Five games last night. They really don’t think about the poor writers when they come up with these schedules. For those of you who prefer the standard article format, rest assured that it will return on nights when there are fewer games to discuss. But for now, on to the Bullet Point Breakdown of all five games from Tuesday.
- Starting forwards were still missing for both teams, Asjha Jones with her achilles issue and Kayla Pedersen presumably still suffering from the flu-like symptoms which kept her out on Sunday. Mistie Mims was again the replacement for Connecticut, while Tulsa went with Chante Black this time to fill Pedersen’s spot. Presumably in the hope that Black could help slow down Tina Charles. Ivory Latta also received her first start since the Olympic break, at that revolving wing spot where Gary Kloppenburg keeps rotating through his options.
- The opening minutes were a little embarrassing for Kalana Greene. She’s basically out there for her defense, because she doesn’t offer a great deal at the other end of the floor. Her assignment to start this game was Roneeka Hodges, who was ridiculously open for two three-pointers to kick off Tulsa’s scoring.
- In Greene’s defense, Hodges was wide open for her third triple as well, seconds after Greene was finally benched. Some of it came down to Connecticut’s defensive scheme, rather than individual failings, as became increasingly clear all night.
- Connecticut’s defense, most of the time, is based around a similar idea to a lot of defensive systems in this league: the basic view that there aren’t that many players in the WNBA who can consistently knock down the three. They try to cut off penetration, and if anyone gets beaten off the dribble, the help sags inside to cover. Inevitably, that leaves shooters open on the wings at times, because that’s where the help is coming from. But they’ll live with that if they have to. You rotate and recover as quickly as possible to challenge the three if the ball gets kicked out, but that shot’s an acceptable risk compared to the potential layup attempt you’d otherwise give up. Tulsa got a bunch of those open threes on the wing in this game (and didn’t actually hit that many – so the plan mostly worked).
- The first half was a pretty scrappy, attritional affair. Tulsa’s offense dried up once Hodges stopped raining threes, leaving them firing up a lot of perimeter bricks and hoping Glory Johnson could go to work on the offensive glass. Meanwhile, the Shock’s hustle and improved defensive organisation was keeping them in the hunt. Kara Lawson, yet again, was the most effective scorer for the Sun, and late threes from her and Renee Montgomery helped put a generous gloss on the halftime scoreline for Connecticut, leaving the Sun up 40-34.
- Those of us who’ve actually watched the Shock consistently over the last couple of years having been saying this all season: they still lack the elite talent of most teams, but they play hard, they don’t quit, and they’re significantly better than last year (even if it’s not showing up in their record). This was another illustration of that. The Shock weren’t smoking hot from outside as they’ve sometimes needed to be to stay in games, but the Sun couldn’t shake them. Every time Connecticut managed to push their lead out to 7 or 8, Tulsa would pull out a key stop of a big shot to hold on to their coattails. There was no sign of this being a 5-loss team against a side with only 3 wins all year.
- Kelsey Griffin was inevitably receiving more minutes in the absence of Jones, and had a rollercoaster performance in the fourth quarter. A drive for a three-point play took the lead back after Tulsa had tied it for the first time in ages, then she stepped in to take a charge from Glory Johnson at the other end. But then Griffin took a terrible shot, threw an entry pass wildly high, and was slow rotating on a Jen Lacy driving layup that put Tulsa in front. Mims was instantly sent sprinting to the scorer’s table to get Griffin off the floor.
- Against the team that drafted and then discarded her, Amber Holt had a big fourth quarter for the Shock. She made 4 shots without a miss in the period for 9 points, including a short jumper off the glass with under 3 minutes to play that once again pulled Tulsa within a point.
- It was Renee Montgomery who was making the big shots for Connecticut late in the game, as the Sun struggled to find Tina Charles inside and had to rely on their perimeter shooters. But a Montgomery miss was followed by another of those Roneeka Hodges threes from the corner, and Tulsa led going into the final minute.
- Both teams missed a series of efforts at either end, but on Connecticut’s final possession they finally managed to force home a bucket. Allison Hightower missed a jumper, but the scramble for the rebound led to multiple extra opportunities, and it was Greene who eventually dropped the ball in and tied the game. Tulsa had 13 seconds left to win it in regulation.
