WNBA Today, 08/29/2012 (Part Two): …and the Basketball

Yes, in amongst all the off-court shenanigans, they’re still playing some games. However, if the players can do whatever the hell they want, so can I. So chronology is going out the window today, and the Bullet Point Breakdown is kicking off with far and away the most entertaining game of the evening. Who cares if it was the last one to finish? Coverage of all the other games is here as well, you just have to scroll down a little.

 

San Antonio Silver Stars 84 @ Minnesota Lynx 96

  • While the maelstrom has been whirling elsewhere, both these teams just keep on riding the waves. Minnesota came in having won six straight, while San Antonio’s only loss in their last 14 games was last week in Los Angeles. Both teams had their well-established starting lineups out there to open the contest.
  • The matchups when these teams face each other continue to be absolutely fascinating. Compared to most teams, Minnesota are big on the perimeter. Lindsay Whalen isn’t huge, but she’s muscular and physical for a point guard; Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore are both pretty tall and strong for wings. San Antonio, on the other hand, are kinda tiny. Danielle Robinson and Becky Hammon make a diminutive backcourt, and while Shameka Christon is a similar size to Augustus and Moore, 5’8” Jia Perkins sees plenty of minutes as the de facto small forward. So inevitably, San Antonio has to deal with Minnesota shooters by using significantly smaller defenders on them, challenging as much as possible, and sending help. The Lynx, at the same time, have to worry about keeping up with the quick and tricky Silver Star guards.
  • Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve blinked first in the initial chess match, replacing Whalen and Moore with Candice Wiggins and Monica Wright less than 4 minutes into the game. That fixes the matchup problems for San Antonio, because there are instantly enough smaller players on the floor for them to guard more naturally. It was odd to see Reeve make that move even earlier than her usual rotation would dictate.
  • While the use of Hammon to defend Moore in the past has been particularly interesting and effective – and we saw that again periodically throughout this game – San Antonio also seem to have developed a fondness for using Robinson to guard Augustus. Presumably it’s because they like Robinson’s ability to use her quickness chasing Augustus around all the screens that Minnesota set for her, and at least be somewhere near her to challenge on jump shots. Because in straight-up matchups, Augustus can shoot right over her.
  • This was a fun game, played by two teams that are obviously brimming with confidence. Both teams were more than happy to push the pace whenever they had the chance, and both have the necessary team ethos to play effective defense. Neither could create much separation on the scoreboard.
  • Amber Harris was once again the first post off the bench for Minnesota, and promptly hit a trail three, made a nice pass to Moore for a backdoor layup, and extended her defense to the perimeter to block a Danielle Adams jumper. She still gets lost occasionally on defense – you can see the drop-off at that end when Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Rebekkah Brunson are replaced by Harris and Devereaux Peters – but she looks like she might finally be working out what the WNBA’s about. Now she needs to produce consistently.
  • Not for the first time this season, a few unnecessary turnovers hurt the Lynx in the first half. San Antonio were finding a few more chances to get out on the break as a result.
  • However, in a pattern that would continue all night, Minnesota were starting to dominate the offensive glass. Rather than San Antonio’s lack of size inside, most of the issues were centrally caused by the size and skills of players like Augustus and Moore on the perimeter. San Antonio were doing a solid job of making their lives difficult, and making them miss. In fact, Augustus and Moore combined to shoot 5-20 from the field in the first half. But San Antonio were having to scramble and help a hell of a lot to pull that off. When the defending post has to slide to help behind a screen, or just to fill the lane after the initial defender is beaten off the dribble, they’re left completely out of position to rebound. That leaves wide open weak-side opportunities for offensive boards – or sometimes just a wide open rim, regardless of which side you’re on.
  • All of that said, San Antonio competed hard, played together, made shots, and had Hammon and Sophia Young stepping up to make plays at the end of the half. They led 36-35 at the break.
  • And it’s not all just jump shots from San Antonio any more. Jayne Appel is hardly an interior scoring force, and the bench posts besides Adams don’t score much, but between the season Young’s having, and the creative and passing abilities of Hammon and Robinson, they’re penetrating to the rim more than they used to. Outside shooting is still key to their game, but this team has far greater ability to score points in the paint these days. Which leaves them less vulnerable to simply going cold and dropping out of games.
