You can look at this article two ways. Either it’s a bumper edition to celebrate the conclusion to the 2012 WNBA season, covering a whole weekend of action all in one go. Or the games were so meaningless and such a constant procession of tedious basketball that I’m getting them all out of the way in the most expedient way possible. It depends on whether you’re a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty kind of person. Either way, below you’ll find (mercifully brief) coverage of all six games played on Saturday and Sunday this weekend, bringing the regular season to a close.
Check back over the next few days for WNBAlien’s postseason awards, and in-depth previews of all four first-round playoff series. Plus, of course, there’ll be the usual analysis of every playoff game once the postseason begins on Thursday night, right through to the WNBA Finals.
- Plenette Pierson was back in New York’s starting lineup, after the one-game absence where she was replaced by DeMya Walker. The Liberty’s crack broadcasting crew provided no information on why she was benched, or showed any awareness that it had even occurred. Tulsa were unchanged again.
- Based on their rotation, New York took this game surprisingly seriously. Head coach John Whisenant was essentially treating it like any other regular season game. Based on how they played for most of the first half, the players couldn’t have cared less. Their rotations were slow, they were beaten down the floor in transition, and the offense looked half-hearted. Tulsa were both 7-15 from three-point range in the first half, and leading in points in the paint. The Shock led 50-40 at halftime, but New York’s performance barely merited even that.
- And then in the second half, the Liberty decided to play. There was much better defensive pressure on the ball, that led to some transition opportunities, and finally they were awake. New York also showed more willingness to play inside-out in this game than we’ve seen in several recent contests. They were channeling some offense through Pierson and Kia Vaughn, rather than constantly relying on Cappie Pondexter and Essence Carson to do everything from the perimeter. They won’t have a prayer against Connecticut in the first round without at least making the Sun’s posts work on the defensive end, so that needs to continue next week.
- New York opened the second half with a 22-2 run, and while Tulsa’s rookie guard Riquna Williams led a mini-fightback for the Shock by attacking the rim, that early stretch helped the Liberty take over the game. They eventually eased home comfortably for the win.
- There was a scary moment for the Liberty with only 4 minutes left in the game. Carson was dribbling the ball upcourt, tried to cross over, and her left foot slid out from under her. She got up and walked off under her own steam, but in clear discomfort. It looked like a strained groin or hamstring muscle, which hopefully she’ll shake off before Thursday’s Game 1. That’s the danger of playing your key players for heavy minutes in a meaningless game, hoping to build confidence or rhythm – if anyone important gets hurt it looks incredibly foolish to have had them on the floor in the first place.
- On the bright side for New York, at least they did come away with the win, and they responded after a poor first half. Pierson, Pondexter and Carson were the leading scorers, as you’d expect, but they also got some nice production from Vaughn (6-9 for 14 points, 9 rebounds). With Tina Charles and Asjha Jones the opposition in the first round, having a viable alternative to the unreliable Kara Braxton at center could be very useful, and at least this reminded Whisenant that Vaughn had it in her locker.
- Tulsa went cold in the second half and got murdered on the glass, which led to the loss. They also had another game still to come on Sunday, recapped below. Temeka Johnson wouldn’t be a part of it, after picking up her 7th technical foul of the season during this game. That’s an automatic one-game suspension, as you may remember from last season when there was debate around Diana Taurasi potentially being suspended. At least one of Taurasi’s technicals was rescinded, saving her from missing any games, but Johnson wasn’t so fortunate.
- Saturday’s late game featured two franchises heading for the lottery yet again, but there was still a good reason to tune in. One of the all-time great female point guards was saying goodbye to the game, and this was the final chance we’d have to see Ticha Penicheiro on a basketball court. There was a touching ceremony before the game, with a video tribute from several players and coaches around the league and several presentations to Ticha at midcourt. She also gave a nice little speech saying farewell. The one change to the starting lineups was, of course, Ticha coming in for Chicago at the point.
- The game itself was instantly and utterly forgettable. Chicago shot 22% in the first half and still only trailed 28-23 at the break. The second half featured yet another collapse from the Mystics, just to round off their horrendous season. Chicago played with more pace and aggression, remembered just how bad Washington are, and got a standout half from Ticha’s successor. Courtney Vandersloot was 9-9 in the second half, for 20 points. She hasn’t had the greatest sophomore season in the WNBA by any stretch of the imagination, but she has improved in the second half of the year. Part of that may well have been down to the teaching that Ticha’s been doing all season long.
- Chicago also won the rebounding ‘battle’ 25-9 in the second half, against a Washington team that was clearly desperate for the season to end.