- Temeka Johnson drove, drew the help, kicked to Latta in that corner spot, but she missed the jumper. Overtime.
- It was still all perimeter action from Connecticut in OT, with Glory Johnson, Jen Lacy, and every other Shock player working hard to keep the ball away from Charles inside. The only Sun player who had any success was Hightower, who hit a three and a pretty runner off the glass.
- For Tulsa it was veteran point guard Temeka Johnson running the show and providing the offense. Down by a point with under 30 seconds left in the extra period, she curled round a high Glory Johnson screen (which picked off Hightower), and went right by Charles for a layup. Once again, Connecticut were under the gun, trailing by a point with 18 seconds left.
- The next play was the sign of a team with a good coach, and experienced players who’ve been there before and know how to win. Against a team that’s still learning. The inbounds went to Hightower, who looped a pass to Charles after she’d set a pick. Charles had the awareness to realise she was facing a heavy double-team, and with a third defender still on Hightower right next to her, someone was open elsewhere on the floor. The pass went across the floor to a wide open Kara Lawson, and with the way Lawson’s been shooting this year, she’s just about the last person Tulsa wanted to see in that situation. The ball swished through, and Connecticut were up two with 11 seconds left.
- Tulsa tried to run something very similar to the play that had worked moments earlier. Temeka Johnson went round a high Glory Johnson screen, in the hope of either penetrating to score, or drawing defenders so she could find someone else. The difference between this play and the one with 18 seconds left was that Charles stuck with TJ, cutting off the penetration. It forced Johnson to make the pass early, without drawing extra defenders, and when the ball reached Latta in the corner, Hightower was still right on top of her. Latta leaned around her and forced up a shot, but it was never close, and that was the game.
- Another very creditable performance for the Shock, who must be a little tired of people saying that. The difference this time was that it didn’t take an explosion from one of their midget guards or wildly effective dominance on the glass from Glory Johnson to keep them in it. Six different players scored in double-digits, they hung around to the death against the best team in the East, and their team defense continues to improve. There are still breakdowns, but they’re happening less often these days, and the arrival of Liz Cambage in about a week should help as well. There are good signs for Tulsa, even if there still aren’t many wins.
- The Sun got out of jail. If it hadn’t been for Lawson and Montgomery combining to shoot 9-11 from beyond the arc, they would’ve been turned over. But that’s part of what keeps this team racking up the wins – individual talent, and making shots. Lawson in particular is having a career year, and is playing with a huge amount of confidence. They’d still like to get Jones back and start winning these games a little more easily, though.
- The way Chicago’s season has collapsed – they’d lost 10 of their last 11 heading into this game – this had become a hugely important contest in the Eastern playoff race. A win for New York would pull them within half a game of the Sky in the standings, and give them a 2-1 lead in the season series between the teams (with only one game left, and that’s back in New York in September).
- Sky coach Pokey Chatman shook up her starting group again. As suggested here a couple of days ago, she inserted the only true power forward on her roster – Le’coe Willingham – into the 4 spot in her lineup. But instead of replacing Tamera Young or Swin Cash in what would’ve been a more straightforward move, she benched second-year point guard Courtney Vandersloot, and slid everyone else over a spot. So Epiphanny Prince was tasked with running the point at the start of the game, with both Sloot and veteran PG Ticha Penicheiro coming off the pine.
- New York kept things simple, starting with the same five as in their other games since the break.
- One interesting aspect of Chicago’s lineup change quickly became apparent – it basically leaves no one on the floor that Leilani Mitchell can guard. The Liberty don’t want her in the natural matchup against Chicago’s most dangerous scorer – Prince – which would leave them trying to hide her on Young (who’s an awful lot taller than Mitchell). It was only minutes into the game that Mitchell was replaced by Essence Carson to fix that problem, so at least Chicago were dictating the moves.
- Unfortunately, it may not have been the best night to give Willingham a chance to fit in at the 4 – because a healthy Plenette Pierson is a little too quick for her. Pierson had a heck of a first half, providing the energy, impetus and interior scoring that had been sorely lacking from the Liberty for much of the first half of the season.
