WNBA Today, 07/14/2012: Have a Nice Summer!

So after four teams completed their schedules for the opening half of the season on Thursday, the remaining eight finished it all off yesterday. At this point, everyone needs a rest, including the bedraggled writers. So one last time until we pick it up again in a month, let’s head to the Bullet Point Breakdown and take a look at the games that closed out the WNBA until August 16th.

 

Washington Mystics 70 @ New York Liberty 53

  • Thanks to the collapse in Chicago (and the inconsistencies in Atlanta), New York somehow started yesterday only 2.5 games outside the playoffs. This despite some deplorable performances in the first half of the season, and a 6-11 record. On the bright side, they had DeMya Walker fit enough to start again at power forward, and Kia Vaughn ready to play off the bench after recovering from her concussion.
  • The less said about Washington’s play in the opening months of the season the better. They once again went with Jasmine Thomas over Shannon Bobbitt as their starting point guard.
  • Cappie Pondexter and Essence Carson came out firing in the early passages for New York. The Liberty might have had most of their posts back, but all the shots were still coming from the guards.
  • Washington had Monique Currie playing aggressively on offense – again, Mystics coach Trudi Lacey has jerked her minutes around so much lately, Currie may have felt the need to shoot while she could – with Crystal Langhorne the inevitable main alternative. They balanced out New York’s guard scoring in an even first quarter.
  • The rest of the game, with all due respect to Washington’s efforts, largely came down to a dismal performance from the New York Liberty. Yes, we can give some credit to the defense the Mystics produced, but that’s the WNBA’s 10th-rated defense we’re talking about. They’ve barely been able to stop anyone all year. New York were bringing most of this on themselves.
  • There was so little energy and application from New York. It was like they expected the return of Walker and Vaughn to provide the necessary production, so the effort level they’d produced when they were down to practically one post player disappeared. Without the extraordinary offensive display Pondexter came up with in their previous game against Indiana, it left the Liberty falling behind. Even to a team as bad as Washington.
  • So the Mystics led 36-27 at halftime, partly because they’d managed to shoot 43%, but mostly because the Liberty were a dreadful 27% from the field.
  • The second half didn’t get any better for New York. It looked like the Liberty players would rather have been on vacation already, and some of them had checked out a little early. Continue reading
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WNBA Today, 07/13/2012: The Beginning of the End of the Beginning

Finally it’s upon us – the end of the first-half of the WNBA’s 2012 season. Heading into yesterday, every team in the league had one game left before the month-long break that splits this year’s schedule. Apart from the 13 players heading for London, everyone finally has time to kick back and rest their weary limbs, before spending some time in the gym to work on whatever’s been going wrong in the first half. For the vast majority of teams and individuals, this is a welcome respite in a season that’s suffered from a host of injuries to important players.

The first teams to close out their pre-Olympic schedules were Tulsa and Minnesota, sneaking the Lynx’s Camp Day in just before the break. At 3-14, the Shock have once again done a whole lot of losing this season, but with a few renewed signs of promise. Minnesota have dropped so many games recently – a three-game losing streak broken only by a win over Tulsa on Tuesday – that they’d fallen into a tie with Connecticut for the best record in the WNBA at 14-4. Still, after setting a new WNBA record by shooting virtually 70% from the field against the Shock in their last game, the Lynx were looking to complete back-to-back wins and head into the break on a small upswing.

The starting lineups were the same as two days earlier, with Maya Moore at power forward in the absence of Rebekkah Brunson, Jessica Adair and Devereaux Peters. Minnesota started out pushing the ball up the floor quickly, looking for early offense. Besides their halfcourt ball movement, this is how the Lynx pile up easy points when they’re in rhythm – speed and an attack mentality, finding their way to the basket before the defense is even set up. It’s part of what they’d been missing during the losing streak, and they re-discovered it during the two games against Tulsa. We’ll have to wait until after the Olympics to see if they’ve improved their own play, or if it was largely caused by the step down in opponent.

Tulsa managed to hang around through the first quarter, primarily because they started trapping and playing high-pressure defense, which knocked the Lynx briefly out of their stride. Alongside that, Riquna Williams came into the game off the bench and started firing away – as always – and produced some scoring that hadn’t been on offer from the starting unit. Her offense pulled the Shock within 22-21 at the end of the first.

There was a brief little scuffle early in the second quarter between Candice Wiggins and Temeka Johnson. Wiggins has a tendency to get under the skin of opponents with her pesky defense and endless jawing, while Johnson seemed to be in a bad mood all afternoon, but there was nothing much in it. The officials handed out technicals to the pair of them. There was no real reason why that moment should’ve been a turning point – the Lynx are experienced enough not to need a brouhaha to energise them – but the game was tied at 31 when it occurred. Barely five minutes of game time later, Minnesota were ahead 52-33 and the contest was virtually over. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 07/12/2012: Speed, shooting and teamwork win the day

Sometimes basketball is an awfully simple game. If you’re quicker than the other guys, if you shoot better than the other guys, if you take better care of the damn ball – most of the time you’re going to win. Three games yesterday in the WNBA, and three times one side had greater team speed, shot the ball better, and had fewer turnovers. Guess which team won in every case?