  • Reeve rode her starters hard in the third quarter in an effort to take control of the game. There was no Wiggins or Wright at the four-minute mark this time. Moore and Augustus finally made a couple of shots – although Moore remained deathly cold from beyond the arc – and the Lynx also got a shot in the arm from McWilliams-Franklin. On the night she passed Yolanda Griffith for the all-time WNBA lead in offensive rebounds, Mama Taj was ballin’. She hit a couple from mid-range, and a pair of layups, scoring nine points in the third quarter alone. The fact that she was often left open for offensive boards by that San Antonio defense helped out too.
  • San Antonio hung around in contention with the help of a couple of buckets from rookie Ziomara Morrison, who saw some unusual third quarter minutes when Adams ran into foul trouble. Morrison’s still raw, but a spin-move around Moore in the post illustrated that there’s some talent there to work with.
  • With Whalen and Robinson the only starters on the floor to open the fourth quarter, Minnesota made a push. Whalen attacked off the dribble, Harris again made a couple of plays, and the Lynx led 67-58. No one had managed a lead bigger than 5 points in the opening three periods.
  • Hammon and Young came back into the game for San Antonio to settle things down, and Jia Perkins continued to make big shots to keep them in the game.
  • Taj went off again in the fourth. She hit a lefty hook over Appel from the low block, and an 8-foot right-handed floater in the lane when Perkins switched onto her, then blocked a Young layup attempt into the third row. The crowd went nuts, and so did Taj. Age is just a number.
  • The Lynx held a 75-69 lead with under 4 minutes left when Taj made that block, but San Antonio refused to go away. Hammon and Young made plays, with their inevitable pick-and-roll being a central part of the Silver Stars offense.
  • After her poor shooting all night, Moore spent the entire fourth quarter on the bench until the 2:17 mark. She immediately utilised her size advantage over Hammon by posting up, something we’d seen her try several times during the game. Moore took the entry pass over the top, but blew the easy finish from point-blank range right over Becky. San Antonio’s response was to push the ball the other way, rotate it to Perkins, who drilled another three. That gave the Silver Stars a 78-77 lead with under two minutes left.
  • An Augustus miss and an Appel free throw made it a two-point San Antonio lead, before Moore illustrated one of her many attributes – the ability to forget. 3-16 on the night to that point meant nothing to her as she took the feed from Whalen, stepped past Hammon with one dribble, and hit nothing but net with a midrange jumper from the baseline. Tied game.
  • After a missed Hammon three and a turnover in the low post by Taj – not everything could go her way – San Antonio had one last chance to win it in regulation. They took slightly too long setting up the inevitable Hammon/Young pick and roll, which meant Becky had to rush a little. She still created a decent look, driving past Moore into the lane, but her off-balance push from about 10 feet bounced out. We were heading to overtime, and no one was upset about an extra five minutes of this one.
  • That said, OT was a blowout. Minnesota barely missed anything, with Whalen leading the way by taking outside jumpers with confidence and knocking them down. Besides an attempted drive by Robinson that bounced out – sometimes it’s hard to finish when you’re moving so damn fast – San Antonio were firing jumpers as well, but they didn’t drop. Minnesota were up by 10 before the extra period was even half-finished, and the game was over.
  • This was a hell of a lot fun, despite the fact that vaunted scorers Hammon, Augustus and Moore finished a combined 18-58 from the field. Both these teams know how to play the game, they’re both unselfish to a fault, and they both want to push the ball offensively. San Antonio ran into a problem that they’re going to find hard to fix against the Lynx, and it’s a central part of why they often run this team close, but usually lose. It’s a case of pick your poison. Their rebounding has been better this year, but the defensive help needed to stop Augustus and Moore in this game killed them on the glass. They lost 52-31 on the boards, including giving up 19 offensive rebounds. The posts could opt to stay home more, protecting the glass, but then they’d be giving up wide open lanes when Augustus and Moore venture into the paint. Young (8-13 for 19 points) and Perkins (7-14 for 19) were strong offensively, but with Becky firing blanks against the bigger San Antonio defenders it wasn’t quite enough.
  • All four Minnesota starters finished the game in double-digits, but the stars were the posts. Taj was 9-14 for 19 points and 7 rebounds, while Brunson was 7-11 for 17 and 20. They made the most of the gaps San Antonio left behind. The positive angle – beyond pulling out the win – is that on most nights Reeve can expect Augustus (8-23 for 19) and Moore (6-19 for 14) to shoot significantly better. While fewer makes would lessen the offensive rebounding opportunities, presumably they’d prefer to just take the points.