- Chicago, just for a change, struggled due to a static offense that couldn’t find Sylvia Fowles in the paint. Everything ran much more smoothly when they actually used her in motion or set on-ball screens, rather than their typical ‘four players line the perimeter while she fights for position and they try to enter it to her’ offense.
- Chicago had held a narrow lead for much of the first half until the last four minutes of the second quarter. Chicago had all their speed and athleticism – Prince, Young, Fowles, Shay Murphy – sat on the bench, and New York went on a charge. Cappie Pondexter went right by Cash, then right over Vandersloot for scores. Leilani Mitchell survived a couple of possessions defending Prince after the Chicago guard re-entered the game, then drilled a three at the other end. Then it was Pondexter again out on the break for a layup. From 29-25 down, New York burst in front 38-29. They went in at halftime up 40-32.
- The bulk of the third quarter belonged to New York and Pondexter. The Liberty’s ‘white-line’ defense involves a lot of fronting in the post that makes it even more difficult to feed players trying to set up under the basket, especially if you struggle with ball rotation and can’t hit shots to punish the overloading defense. Which is basically a description of Chicago. The Sky spent the third quarter turning the ball over repeatedly, while Pondexter hit threes and forced her way to the free throw line. New York’s advantage climbed as high as 18.
- To their credit, Chicago kept fighting. Chatman finally came up with a lineup that seemed to give them some drive and some speed. Penicheiro, Murphy, Sonja Petrovic, Cash and a center (Carolyn Swords initially, then Fowles) started the comeback at the end of the third, and carried it into the fourth. Murphy started it with a three, opened the fourth quarter with another, and after two pretty Fowles layups on Penicheiro feeds, Murphy stole the inbounds and dropped in a bonus two. With nearly 8 minutes remaining, Chicago had cut that 18-point gap to 6.
- This is what’s so frustrating about Chicago. When they play with freedom and fluidity – and in particular when Fowles is working in motion rather than desperately posting up and hoping for an entry pass – they can actually score. But most of the time, their offense is horrible. Unfortunately for Sky fans, after that charge to get back into the game, it went right back to horrible. They went scoreless for 6 full minutes, going from 68-61 down to 76-61 with barely a minute left in the game. It rather summed up how their season has deteriorated. In the opening weeks, they were pulling wins out of nowhere, with Prince dragging them out of near-impossible situations. Now, they’re just about in games for a while but can’t come up with anything at the end. Prince’s return to health hasn’t been enough to turn things around.
- Talking of health, there were several scares in the second half of this game, for both teams. Pierson was on the bench in pain in the third quarter, but thankfully returned. Then Prince turned her ankle in the fourth quarter after landing badly and getting it awkwardly trapped under Nicole Powell. It didn’t look too bad – probably just an ankle sprain – but she didn’t return. It’s the same foot that she broke earlier in the season as well, which makes it extra-worrying. Then, just to top things off for Chicago, Fowles limped off with a minute remaining, looking tired and worn down.
- For New York this was a team effort defensively, but on offense it was a two-woman show. Pierson did most of her damage in the first half, but still finished the game 8-15 for 21 points, 6 boards, 3 assists and 3 blocks. Pondexter was an unusually efficient 7-12 for 25 points and 4 assists, with 9-11 from the line illustrating how much she attacked. Despite how bad this team were in the first half of the season, it’s a squad that can clearly smell blood in their hunt for the playoffs. They may still be in fifth spot in the East, but they’re the ones with all the momentum.
- Chicago just can’t find a way to halt the slide. Fowles finished this game 8-14 for 18 points and 8 boards, which looks reasonable, but she was just 3-5 for 6 points and 3 boards in the second half. Only Murphy’s offensive burst gave them a prayer in the second half. They’ve now lost 11 of 12, and 9 of their next 12 games are on the road. It’s looking like they might find a way to miss the postseason yet again.
- Starting fives as expected, both teams with all 11 players healthy and available. How often have we been able to say that this season?
- It wasn’t exactly a pretty first half. San Antonio started to pull out a small lead late in the first quarter and into the second when their bench entered the fray, with Danielle Adams, Jia Perkins and Shenise Johnson all playing their parts. Even veteran Tangela Smith, back from her injury, offered up a few useful minutes.