 

San Antonio Silver Stars 77 @ Chicago Sky 68

  • It’s been ugly for Chicago lately. They started the season 7-1, then Epiphanny Prince broke her foot – and they’ve been 1-6 since. Even the one win needed a desperate fight back to beat Atlanta on the Sky’s own floor. They can’t find Sylvia Fowles enough in the post, and they’re struggling to score without Prince to bail them out. Even with the miserable seasons Washington and New York have had so far, Chicago are starting to drop perilously close to the chasing teams. That playoff spot that looked a virtual certainty a month into the season is back in doubt again.
  • San Antonio, on the other hand, have been on a tear. They’d won seven in a row coming into this game, including all three prior games of the Eastern Conference road swing that this encounter completed. They’d rather the Olympics were in October.
  • The Sky switched back to Ruth Riley in their starting lineup, after going small with Sonja Petrovic in their previous game against Indiana. This despite San Antonio being pretty small themselves with Sophia Young at the 4. San Antonio, of course, aren’t changing anything at this stage.
  • The problem with starting Riley against teams with agile power forwards, is that Fowles has to guard them while Riley takes the opposing center. So Fowles had to chase Young around, and Young took advantage with a couple of early jumpers from the perimeter. Fowles doesn’t really want to follow her out that far.
  • Meanwhile at the other end Young could relax, as her primary defensive responsibility is Riley, who does virtually nothing on the offensive end. Jayne Appel was the one exerting all her energy trying to battle Fowles in the paint.
  • Chicago ran an awful lot of pick-and-rolls and slip-screens with Fowles to try to find her in the paint early on, but it was painfully predictable. It worked once or twice when she managed to seal Appel under her, and she also drew early fouls on Appel, but it’s not like a slew of points were being produced. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 07/11/2012: Early Starts, Same Results

Apologies for this piece being posted after subsequent games have taken place, but all these Camp Day games are throwing my schedule out of whack. Everything would be fine if it weren’t for those meddling kids. Anyway, four games yesterday, all witnessed by hordes of screaming children. And the same four teams won that you would’ve expected to win in front of the standard bunch of adults and families. So let’s get to it, and I promise not to whine too much about the high-pitched background noise prevalent throughout every game.

 

Connecticut Sun 77 @ Washington Mystics 70

  • Lineups as expected for both teams. Mike Thibault’s rotation is growing increasingly short, however – both Danielle McCray and Kelsey Griffin failed to log a single second of court time in this game, having been pushed out by other players performing better in their positions.
  • Matee Ajavon got off to a nice start for Washington, being aggressive offensively and knocking down perimeter shots. Mystics GM/head coach Trudi Lacey has been jerking her minutes around lately (and this game was no different), so maybe Matee felt she better get those shots off while she had the chance.
  • After that early Ajavon burst, Connecticut dominated the first quarter. Asjha Jones and Tina Charles were both far too good for Washington in the paint, and while the Mystics were grabbing multiple offensive rebounds, it only led to extra misses. The Sun lead was as high as 14 points.
  • Connecticut relaxed too much over the rest of the half, and allowed themselves to be dragged down to Washington’s level. Charles spending several minutes resting on the bench stalled their momentum as well.
  • Crystal Langhorne, looking only semi-healthy thanks to the ankle she sprained a few games ago, got involved offensively late in the half, and helped Washington hang around. They trailed just 34-30 at halftime despite being largely outplayed – thanks mostly to a 12-0 advantage on the offensive glass (led by Michelle Snow with 6). Continue reading

WNBA Today, 07/09/2012: And on the seventh day, blowouts

After the exertions of Saturday night, Sunday was a much more relaxing quad-game day in the WNBA. The games were more spread out, and they all ended with double-digit margins. It was like the basketball gods took pity on your poor, tired WNBAlien correspondent and took it easy on him. Which isn’t to say that our coverage will be any less comprehensive than usual, of course. All four games, Bullet Point Breakdown style to get right to the point. Enjoy.

