloot, Swin Cash, Tamera Young and Shay Murphy when she returns need to step up. The scoring has to come from somewhere. Just the threat of scoring needs to come from somewhere, so that five people aren’t guarding Fowles every time down the floor.
- The Lynx lead was down to 5 with four minutes left in the half when Cheryl Reeve called a timeout, and reinserted Whalen and Monica Wright into the game. Minnesota finally seemed to snap back awake, showed some energy, speed and ball movement, and within moments they were back up by double-digits. The lead had ballooned to 51-34 by halftime.
- It was all pretty similar in the second half. Minnesota took an amazing seven minutes to score a single point in the third quarter, by which stage their lead was down to 51-46. Then Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus finally remembered they were supposed to make an impact on this game, hit a couple of shots, and they were up by 13 again. It felt like they could’ve played for days, and Chicago would’ve kept pulling mildly close, only for the Lynx to slam the door.
- The highlight of the fourth quarter was a Whalen spin move in the paint for a layup that made Carter look silly. The Lynx lead never dropped below 10 again, and they comfortably eased home. Whalen finished the game with 25 points, 6 boards and 8 assists.
- Reeve would undoubtedly prefer to kill games off and win by 40, but it never seemed like the Lynx were seriously in trouble during this game. They were up 17 at the half without Augustus or Moore even being noticed. The one worry will be, once again, the slow start to the second half. They’ve done that a few times this year, and it’s not something you want to retain as a habit. Maybe Reeve needs to save an impassioned speech or two for the mid-game break instead of pre-game.
- It was about what we’d expect from Chicago without Prince, especially considering they were on the road against the best team in the league. Fowles was 8-13 for 22 points and 13 rebounds, but was shockingly quiet while amassing those numbers. There just wasn’t much help for her. Cash and Petrovic hit a couple of shots, but that was about it. And turnovers were once again an issue for the Sky, even more so because “throw it to Piph and let her create something” was no longer an option. They’ll be hoping to claw to .500 in the games without Prince prior to the Olympic break, and then re-start in August.
- This was not a good day for colour commentators. Tulsa’s new guy might have been worse than Peck.
- The starting fives were as expected. Tulsa are still working without Scholanda Dorrell and Jen Lacy due to knee injuries.
- Early on, Tulsa struggled to cope with the Fever’s defensive scheme. One of the main strengths of Indiana’s team defense is that everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing and where they’re supposed to be. It’s very well structured.
- Part of that structure is that whenever the ball is entered into the post against them, the double-team always comes from the baseline side. So the primary post defender knows where to shade the offensive player, who often turns right into the second defender because they’re expecting to spin into some space. The other defenders know exactly how to rotate because the space is always in the same place, and the open shooter is usually left in the opposite corner from the ball (which makes it very hard for the other team to swing it there quickly). It’s a clever defense, when everyone buys in and runs it properly.
- The Shock aren’t much good in the post regardless of the defense, so Indiana opened up a big early lead. Tulsa just couldn’t score, so even with Indiana’s offense running in spits and starts, the Fever were in control. The lead was 33-22 at halftime.
- The scary moment in the first half was when Shavonte Zellous was out on the break, and Karima Christmas tried to chase her down but sent her crashing to the floor (and sliding into the basket support). Zellous was on the ground looking dazed for a long time, and while she got up to hit both free throws, that was her last action of the night. Keeping her out was hopefully precautionary more than anything.
- The slightly worrying aspect to how Indiana have been playing lately is that they’re becoming a bunch of gunners. It worked like a dream in the blowout win over Connecticut last week, when everything was going in, but it does bring into play the old cliché: “live by the jump shot, die by the jump shot”. They’re a good enough team, with good enough shooters (and defenders), that they’ll win a lot of games like this. But sometimes you go cold, and the ideas swiftly run out.
- When the Fever get nothing from Jessica Davenport – as was the case in this game – Indiana look even more like a bunch of jump shooters.
- Tulsa fought back into the game in the second half. Glory Johnson was battling for everything inside, and Courtney Paris was providing a useful interior presence as well. After wandering through the first half without needing to exert themselves too much, Indiana looked like they expected the second half to be much the same. Instead, they found themselves in a contest.
- After Katie Douglas hit a three to give the Fever a 65-56 lead with under five minutes left in the game, Tulsa made their final push. While Douglas and Catchings were missing a series of jumpers, the Shock were the ones finding decent shots much closer to the basket (unusually for them). You often couldn’t blame the Fever for shooting – typically one screen was popping shooters wide open for threes against Tulsa’s dodgy halfcourt defense – but sometimes you have to turn down the open shot and wait for an even better one.
- Paris was back in for the last couple of minutes, throwing her weight around inside. The problem was that two strong offensive plays for layups inside were each followed by poor fouls at the other end, when she couldn’t move her feet in time and reached in on shooters. This is the question mark with Paris, and it’s the reason Atlanta gave up on her – can she guard anyone well enough to keep her on the floor?
- As a result, Tulsa coach Gary Kloppenburg was – presumably – trying to go offense/defense with Paris and Kayla Pedersen in the closing stages. But he made a mess of it. With under 2 minutes remaining and the Fever up by a point, Glory Johnson and Katie Douglas tied the ball up. Klopp pulled Paris for Pedersen before the jump ball. Why? Johnson was clearly the favourite to win that, and ultimately did so. Ivory Latta ended up firing a three on the resulting ugly possession.