- But Washington were pulling their ‘play hard and somehow hang around’ act again. It wasn’t smooth or fantastic to watch, but the Silver Stars weren’t running away. Becky Hammon started bombing in threes, but a Jasmine Thomas triple and a long two from Monique Currie pulled the Mystics within 33-32 at halftime.
- San Antonio coach Dan Hughes must’ve given his team a bit of a rocket at the break, because they came out with renewed purpose and more attacking intent for the second half. They dominated the third quarter, with the backcourt of Hammon and quicksilver point guard Danielle Robinson the primary instigators, combining for 18 of San Antonio’s 26 points in the period. Washington simply couldn’t keep up, and trailed 59-44 heading to the fourth.
- Once again, to their credit, Washington didn’t give up. They came out for the fourth in the 2-3 zone that both teams had used occasionally throughout the game, and with backups like Natalie Novosel, Shannon Bobbitt and Lindsey Wisdom-Hylton on the floor to add energy and aggression. Although it’s hard to argue that San Antonio were ever in any real danger, the gap came trickling down throughout the final period.
- A pretty post move from Crystal Langhorne cut the gap to 6 points with two minutes left in the game, before a defensive stand forced San Antonio into a Jayne Appel three attempt as the conclusion of their offense. That missed wildly, but a poor Jasmine Thomas pass went straight to Shameka Christon and killed the chance for Washington to cut their deficit further.
- When Thomas made up for her error with a jumper to cut the gap to 5 with a minute remaining, San Antonio went to their bread and butter – Hammon running a high pick-and-roll – and once again it was that Silver Stars backcourt that did the damage. Hammon fed Robinson on the baseline, she knocked down the mid-range jumper, and that just about ended matters.
- Thomas hit a triple with only three seconds remaining to make it a one-possession game for the first time in ages, but the inbounds pass went long to a breaking Sophia Young, and Washington couldn’t reach her to foul before the clock ran out.
- It was a tougher game than might’ve been expected for San Antonio, who stretched their win streak to 12. Washington made them work for it, with Langhorne and Thomas their leading scorers with 17 apiece. The Mystics still aren’t at all sure who they can count on showing up on any given night, besides the general reliance on Langhorne. Part of that’s organisation and coaching, but a lot of it is talent level on the squad. Plus they still don’t have a reliable point guard to organise, distribute and handle the ball. Thomas can score on occasion, but her ability to actually run the offense is at best a work in progress.
- It was all about the backcourt for San Antonio, with Robinson (7-12 for 16 points) and the inimitable Hammon (8-13 for 22 points, including 5-6 from beyond the arc) dominating the scoring. It left their offense a little unbalanced on this particular night, but one of the strengths of this squad is how many different avenues they can hurt you from. On this particular night, it was the starting guards who did the damage.
- For once, positive news for Seattle before the tip. Sue Bird was back from her stomach flu to take her rightful spot as their starting point guard; and her long-term partner-in-crime Lauren Jackson was finally back in the US, albeit heavily jet-lagged and wearing dangly earrings and warmups rather than a Storm uniform. Still, a heartening sight for sore Storm-fan eyes, and LJ is expected to play on Thursday night against Indiana. On the negative side of the scales, Tina Thompson was out again due to her persistent knee injury, and Ann Wauters was still missing due to her achilles. Seattle’s post rotation could desperately use Jackson at this point.
- Minnesota had their usual group available and in play.
- This was a shockingly entertaining game. Not that it’s usually painful to watch Seattle in front of their enthusiastic Key Arena crowd, but they’re typically a methodical, grind-it-out kind of ballclub under Brian Agler. From the start of this one they were playing with a higher tempo, looking for quick offense when it was available, and playing with unusual fluidity offensively. Hopefully they can bottle that approach for games against weaker opponents.
- Because unfortunately, they ran into a juggernaut. The Lynx were ridiculous offensively for much of this game, and Seattle – consistently one of the best defensive teams in the WNBA over recent years – couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Within the rules, virtually nobody can when the Lynx are in this kind of mood.
- Minnesota were making the extra pass beautifully early on, creating easy scoring opportunities or just knocking down jumpers instead if they felt like it. They couldn’t miss. A late three from Bird somehow had Seattle within 24-22 to end the first quarter.