- Both teams and most of the fans probably would’ve been happier to just have a big party for Ticha and eat lots of cake, rather than actually play this game. Washington head into Wednesday’s lottery draw with the highest chance of ending up with Brittney Griner, someone who they’d hope could transform the franchise’s fortunes. It also, surely, is time for Trudi Lacey to depart and for the Mystics to take another shot in the ‘crapshoot’ of hiring a head coach/general manager.
- There have been several people wondering if it’s time for Pokey Chatman to go in Chicago as well. Two years into her reign, and after making several big changes before this season, the Sky still haven’t made a single postseason appearance. My sense is that Chatman will get another year, assuming the owners aren’t going to try to dump the franchise entirely. And the lottery balls have been known to produce unlikely results in the past – a big-impact arrival for the Sky could provide a significant boost.
- So we move on to Sunday’s games, and it’s hard to imagine just how low ESPN2’s ratings will have been for this meaningless game up against the NFL. Seattle still had Svetlana Abrosimova out with her sprained right wrist, although she’s expected to be back for Game 1 against Minnesota on Friday night. Tanisha Wright took the day off to rest, which left rookie Shekinna Stricklen to slide in and start. Phoenix had the usual absentees of Taurasi and Taylor.
- As Brian Agler admitted in his interview with Rebecca Lobo between the first and second quarters, this game was as much about conserving energy and ensuring fitness as anything else. As a result, he played a huge amount of vanilla 2-3 zone, which we won’t see much of against the Lynx next week.
- Agler also pulled Stricklen after barely 2 minutes, purely so that he could have a chat with her and get her more under control. The Storm love the energy that the rookie can give them, which works well off the bench (especially for such a plodding team). But she can be a little too enthusiastic at times, taking shots too quickly or giving up the ball too cheaply. Even in Game 34 of the season, Agler’s still teaching.
- Phoenix led early, thanks to a few shots dropping and the Storm committing a ludicrous 10 turnovers in the first quarter alone. Minnesota will eat them alive if they’re this careless with the ball in the first round, and while they could blame the countless errors on the absence of Bird for a few games, she’s back now. It wasn’t pretty.
- Once the Storm got their turnovers under control, they inevitably took over the game. Phoenix are still pretty awful, and don’t even seem to run much offensively. They’ve been a messy team this season, taking a lot of bad shots. Having some of their players back for the final couple of games hasn’t made much difference to that.
- Seattle led 32-28 at halftime, and the second half drifted along with the Storm ahead by around 8 or 10 points. Phoenix never threatened much of a comeback, Seattle didn’t need to exert much effort to maintain the lead, and everyone seemed pretty happy with that status. It was dull.
- Lauren Jackson played 12 minutes for the Storm, Sue Bird 19. Both seem to be moving okay, even if their niggling injuries have hardly made for perfect preparation for the playoffs. Storm fans probably feel like it’s déjà vu all over again with Jackson fighting off injuries heading into the postseason, and it’s typically led to first-round exits in the past. They’ll be hoping to feed off their underdog status and cause a big shock.
- Whether by misfortune or design, Phoenix’s season seems to have been heading directly for Wednesday night’s lottery draw for a very long time. With Taurasi, Taylor, Bonner, Dupree and the rest already on the books, adding Griner, Elena Delle Donne or even Skylar Diggins to the mix could make for a very dangerous squad next season. They’ve got the second best odds of success, right behind Washington, and ahead of Tulsa and Chicago.
- After other Minnesota starters had been rested for previous games, this time it was Rebekkah Brunson’s turn to take a day off to recharge her batteries. Some of her recent performances have suggested that she needed it. Taj McWilliams-Franklin returned to the starting lineup, with Devereaux Peters continuing to fill the gap in the starting five. Amber Harris was out yet again due to illness, the fourth straight contest she’s missed. There’s been no public comment from the Lynx on what’s wrong with her, but it’s beginning to look like she might be a doubt for the start of the playoffs.
- San Antonio gave their stars a night off, with Becky Hammon and Sophia Young both in street clothes. Jia Perkins (apparently fine after missing their last game with ‘illness’) and Danielle Adams deputised.
- Following the theme for the weekend, this was not a classic. If Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve had wanted her team to treat this as meaningful preparation for the playoffs, her players decided to ignore her. San Antonio repeatedly sliced through or passed over the Minnesota defense, pushed their lead to double-digits late in the first quarter, and led 60-47 at halftime. Yes, the reigning champs gave up 60 points in the opening 20 minutes – to a Western Conference rival who hadn’t dressed their two best players.
