It’s fair to say that last night’s sole WNBA game was not a classic. In fact, when one team quits barely halfway through, it doesn’t exactly encourage people like myself to spend much time writing about it. But if you’re going to cover an entire season, even games like this fall under the umbrella. So here goes. Just don’t expect me to like it.
After an ugly second half in Phoenix the night before, the Los Angeles Sparks flew home looking to bounce back. It was a soulless, rather lazy performance against the Mercury, so Carol Ross clearly wanted a response from her squad. They had to make do without point guard Lindsey Harding, who took a smack to the face late in the third quarter in Phoenix, and was held out of this game as a result (after many viewings of the replay, I’m still not sure if Lynetta Kizer hit Harding from in front, or if Diana Taurasi’s wild swipe caught her from behind). It turned out to be a straight swap in the backcourt, as Alana Beard returned after missing a couple of games due to an ankle injury.
San Antonio had yet more injury problems. After working without Sophia Young and Becky Hammon in every game so far (Young’s done for the year, Hammon is still weeks away from returning from her broken finger), now they had another starter on the sidelines. After a clash of heads in practice, center Jayne Appel was out, replaced in the starting lineup by Danielle Adams. A post rotation that already looked dangerously limited was now becoming even thinner. If you can say that about a frontcourt involving Adams.
There were problems for San Antonio from the start, but they managed to keep the game mildly competitive through the first half. It was immediately apparent how open the lane was with Adams in the middle rather than Appel. The regular Silver Stars pivot takes a lot of criticism for the things she doesn’t do – score, or even make anyone pay attention to her on the offensive end – but they missed the things she does do. Like fill the paint, and play some interior defense. Adams doesn’t mind dropping into the trenches offensively or fighting on the boards, and she’s a more agile one-on-one defender than you’d expect, but the help defense drops off dramatically when she replaces Appel. There was just so much more space inside for LA, which led to easy lanes to the bucket, and gaps for Nneka Ogwumike to exploit for offensive boards and cuts to the hoop. When Adams sat down, leaving rookie center Kayla Alexander at center and sometimes Shameka Christon at power forward, things only got worse. Dan Hughes has pulled off some alchemy getting his team to compete this season, but there’s only so much he can do.
Shenise Johnson once again came off the bench to provide a little offense for the Silver Stars, which kept them in touch, especially with her ability to get to the free throw line. She’s really starting to take that next step in her second season in the WNBA – she just didn’t have much help last night.
For LA, it was nice to see Ogwumike forcing herself into the offense more than she has in previous games this season, and Kristi Toliver seemed to appreciate the opportunity to be a more focal part of the offense with Harding out and Beard at half-speed. Toliver even did a solid job defensively on Danielle Robinson, which isn’t something you can often say about Kristi. It isn’t something you often even contemplate saying about Kristi, in fact. San Antonio hadn’t played for three days, but Robinson never really showed her usual energy to run the game, and never took control. She was too passive, plus San Antonio’s sets didn’t appear to offer her opportunities to attack. It seems like a central aspect of the gameplan in this matchup ought to ask Robinson to repeatedly beat Toliver off the dribble or around screens, but that rarely looked like part of the scheme. Maybe they were thrown by the late removal of Harding changing the matchups.
LA’s defense was better than the pathetic showing from the night before against Phoenix, but it was hard to give them much credit against a weak San Antonio offense. It largely seemed like a lack of opposing threat more than a big step up from the Sparks.
After holding a 35-28 lead at halftime, LA quickly killed the game off in the early minutes of the third quarter. Adams picked up her third and fourth fouls in quick succession by challenging Ogwumike and Parker shots without standing straight up (standing there while sticking your arms in the air and reaching in just a bit is usually still going to be called, Danielle). So she went to the bench less than three minutes into the period, and the Silver Stars as a whole just decided to quit. It seems distinctly unlikely that it was the directive from Hughes on the bench, but that’s what happened on the floor.
Parker hit a three when she was left standing at the arc completely unchallenged for several long seconds, giving the Sparks a 46-33 lead. Hughes called a timeout, presumably to scold his team for that and hopefully wake them up, only for LA to add a 13-1 run after that break. San Antonio were obviously undermanned, and their offense had been struggling from the start to find enough weapons to hurt LA, but the second half was pathetic. You could clearly see that they all just wanted to get off the floor and go home. The Sparks kept piling it on and padding their stats, leading to the final scoreline of 84-48. It looks embarrassing, and that’s exactly how the Silver Stars should feel. If they were on their home floor and played like this, there’d have been a stampede to the box office with people asking for their money back.
It was a morale-boosting game for LA, even if their opponent didn’t put up much of a fight. The defensive effort was a little better, Toliver got the chance to find some shooting touch, and the likes of Farhiya Abdi and Jantel Lavender had opportunities to show what they could do in the eons of garbage time. But let’s not get too excited. It ended in a 36-point victory more because San Antonio stopped playing around the 23-minute mark than because LA were so utterly dominant.
Dan Hughes won’t be pleased with this at all. He’s been dragging impressive performances from an understrength squad ever since their disappointing opening night loss to Indiana. The absence of Appel should not have made that dramatic a difference. Hopefully we’ll see the same kind of response that occurred after that game against the Fever, and they’ll bounce back. They’ve got almost a week until their next game, which is at home against Seattle. They couldn’t ask for a much more friendly piece of scheduling.
Based on her own Facebook page, it appears that Avery Warley is going to be New York’s replacement for Cheryl Ford. A rebounder who spent most of last season with Phoenix, she should fit in with Bill Laimbeer’s grind-it-out style and blue-collar work ethic. Whether she really fills the hole they’ve developed at power forward behind Plenette Pierson is another matter. If Warley can’t cover opposing 4s then she largely becomes the third-string center behind Kara Braxton and Kelsey Bone, which isn’t much of a need right now in New York. We’ll see how it works out.
EuroBasket Women 2013 continues to go rather nicely from my perspective. If WNBAlien goes a little quiet in a week or so, it’s because I’ve run off to France to cheer on the Great Britain ladies. Johannah Leedham is doing no harm to her chances of a return invitation to a WNBA squad later this year, assuming she’s still interested.
Sunday June 16th (today):
Indiana @ Washington, 2pm ET. The line is Washington -2.5, which shows just how ugly it’s been for the reigning champs so far this year. I’ll show some (potentially misguided) faith one more time, and take Indiana.
Chicago @ Atlanta, 3pm ET. The Dream are 4.5-point favourites in the clash of teams who’ve lost key pieces to EuroBasket (Epiphanny Prince for Chicago, Sancho Lyttle for Atlanta). I’ll take the Sky on the road, with Atlanta unlikely to know what to do with Delle Donne.
Phoenix @ Tulsa, 4.30pm ET. Tulsa are getting 6.5 points on their own floor, and I’m still taking the Mercury. They’ve got some of their life back, Griner for at least a few minutes, and there’s likely still no Cambage for the Shock. Too much for Tulsa.
Seattle @ Connecticut, 5pm ET. 8.5 points aren’t enough to get me to take the Storm on the road. Even against the struggling Sun.