- Agler spent the break between quarters telling his team – quite rightly – that they’d started taking too many jumpshots. He knew better than anyone else that a jumpshot-shooting contest with Minnesota wouldn’t end well for his squad.
- Seattle’s offense actually kept rolling pretty nicely in the second quarter. This was some of the smoothest, most impressive offensive play we’ve seen from the Storm all year. The turnovers were under control; there was a fairly reasonable balance between interior attack and firing away from outside; and they made some shots. It just wasn’t enough.
- The Lynx were getting it done as a unit, but Seimone Augustus’s gorgeous offensive game was the highlight in the second quarter. There was a running jumper from midrange; a quick-trigger three in transition; a baby hook in the lane after backing down Tanisha Wright – it’s so much fun to watch her work.
- Alysha Clark, who continues to give everything she’s got and show significant improvement as an emergency post for Seattle, drained a three that looked like it might give the Storm some momentum heading into the halftime break. Only for Maya Moore to drill her own three at the other end. Minnesota weren’t going to let the Storm have anything in this one. The Lynx led 52-43 at the half.
- Minnesota kept on rolling in the third quarter, while the Storm offense came back down to earth a little, and for a while it looked like the Lynx were going to coast home. But with Bird back on the floor, LJ in attendance, and the Storm offense actually showing up, they hadn’t given this one up. With Svetlana Abrosimova running the floor and attacking off the dribble, and Camille Little sliding in the seams of the defense for buckets, Seattle made a run late in the third. They got a little help from a flagrant foul called on Candice Wiggins too, when she caught Little in the head while fighting around a screen.
- With the gap down to 7 heading into the fourth quarter, and a Wright jumper narrowing it to 5 only seconds later, the Key Arena crowd was going nuts. Then you blinked, and it was over again. Moore rained in a pair of threes, the second after Rebekkah Brunson charged all over the floor grabbing a series of offensive boards. Then Augustus dropped in a pair of long jumpers with consummate ease. Suddenly, the gap was up to 16, and it was goodnight Vienna.
- The Storm can actually be very pleased with this performance, despite losing by double-digits on their own floor. Sometimes, the other team just plays out of their mind offensively and there’s not a lot you can do. If Seattle can actually play with this pace and rhythm offensively more often, it’ll stand them in good stead going forward. Along with the fact that when Jackson, Thompson and Wauters come back, the interior options vastly improve.
- Minnesota are rolling again, which is a good thing considering their rivals in the fight for Western playoff seeding keep on winning as well. Augustus (9-17 for 22 points) and Moore (6-11 for 20) were great, Monica Wright (6-8 for 15) an outstanding deputy when either needed a rest, and Lindsay Whalen ran the show (9 assists, just 1 turnover). And still, none of them was the brightest star. Brunson was everywhere, crashing after every rebound, and was knocking down that mid-range jumper as well. She finished 10-14 for 20 points and 14 boards. Playing like this, it’s hard for anyone to touch this team.
- The starting fives were as expected, and all 22 players were healthy and available. Wow, two games in one night we can say that about (although LA are still waiting on Jenna O’Hea to arrive from Australia).
- Indiana started the game with Tamika Catchings defending Candace Parker, and Tammy Sutton-Brown on Nneka Ogwumike. Which made it a little questionable why Sutton-Brown even started. Yes, she’s the regular center, but she primarily plays for her size and defense. If you’re going to put her on an athletic and mobile forward rather than a true big, what’s the point?
- To the surprise of virtually no one, Ogwumike ran Sutton-Brown ragged to start the game, picked up a couple of offensive boards in quick order, and Erlana Larkins was swiftly off the bench for Indiana. LA were already up 10-3.
- The Fever had opened the scoring with a Briann January three. Unfortunately for Indiana, those were their only points for the next 6 minutes of the game. The Sparks ran them off the floor to open the game, with the defensive pressure of Alana Beard on the perimeter, Kristi Toliver’s shot-making, and the overall speed, size and athleticism of the Sparks dominating the early going. The lead went to 18-3 before Indiana hit another couple of threes to stop the bleeding.