 

San Antonio Silver Stars 94 @ New York Liberty 81

  • New York were still without Plenette Pierson and Kia Vaughn, leaving them down to the bare bones in the post. On the bright side, Sophia Young is pretty small herself for a power forward, so San Antonio are one opponent where playing Nicole Powell at the 4 doesn’t leave you horribly undersized.
  • The Liberty tried to force the ball down to Kara Braxton on early possessions, but Jayne Appel did a decent job of making things difficult for her, and Braxton lasted only three minutes before being subbed out by John Whisenant. While it’s primarily her brain and the dumb mistakes she makes that are frustrating about Braxton, her physical fitness limits the number of minutes she can play even when she’s mentally engaged.
  • Of course, with Vaughn and Pierson out, Whiz doesn’t have many options, and rookie Kelley Cain got abused by Danielle Adams on multiple possessions after she replaced Braxton. The kid’s doing her best, but there are reasons why Whiz barely used her until injuries forced his hand.
  • Outside of a very occasional feed into their posts, the vast majority of New York’s offense in the first half came from perimeter jumpers. Fortunately, Cappie Pondexter and Essence Carson were both shooting well, and both are well capable of creating their own opportunities when necessary. Without much of a post presence left, the Liberty’s in-to-out offense has dried up, which leaves a lot of it being generated by individuals in isolation. Liberty shot-making was keeping them right in the game, but San Antonio were moving the ball noticeably better.
  • And good ball movement hurts this Liberty defense. So much of their defensive system relies on help coming across from the weak side, but an unselfish team can move the ball away from that help to the open shooter before the defense can recover. So even while shooting the lights out from the perimeter, New York were giving it all back at the other end. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 07/08/2012: Welcome, my friends, to the night of WNBA basketball that never ends

It felt like there was a hell of a lot of WNBA basketball played last night. We’ve had four-game evenings before, but with an early-evening start and late-night finish, and with all the swings and roundabouts that the games took us through, there was a lot to see and talk about. So this time I’m making no promises about keeping things short. Skim-reading is acceptable if you don’t have several hours to dedicate to careful perusal of WNBAlien.

Once again, it’s the Bullet Point Breakdown to try to keep everything moving.

 

Chicago Sky 86 @ Indiana Fever 88

  • Chicago decided to try starting small again, as Pokey Chatman grows increasingly tired of watching Ruth Riley do very little out on the floor. She was replaced in the lineup by Serbian forward Sonja Petrovic. The last time the Sky tried it, they got humiliated on the glass by Phoenix, but with Indiana’s small lineup it was an understandable switch.
  • The Fever started their usual five, but were short a player due to Erin Phillips’s concussion. That left Jeanette Pohlen and Katie Douglas sliding over to cover the point guard duties whenever Briann January needed a rest.
  • The problem with going small against Indiana, is that they can switch practically at will on defense. They want Tammy Sutton-Brown on Sylvia Fowles, but after that pretty much anyone can guard anyone. It makes defense easier.
  • The Sky were trying to trap high on ball-screens, but the Fever simply moved the ball out of the trap, rotated an extra pass or two, and were left with wide open shots when the ball movement beat the defensive rotation.
  • Indiana also drove aggressively in the opening minutes when the opportunities were available, and were quickly in the penalty. So while they missed a lot of the open shots, the parade of free throws made up for it, and Indiana led 25-15 after a quarter.
  • Largely thanks to the perimeter shooting of backups Le’coe Willingham and Shay Murphy, Chicago fought back in the second quarter. Indiana still couldn’t hit a damn thing, which also helped.
  • Indiana continue to bring a double-team from the baseline side essentially every time the ball is entered into the low post. And it consistently works. The offensive player feels her defender on her high shoulder, starts to spin into what she thinks is space on the low side, and turns right into the second defender coming across. It happens repeatedly. One time, Sylvia Fowles read it perfectly, and threw the cross-court pass to the player that the tactic leaves wide open on the weak side – and Murphy knocked down the three. But the Fever will live with that happening occasionally. The next time Chicago tried it, Tamika Catchings read the pass and picked it off.
  • Talking of passes being picked off, it’s amazing how many turnovers the Sky continue to commit. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 07/07/2012: The Soul of Wit

You know how these articles often seem to start with some declaration about how they’re going to be shorter than usual, then end up being a million words long anyway? Well today’s going to be different. I promise. There were three WNBA games last night; two of them were pretty dull, and the third was essentially invisible to anyone outside Chicago’s Allstate Arena, due to the vagaries of WNBA.com’s LiveAccess portal. So we’re truly, honestly, absolutely going to keep it short today. Really.

We’re also going to the Bullet Point Breakdown, for extra brevity.

 

San Antonio Silver Stars 78 @ Washington Mystics 73

  • The expected fives started the game, meaning Washington actually opened with their best players for a second consecutive game. Matee Ajavon only played 11 minutes in the end, for some reason, but she did start. The Mystics had Natasha Lacy available again on the bench after recovering from concussion-like symptoms.
  • The first half was utterly forgettable. There was rarely more than a few points in it; San Antonio, playing the second half of a back-to-back, looked a little fatigued; and the Mystics are still the Mystics. Michelle Snow did have one of her better halves of the season, for what that’s worth. The Silver Stars led 36-34 at the break.
  • Both teams shot exactly 50% in the first half, which just about summed it up – neither good nor bad, but right in the middle and utterly mediocre. Continue reading