 

Tulsa Shock 84 @ Atlanta Dream 80

  • You can read about the continuing McCoughtry mess in the article that preceded this one. She wasn’t in uniform for this game, and in fact wasn’t even in the building. Tiffany Hayes started again in her place. Temeka Johnson was back as Tulsa’s starting point guard after missing their last game.
  • Unsurprisingly, considering he was a long-time Meadors assistant, nothing looked much different for Atlanta under Fred Williams. Unfortunately, Sancho Lyttle jacking up threes is apparently going to remain part of the offense. But they were still looking to push the pace of the game at every opportunity, and break out off every Tulsa turnover they could create.
  • Dream point guard Lindsey Harding has quietly had a strong re-start to the season since the Olympic break. Maybe she enjoys having Hayes alongside her in the backcourt. She’s attacking off the dribble a little more consistently, and spreading the ball around nicely.
  • Cathrine Kraayeveld’s seen more minutes lately, both as a backup post and at the small forward spot (although with Lyttle’s fondness for outside shooting these days, you could argue she’s the 3 when they’re both out there at the forward spots). It makes them slower when she’s on the floor, but it does contribute legitimate outside shooting, something they’ve lacked for years. And she actually hits a high percentage of her threes, unlike Lyttle or Harding.
  • With Tulsa turning the ball over too much, Atlanta led by 9 to close the first quarter, and pushed that advantage to 17 on layups and Kraayeveld threes with 3 minutes remaining in the first half. However, that final 3 minutes proved key. Atlanta kept firing from outside, and kept missing. Tulsa hit a hot streak, knocked down a series of jumpers, and made it a game again before the break. A 12-2 Shock run cut the score to 51-44 at halftime.
  • The second half really wasn’t pretty for Atlanta, and a McCoughtry defender would say this is where they missed her. Without her to toss the ball to and expect something to happen, they lost their momentum, stopped penetrating the Tulsa defense, and ended up jacking a seemingly endless stream of threes. Which would be fine, if this team could shoot.
  • Tulsa shot and ran their way back into the game, then kept on going right past the Dream and into the lead. They like to run as well, so when Atlanta lost their rhythm and started turning the ball over, or when rebounds bounced long off all those missed Dream jumpers, the Shock charged back the other way. With Temeka Johnson leading the push, they were up 67-62 by the end of the third – and remember, they were down by 17 late in the second quarter.
  • Tulsa played a lot of zone in the fourth quarter, and Atlanta bricked a lot of threes trying to shoot over the top of it. Admittedly, when Tulsa’s lead had stretched to 9 points with under 5 minutes left, Hayes took and hit a big triple to keep Atlanta alive. But if they’d been creating better shots earlier, they might not have needed it.
  • Atlanta made enough plays to hang around. Or Tulsa weren’t good enough to put them away, if you’re feeling less charitable. Erika de Souza had a big block which led to a break, resulting in Harding hitting a pair of free throws after Roneeka Hodges hacked her and flipped in mid-air before a nasty landing (fortunately, Hodges got up and stayed in the game). That brought Atlanta within 79-77.
  • A series of misses at either end left Tulsa with the ball with 38 seconds left, still up by 2. Tulsa ran their version of San Antonio’s Hammon/Young pick-and-roll, which is basically the same thing featuring the Johnsons, Temeka and Glory. TJ penetrated off the screen, kicked to Ivory Latta, who re-penetrated and hit a tough little flippy floater over Harding and de Souza in the lane. 4-point Shock lead, 20 seconds left.
  • Credit Fred Williams for what Atlanta ran out of the ensuing timeout. Hayes inbounded to Harding up top, ran quickly to set a down-screen for Kraayeveld, who popped out to take the pass and hit a wide open three. Just what Atlanta needed, and it only took three seconds.
  • The Dream fouled Temeka Johnson, who hit the first but missed the second. Hayes grabbed the rebound, but crucially Atlanta didn’t manage to call timeout before she instinctively started to dribble. As a result, they couldn’t advance the ball, and had to inbound deep in their own half of the court with only 11 seconds left.
  • Something went wrong in the play that followed for the Dream (and Williams didn’t come away looking so good out of this one). The inbounds went to Lyttle, still near her own baseline, and she had no obvious options to pass to. She tried a long pass to de Souza near halfcourt, which never had a prayer. Either Williams drew up something awful in the timeout, or someone wasn’t where she was supposed to be. The pass was picked off, and after Atlanta fouled Temeka Johnson again, she hit both shots at the line. Ballgame over, Shock win.
  • It wasn’t the brightest of starts to the Williams era in Atlanta. There was some nice stuff in the first half, and the basic fact that they had 17 assists on 20 baskets by the break showed that the team-ethic was in full effect. Two-thirds of their second-half baskets were assisted, but when it’s 6 assists on 9 field goals it’s not that impressive. One of the first things Williams has to work on is getting Lyttle to take more shots in the paint. She finished this game 6-20 for 14 points, including 2-9 from three-point range. That’s ridiculous, and it killed far too many Dream possessions. Beyond that, this whole team probably just needs to recover from all the drama. Fortunately, Chicago and New York are unlikely to put their playoff spot under threat, so they’ve got nearly a month to sort themselves out. Good luck, Fred.
  • Tulsa, winning their first road game of the entire season (and they only had one the whole of last year as well), undoubtedly couldn’t give a damn about Atlanta’s drama. The Cambage mess probably didn’t have much impact on this group, as she never showed up, so they just kept playing their game. Without Cambage, it was yet again down to their bevy of scoring guards to provide the bulk of the offense. Temeka Johnson was 6-13 for 17 points and 6 assists, Roneeka Hodges 6-10 for 20 points, and Latta 5-15 for 14. Glory Johnson’s still toiling away in the paint, finishing 3-6 for 10 points and 8 boards. The only negative for the Shock is that their two wins in the last week have taken them past Phoenix and into a tie with Washington in the overall league standings. Wins are great for morale and hopefully for raising some interest in the franchise – but they’re bad for the percentage chances in the 2013 draft lottery.