- After Tulsa had tied the game for the first time since the opening seconds on a pair of Glory Johnson free throws, Tammy Sutton-Brown was at the free throw line herself with 37 seconds remaining (the refs were blowing up for everything late in this game). For some reason, Klopp left Pedersen in rather than reinserting Paris, and when Sutton-Brown missed the second free-throw, Catchings nipped in for a crucial offensive rebound. It was Glory Johnson that failed to box out Catchings, but maybe Paris could’ve done a better job than Pedersen in crashing the glass from the opposite side of the lane. After grabbing that board, Catchings posted up and made a cross-court pass toa wide open Erin Phillips, who drilled a huge three for a 71-67 lead with only 16 seconds left.
- There was still time for Phillips to play dismal defense on Temeka Johnson, allowing the Tulsa point guard to hit her own three and keep things interesting. Following a Catchings pair at the line, Tulsa were down 73-70 with 9 seconds left. With Temeka Johnson in the corner and blocked off, the ball went to Ivory Latta up top (guarded by Catchings on a switch). She threw up a weak, off-balance heave, that never had a chance of going in, and that was it. An ugly finish after the Shock had done well to fight back into the game.
- Indiana were a little lucky to get away with this one. They fell into the trap of just accepting and taking the open shooting opportunities, and sometimes those don’t fall – however open you are. Head coach Lin Dunn gave up on her depth awfully quickly as well, rather than working with her full deck against a team that has a paucity of talent. It was also yet another game where Catchings and Douglas were less than efficient offensively. 11-32 combined, they led the scoring for the Fever but the percentages were once again pretty poor. This is clearly one of the better teams in the East, but there are still plenty of areas to work on before the big games arrive in September.
- Credit Tulsa for not giving up and fighting to the end, even though it must be dispiriting to keep losing these tight finishes. Glory Johnson finished 9-14 for 22 points in another impressive outing. Like her fellow rookie Nneka Ogwumike, she gets a lot of her points from breakdowns and just working hard. Those are valuable players to have around – she just needs more help.
- Very early in her Shock career, Courtney Paris looks like she’s enjoying being back home in Oklahoma. Kloppenburg is using her sparingly because of her fitness level and defensive shortcomings, but in 34 total minutes across two games she’s put up 21 points and 19 rebounds. Those are impressive numbers for anyone. Now she just needs to keep it up over a long stretch. The fans already love her.
- Discussing the team news for this one is almost more worthwhile than reporting on the basketball. Phoenix were once again without Candice Dupree and Nakia Sanford, on top of the existing injuries to Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi. For LA, already without Nicky Anosike and Ebony Hoffman, Candace Parker was a late scratch for ‘precautionary reasons’.
- And no, no one gave a decent explanation of what the Sparks were taking precautions against. We were left to presume that it came down to avoiding the physical stresses of a back-to-back, Parker’s injury history, and the basic expectation that they could beat the Mercury without her anyway. Parker eventually said as much in a fourth quarter interview.
- The debate continues in regards to Phoenix’s ‘injuries’. Taylor’s hurt – that knee injury will keep her from coming to this side of the Atlantic for the Olympics, never mind the WNBA. Whether any of the others have maladies that would actually keep them off the floor for a team that truly wanted to win is debatable. A hip flexor keeping a competitor like Taurasi out for 10 games? Dupree – who had never missed a WNBA game due to injury until the last week – being kept out by what amounts to a bruise? It seems awfully doubtful. Those with shreds of common sense are not accusing the players on the floor of trying to lose. Not in the slightest. We’re just suggesting that the Mercury may not be putting their best possible lineups on the floor.
- Anyway, back to the basketball.
- A messy, tedious start left the game tied at 20-20 early in the second quarter. From there, the Sparks went on a 26-2 run that took over the game. Finally, players like Kristi Toliver and Jantel Lavender were attacking the rim, moving the ball with some speed, and capitalising on the multiple weaknesses in Phoenix’s defense.
- Meanwhile, Phoenix spent most of the second quarter faced with LA’s 2-3 zone defense, and looked utterly befuddled. They tried to hit shots over it, but with the players missing this year the Mercury’s perimeter shooting has deteriorated dramatically. They didn’t have the penetration or creativity to break down the defense and create better chances. They also kept giving the ball away, and 9 turnovers in the second quarter led to 11 LA points. You’re just making it easy for the opposition when you hand them the ball and let them break away with it.
- So the Sparks had a 50-26 advantage at halftime, and ESPN were already lining up backup topics to discuss in the blowout.
- LA relaxed too much in the final period, and it almost got interesting. Not quite, but nearly. Rookie point guard Sammy Prahalis led a comeback that narrowed the gap into single-digits, but eventually LA hit enough free throws to hold on down the stretch. A cynical person with tanking on the mind might wonder why the Mercury didn’t foul when down seven with 24 seconds left, but that’s just about defensible. Just.
- I suppose you can argue that everyone got what they want from this game. The Mercury added one in the loss column, while gaining experience for players like Prahalis, DeWanna Bonner, Krystal Thomas and Avery Warley. The Sparks got a win, while resting Parker, and the Mercury defense helped some of their shooters boost their stats. ESPN got plenty of time to discuss all their usual superfluous topics without skipping much in the way of meaningful action. Wasn’t much of a spectacle for those of us watching, though.
Karima Christmas (tripped up and fell early in third quarter, never returned), Glory Johnson (hurt her shoulder in fight with Catchings for late rebound), and Nneka Ogwumike (sprained right ankle, returned to the game but noticeably limping) all picked up injuries in the games above. On top of the Shavonte Zellous injury already mentioned. Everyone must be looking forward to the Olympic break at this point, just to rest their aching bodies.
Today (Sunday June 24th):
Atlanta @ New York, 4pm ET
Washington @ Seattle, 7pm ET
San Antonio @ Los Angeles, 8.30pm ET
Tomorrow (Monday June 25th):