- The Lynx even shot reasonably well from outside, with Seimone Augustus knocking down several threes – a very nice sign for Minnesota. But San Antonio dominated through Danielle Robinson’s speed and ability to get to the rim, Danielle Adams’s perimeter shooting and physical presence inside, and some solid shooting from the team as a whole. They even gave heavy minutes to backup posts Tangela Smith and Ziomara Morrison, who’ve barely played for most of the season.
- Adams continued to light Minnesota up in the second half. It was good to see her knock down a couple of threes, then immediately plant herself on the low block and force her way to the free throw line. She didn’t fall in love with the jump shot just because a couple of them dropped in. Against LA in the first-round, they’ll want her to stretch the floor and pull Candace Parker or Nneka Ogwumike away from the paint – but they’ll also need her to fight it out with them inside. Adams might’ve done the best job of anyone in tuning up for the postseason this weekend.
- The San Antonio lead was as high as 23 points in the third quarter, but the Lynx did at least show some pride and were back within 88-77 with 6 minutes left in the game. Only for Shenise Johnson to knock down back-to-back threes and immediately kill the game off again.
- It’s been a strange finish to the season for Minnesota. Their winning streak meant they were playing meaningless games earlier than anyone else, and Augustus’s sprained foot also upset their rhythm a little. There have been a couple of performances in the last week or so where they’ve looked like they barely woke up in time for tip-off. But of course, none of that matters as long as they’re full steam ahead for the postseason. At the same time, they could meet this Silver Stars team in the Western Conference Finals, and they’ve just provided a nice confidence boost for their potential opponents. It’s probably not the way Reeve wanted to finish out the regular season.
- San Antonio’s Dan Hughes, on the other hand, will have loved this. His team rather reverted to type in the second half, firing away from outside and moving away from attacking the rim, but the shots kept falling. Importantly, they continued falling for key support players on his roster. Adams is obviously vital, but Johnson also deepens his rotation significantly if she’s playing well and scoring with confidence. The Los Angeles Sparks won’t exactly have been scared by San Antonio beating up on a half-interested Lynx team, but I’m sure they’d have prefered for the Silver Stars to look a little colder from outside.
- As you may remember (from earlier in this article), Tulsa were without point guard Temeka Johnson due to suspension after she picked up her seventh technical foul of the season on Saturday. Ivory Latta stepped into the starting lineup. Indiana were still without Briann January and Shavonte Zellous due to concussion symptoms, and Katie Douglas due to illness. Although Douglas was in a nice little outfit and sat on the bench amongst her teammates, so she’s not exactly at death’s door. Erin Phillips, Jeanette Pohlen and Erlana Larkins once again filled the gaps.
- Like Seattle earlier in the day (and several other teams over the weekend), Indiana played lots of 2-3 zone to conserve energy and avoid injury. The Shock took advantage early on, with Latta in particular firing away and knocking down shots over the top of the defense.
- However, between Tamika Catchings, Phillips and Pohlen, Indiana wrestled back control. Catchings, as ever, was the star. With the usual ballhandlers out, she was essentially playing point forward on many possessions. That either meant feeding others, or penetrating and creating for herself. She was also flying in after every available rebound. Catchings only knows one way to play, and that’s flat-out. After trailing 27-20 early in the second quarter, Indiana led 43-32 at halftime. Catchings already had a double-double.
- The second half was all Indiana, and after playing 6 minutes in the third quarter, Catchings was done for the night. These last few games, where several reserves have seen heavy minutes, could prove useful for the Fever heading into the postseason. We don’t know yet how ready January and/or Zellous will be, but whether they’re filling in as starters or offering backup from the bench, Phillips and Pohlen needed these games. The Aussie point guard’s had a quiet year filling in behind January and occasionally alongside her, but she took a lot of shots in this game and made more of an impact than we’ve seen in a while. Pohlen had almost fallen out of Lin Dunn’s rotation entirely until the last six games, and her previously outstanding three-point shot still looks a little rusty. But she can fill a lot of different spots for Dunn, and these games will have helped her get ready for Atlanta if she’s needed.
- Tulsa disintegrated in the second half, and looked ready for the season to end. The nine wins they finished with are a credit to Gary Kloppenburg and his team, and they’ve shown clear progress from the franchise that had become a running joke in the previous two seasons. After some bad luck in previous lotteries where they had the best statistical chance, they’re heading into Wednesday’s draw hoping something similar happens. This time it’s the Shock who’d like to beat the odds, and jump up a couple of places from where they’re most likely to land. Most neutrals wouldn’t mind seeing the lottery balls fall their way.