 

Connecticut Sun 83 @ Chicago Sky 72

  • A quick chance for the Sun to gain revenge for their upset loss to the Sky on Sunday. Mike Thibault made a change to his Sun starting lineup, bringing in Kelsey Griffin for Mistie Mims at the power forward spot (regular starter Asjha Jones is still out with an achilles injury). Griffin offers a little more mobility to guard Swin Cash, and a little extra range to attack the zone Chicago would inevitably use after it proved so effective on Sunday. Chicago once again had Carolyn Swords starting in place of center Sylvia Fowles (still missing for ‘personal reasons’ but expected back by their next game on Saturday). Wing Tamera Young was available again but came off the bench.
  • The opening quarter was tight, which was worrying for Chicago. You see, within that first quarter, they received an unlikely burst of points from second-year point guard Courtney Vandersloot (two impressive driving layups, and two breakaway layups off steals), a Ticha Penicheiro three (Ticha’s a 25% career three-point shooter), a Sonja Petrovic heave that banked in off the glass, and an incredibly friendly roll off the iron on a late Epiphanny Prince jumper. They needed all of that to be within 21-20 at the end of the first quarter. It didn’t seem sustainable.
  • The Sun had come out for this game clearly having been drilled about how to attack the Sky. They had far fewer issues with Chicago’s zone early on, because they pushed the pace looking for quick offense before the zone could set up. Essentially, this was more like the real 2012 Connecticut Sun, rather than that slightly lazy and discombobulated version that showed up on Sunday.
  • Defense dominated the early stages of the second quarter, with neither team finding any offensive rhythm. Then Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles came back into the game. Charles was clearly determined to show that her weak game against the Sky on Sunday had been an outlier, and that however much Chicago double and triple-teamed her she was still going to attack them. Montgomery, for all her faults, will attack a defense at speed whenever she can and put them on their heels. She also showed good chemistry with Kara Lawson, which is a positive sign for the rest of the season for Connecticut.
  • By halftime, Charles’s finishing inside combined with Montgomery and Lawson’s shooting had built a 44-33 lead for Connecticut.
  • Chicago did what they could, but the Sun lead never dropped below 10 in the second half. Connecticut played with enough pace, and shot the ball well enough, that they forced the Sky out of the zone that had caused so many problems on Sunday. A lot of it also purely came down to a matter of ‘make or miss’. Chicago did a decent job of attacking offensively, and creating points in the paint on penetration or ball movement – something they’ve struggled with all year. But they finished the game 4-24 from beyond the arc, after shooting 10-25 out there on Sunday. That made a big difference.
  • There are still positives for the Sky to take forward, hopefully with Fowles back in the fold for their remaining games. Vandersloot’s looked far more lively in recent games, and ended this one 8-12 for 17 points and 6 assists; Swords has shown she can potentially be more than a fill-in backup; and Swin Cash has done a lot more driving than we’d seen in most pre-Olympic games. Now we need to see them keep up this attack mentality even with Fowles on the floor. It can’t go back to everyone standing around and watching while they screw up entry passes to Big Syl. Playing like this with her added in, that playoff spot might still be within reach.
  • The Sun responded to Sunday’s game, and were much better against the zone when they needed to be. At the same time, a lot of it simply came down to Lawson and Montgomery hitting shots they’d missed two days earlier, and Charles providing a lot more interior scoring. They’d still really like to get Jones back, preferably in time to rebuild some chemistry before the playoffs. The injury was only meant to keep her out about a week, and it’s now been two – clearly, and quite rightly, they’re being as cautious as possible.