- Indiana managed to hang around for the rest of the half, but that was about it. LA were switching a lot defensively, but the Fever didn’t have the post offense to capitalise. Even once LA coach Carol Ross went to her terrible bench, which she still has absolutely no confidence in, Indiana didn’t have much joy. Ebony Hoffman looks out of shape after her injury, but she can still shoot the rock. She hit a couple from outside, the LA offense kept chugging along, and LA were up 41-28 at the break.
- Alana Beard has looked fantastic in the couple of games LA have played since the Olympics. She’s played her way into much better shape, she’s moving much more like the old Alana, and her shot’s looking far better as well. Toliver and Beard still have no decent backup, but as long as the pair of them stay healthy and can play as close to 80 minutes between them as possible, LA have got a scary backcourt on their hands.
- Candace Parker, on the other hand, continues to annoy the hell out of me. LA’s opening games of the second half have been against Seattle – who had barely any healthy post players – and Indiana – who are playing Catchings at the 4 and the barely-six-foot Larkins at center. Get in the damn post! It’s so unusual to see Parker actually post up that it’s almost noteworthy whenever it actually happens. She’s unbelievably talented, and unbelievably frustrating.
- The LA lead was comfortably double-digits for most of the third quarter, then Hoffman and Marissa Coleman came in to give Beard and Ogwumike a brief rest. Panic stations. Katie Douglas, freed from Beard, had a feed to Larkins for a layup, then a pair of free throws on a Hoffman foul, then drilled a three when Parker barely showed on a screen. The gap was down to 7 points by the end of the third quarter thanks to more lackadaisical LA defense.
- It got very physical in the fourth quarter, and the game wasn’t helped by what seemed like random and arbitrary officiating. It was impossible to tell what kind of contact would be considered a foul on any given possession.
- The Sparks lead was back in double digits for much of the fourth, but Toliver had gone cold and Parker was barely involved in the game, leaving LA searching for reliable offensive options. Douglas and Catchings dragged the score down to 73-66 with a couple of minutes remaining. Then out of an LA timeout, Parker planted herself on the low block, took the entry pass, spun and hit a gorgeous turnaround fadeaway before the double-team could arrive. That was beautiful. And a post move!
- With some Sparks fans growing frustrated by Toliver’s willingness to keep firing away despite her shots no longer dropping, she stepped up and made a pair of game-clinching plays in the closing seconds. Shavonte Zellous went by her on the baseline, only for Toliver to make the Sue Bird-esque poke-away play from behind, stripping the ball cleanly away. On the inbounds play that followed seconds later, Toliver broke away from the pack, took the pass and converted the running layup for an 8-point lead with only 34 seconds remaining. Ballgame over.
- The Sparks have stepped right back into their flow following the break. This was their seventh win in a row, and all five of their starters finished the game in double-digits. They even got some nice production from DeLisha Milton-Jones, who looks like she’s benefitted from the month off. Their bench is still a worry, as is getting Parker to play to her strengths, as is their pick-and-roll defense at times – but they’re performing well enough to overcome those issues. No one will be looking forward to playing this team in the postseason.
- After such a promising return in their first two games after the break, this was a bit of a comedown for the Fever. But LA aren’t a great matchup for them with the size and athleticism they possess, and Indiana won’t have to see the Sparks again this year unless it’s in the WNBA Finals. The issue in this game, as it often has been with the Fever this year, was too many jump shots from outside. It led to their 34% shooting, and it’s hard to win games with a number like that. There needs to be more to the Fever attack than threes and mid-range jumpers.
Phoenix signed Briana Gilbreath, a 6’0” wing drafted this year by the Mystics and cut in training camp. Which suggests that Lynetta Kizer’s concussion may have taken her out of upcoming Mercury games.
Jenna O’Hea tweeted about picking up her visa for the US, so it looks like she’ll be arriving sometime soon to help out that dreadful Sparks bench. It likely means that Dawn Evans will be gone when her seven-day contract expires.
Wednesday August 22nd (today):
Chicago @ Atlanta, 7pm ET
Thursday August 23rd (tomorrow):
New York @ Phoenix, 10pm ET
Indiana @ Seattle, 10pm ET
San Antonio @ Los Angeles, 10.30pm ET