- While there were a couple of teams who needed wins on Sunday in case of unlikely scenarios, Connecticut actually had one reasonably plausible possibility that required a victory. A win would secure the second-best record in the WNBA, and home-court advantage against Los Angeles if they were to meet in the WNBA Finals. A loss and the Sparks would have the edge thanks to holding the tie-breaker over the Sun.
- Connecticut were also looking to build fitness and rhythm for the playoffs, which led to power forward Asjha Jones returning to the starting lineup for the first time since before the Olympics. Danielle McCray was still out due to her MCL strain, but is reportedly expected to be ready for Game 1 against New York. For Atlanta, backup post Yelena Leuchanka has only played once since the Olympics due to a sprained wrist, and again missed out. No one seems overly concerned with whether she makes it back or not.
- There’s a little bit of spice between these teams, and for a ‘meaningless’ game it was pretty physical. Atlanta knocked Connecticut out of the playoffs last year, largely thanks to Erika de Souza winning the battle with Tina Charles in the paint. Charles wasn’t backing down in this game, and happily went at de Souza inside – while also taking several jumpers from 18 feet out. If these teams meet again in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals, that will still be a crucial matchup. Neither was giving an inch.
- Charles was also clearly happy to have Jones back on the floor. It’s not just the extra offensive threat that Jones offers compared to Mistie Mims or Kelsey Griffin – it’s also the basic chemistry that Jones has with Charles. They each give the other room to work when necessary, they frequently link up on high-low passes, and they just give the Sun a balanced core to work around. Jones played less than 12 minutes in the first half, and sat for the entire second half, but she looks pretty good. They’ll probably try to restrict her minutes against New York if they can, but she looks ready to play real time if they need her to.
- Connecticut were in control for the vast majority of this game. Both sides were shooting poorly early on, but behind Charles and Kara Lawson the Sun snapped out of it far quicker. Defensively they did a solid job closing off the lane and forcing difficult shots, and Atlanta just kept missing. Also pleasing for Sun head coach Mike Thibault will be that Atlanta played a lot of 2-3 zone, and his team dealt with it reasonably comfortably. Connecticut struggled against that earlier in the season, and while New York won’t use a zone in the first round, either Atlanta or Indiana would definitely test them with it in the Eastern Finals. The Sun only shot 2 three-pointers in the entire first half, because they didn’t just settle for firing away over the defense. The Sun led 36-24 at halftime.
- The second half was much higher-scoring on both sides, but Connecticut’s lead still never dropped below 10. As they had in the first half, the Sun were doing just as good a job of pushing the ball in transition and attacking the rim as Atlanta – and that’s how the Dream usually win games. de Souza finished better inside in the second half, while Lindsey Harding and Angel McCoughtry shot much better from the perimeter, but it was never enough to threaten Connecticut. Even with Jones taking the entire half off, and Charles sitting for the fourth quarter, the rest of the Sun players comfortably held on.
- While this game was even more meaningless for the Dream than it was for the Sun, Connecticut will have been pleased to send something of a message to Atlanta. If they have to face this opponent again in a make-or-break playoff series, the Sun look better prepared than they were last year. Kara Lawson led the way from the perimeter shooting 8-13 for 21 points, completing her outstanding regular season, while Charles had 17 points in under 25 minutes. Even Thibault was pumping up the crowd at one point after a flare-up between Harding and Charles led to a technical foul, then a make-up call. This team looks ready for the postseason.
- Despite this loss, Atlanta have won 7 of their final 9 regular season games. They’ve rather drifted home in the last few, but that’s understandable given that they’ve been locked into that third spot for quite some time now. McCoughtry was relatively quiet in this game, but we’ve seen in previous years that she’s willing and able to step up when the games really matter in the playoffs. She’ll be ready. The clash between this group and the Fever could easily end up being the best of the first-round.
San Antonio have announced that, due to a Red Hot Chilli Peppers concert, Game 2 of their first-round series against LA will not take place in their regular home at the AT&T Center. Instead, the game will be played at the Freeman Coliseum next door. With Game 1 already being moved due to a clash with Batman Live in LA, the only game of this series scheduled to take place in either team’s regular arena is the ‘if necessary’ Game 3, back at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Thursday September 27th:
New York @ Connecticut, Game 1, 8pm ET
San Antonio @ Los Angeles, Game 1, 10pm ET (at USC’s Galen Center)
Friday September 28th:
Atlanta @ Indiana, 7pm ET
Seattle @ Minnesota, 9pm ET