 

Washington Mystics 68 @ Indiana Fever 83

  • This game is going last, because I have incredibly little to say about it. Washington suck, Indiana are pretty good but a little inconsistent – but you knew that already.
  • Usual starting lineup again for Indiana; Matee Ajavon’s shooting explosion in the fourth quarter of the Mystics’ last game earned her the starting spot at shooting guard back from Noelle Quinn.
  • Indiana utilised their 2-3 zone early and often – a little too often, in fact. Their man-to-man defense is pretty solid most of the time, but Fever head coach Lin Dunn has heavily increased the amount of time they spend in their zone since the Olympic break. Their length and quickness on the perimeter can make it effective, plus it’s an attempt to cover for their lack of interior size, but it’s still got the same gaps of any other 2-3 zone. The main one Washington utilised was the basic gap beyond it, firing up threes and hitting a surprising amount in the first half. The Mystics were 6-10 from outside by halftime.
  • Fortunately for the Fever, they were hot out there as well. Katie Douglas alone was 4-5 from three-point range in the first half, the team was 7-12, and with Washington coughing up their usual array of turnovers Indiana had a 43-37 lead at the break.
  • Iziane Castro Marques made her debut as a Mystic during that first half. Bizarrely for Izi, she was the only Washington player among the 10 who played not to take a shot.
  • There was no way that Washington’s hot shooting from outside was going to hold up in the second half, but it fell away because they stopped taking them, rather than because they started missing. Indiana extended their defense better – with less use of the zone – and the shots weren’t as available. The Mystics only took three from beyond the arc in the entire second half.
  • A run of points led by Tamika Catchings and Jessica Davenport pushed Indiana into a double-digit lead midway through the third quarter. Catchings was being aggressive going to the rim to create offense, while Davenport has spent the last few games showing that she can still be a key piece to the Indiana offense. Starting center Tammy Sutton-Brown’s minutes continue to dwindle, with Davenport, Erlana Larkins, and even rookie Sasha Goodlett starting to swallow up all the playing time inside.
  • The Indiana lead was never below 8 for the rest of the game, and Washington never looked like having the ability to pull themselves back into it. Really, if you skipped one game yesterday in the WNBA, this was the one to skip.
  • The only notable element of the boxscore for the Mystics from this game is the remarkable balance. Every one of their 11 players took at least 4 shots, and none of them took more than 9. Unfortunately, giving up 54% shooting and 21 points on 16 turnovers meant their offense was in vain.
  • Indiana had reasonable balance themselves, although it was between four or five scorers, rather than the entire roster. 10-17 from three-point range was the highlight yet again. When they’re hitting from outside, and moving the ball well enough to make those shots as easy as possible, the Fever offense can look impressive. It’s when they’re playing better teams, who contest those shots and make them difficult, that Indiana can find themselves in trouble.

 

Notes

If you’ve read this wondering why all the drama around suspensions and absences has been ignored, you missed Part One of today’s coverage. It’s here.

The WNBA trade deadline is tomorrow. Usually, nothing happens. Of course, with the various brouhahas that have popped up this week, there’s been a little more speculation than usual. Any activity will be covered here, although if you want speedier reaction you could always follow me on Twitter at @RichardCohen1.

 

Upcoming Games

Wednesday August 29th (today):

None

—–

Thursday August 30th (tomorrow):

Indiana @ New York, 7pm ET

Washington @ Atlanta, 7pm ET

Connecticut @ San Antonio, 8pm ET

Los Angeles @ Tulsa, 8pm ET

Phoenix @ Seattle, 10pm ET

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