WNBA Today, 06/22/2013: Storm sneak past Silver Stars; Mercury outmuscle Mystics; Sparks spank Lynx


A triple-header last night, as the WNBA tried to grab the attention of basketball fans who’ll be without NBA options for the next few months. On to the Bullet Point Breakdown to take a look at the action.


Seattle Storm 91 @ San Antonio Silver Stars 86

  • Things aren’t getting any easier for San Antonio on the injury front. Starting center Jayne Appel was still out due to the concussion that led to her missing their last game (where the team capitulated in Los Angeles without her). Becky Hammon and Sophia Young remain in street clothes (although Hammon reportedly may return to practice next week). They’d already added Chante Black as extra post cover – or at least an extra body for practice – while Appel is out. So Danielle Adams got the start again at center, and Dan Hughes made another change by choice, promoting Shenise Johnson into the starting lineup over Shameka Christon. Johnson’s play this season has warranted a starting spot, but she’d been playing well off the bench. Maybe Hughes just wanted to try to inject some new life into his team after the horrible loss to the Sparks. Seattle had their usual 10 players available.


  • Hughes has done an impressive job drawing good performances from what’s left of his roster this season, but I don’t quite understand his thinking with the defensive assignments at the start of this game. As has been the case most of the season, Jia Perkins was defending the opposing point guard. That’s fine – Perkins is a decent defender, bigger than Danielle Robinson (ignore the officially listed heights), and can use that size to disrupt her opponent. But Robinson was slid all the way over to Noelle Quinn, who’s spent most of this season (and much of her WNBA career) standing around doing virtually nothing. When Quinn was replaced by Alysha Clark – even less of a threat – Robinson stayed on Clark. It was almost like they were trying to hide Robinson defensively, despite her well-earned reputation and a quick and pesky defensive player. Maybe the thinking is that with Hammon sidelined Robinson needs to conserve her energy for offense, but they weren’t running much for her at that end early in the game either. I don’t get it.


  • San Antonio came out of the gates slowly, with the carry over from the Sparks game seemingly a similar level of disinterest, rather than a determination to respond. Their effort to feed Adams in the post had led to an offensive foul, and Hughes eventually drew a technical for bitching about it a bit too long – possibly in a conscious effort to wake up his players. The technical free throw made it 15-4 Seattle, only for San Antonio to run off a 12-4 run to get themselves back in the game. Maybe it worked.


  • There wasn’t great cohesion to the Silver Stars’ play, but as the first half went on they scraped together enough offense to hang around. Christon came into the game and showed no signs of pouting about being benched, doing exactly the same thing she’d been doing as a starter – bombing away from outside. Her threes and Perkins deciding she liked attacking Clark’s defense helped provide some points for San Antonio.


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WNBA Today, 06/20/2013: Lynx teach Mercury a lesson on the glass; Shock hold off sorry Sky


With one WNBA game played virtually as late as possible yesterday, followed by another as early as they could plausibly schedule it today, we bring you an oddity in WNBAlien coverage: two days in one column. Wednesday night and Thursday morning, all in one go.


The Phoenix Mercury went into last night’s contest having rediscovered some form in recent games. After a horrible start that had many wondering about head coach Corey Gaines’s job security, they’d run off three straight wins with a return to their all-offense, free-flowing attack. But after road wins against two weakened teams and a home victory over an LA Sparks squad that barely showed up, last night promised to be a sterner test. The Minnesota Lynx hadn’t been at their best in their previous few appearances, but they’re still the Western Conference champions of the last two seasons, and regardless of all the preseason hype surrounding Phoenix – the title of Best in the West still goes through Minnesota.


The injury news was the same for both teams as in recent games – everyone available for Minnesota; Brittney Griner restricted to limited minutes for Phoenix, plus Penny Taylor and Alexis Hornbuckle still sidelined. A rotation change for the Mercury was announced initially, with the odd move of replacing Briana Gilbreath with Charde Houston on the original lineup sheets, but when the teams went out for tip-off Gilbreath was on the floor. So just a red herring.


The Mercury had some success early on with Diana Taurasi and Candice Dupree running pick-and-rolls, but that quickly dried up. The kept firing away from outside throughout the first half, but with virtually no transition opportunities they were largely kept in check by the Lynx. Taurasi continued her impressive return to form, but there wasn’t a lot of help out there for her.


However, at the other end of the floor, Minnesota’s offense wasn’t as successful as they often are against the Mercury either. Maya Moore was their one effective weapon, but as a team they missed a lot of decent looks and some sloppy ballhandling led to unnecessary turnovers. They managed to be slightly more successful in transition than the Mercury, but even with a high pace to the game there wasn’t much effective offense. Minnesota held a slim 40-37 lead at halftime.


Central to the Lynx limiting Phoenix’s offense was their rebounding effort. Part of the reason Gaines has benched point guard Samantha Prahalis in favour of sliding Taurasi over to ‘lead guard’ is that it makes them big at every spot on the floor. After getting beaten on the glass in their three losses to open the season, the Mercury had come out on top on the boards in their subsequent three wins (despite less of a contribution from Griner). The taller lineup helps for the basic reason of ‘size matters’ – put more height on the floor and you’ll probably grab more rebounds. It’s helped them with the return to a fast-paced running game as well, because efficient rebounding makes it much easier to get out on the break. But with Moore’s activity and pure athleticism leading the way, the Lynx were winning the battle on the glass 23-17 at halftime, and it was a key part of their lead.


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WNBA Today, 06/19/2013: Thompson turns back the clock to lead Storm past Mystics in OT


Just one game in the WNBA yesterday, and given that most basketball fans were a little distracted by some other event down in Miami, that was probably a good thing. The LiveAccess ratings probably weren’t great last night.


The Seattle Storm came into this one off the back of a solid road win in Connecticut, but their guests aren’t the pushovers they’ve been in recent years. Five games into the season Mike Thibault had his Washington Mystics at 4-1, heady heights they could only dream about during the Trudi Lacey era. Both teams were as healthy as they’re going to get this season: the Mystics at full strength, while Seattle had ten available and Sue Bird on the Key Arena sidelines.


It’s fair to say that the first half wasn’t particularly gripping. Anyone who checked in during halftime of Heat-Spurs won’t have hesitated to go back to the NBA game when it resumed. Seattle did a nice job slicing into the Washington defense – as they had against Connecticut – which then led to some open threes when the Mystics overcompensated to protect the paint. Both Tina Thompson and Camille Little have the skill-set where they can score in the post, but if you lose track of them outside they can also knock down shots from beyond the arc. That duality hurt the Mystics in this game. Temeka Johnson was also shredding the Washington defense, with first rookie Tayler Hill and then veteran Matee Ajavon both struggling to contain her. She’s a little different from Sue Bird – she likes to push at every opportunity, and she’s often more me-first than Bird – but she’s settling in pretty nicely with Seattle as the temporary replacement for an icon.


So Seattle broke out to a 20-10 start in the first quarter, but the lead didn’t last long. The Storm generally do an outstanding job of protecting the paint and forcing teams to beat them from 15-feet and out, but the Mystics started hitting some of those shots. Crystal Langhorne decided that if they were going to give her the open jumper she was going to take it, and the other Washington posts joined in. Ivory Latta was being kept quiet by Tanisha Wright, but the Mystics had enough from elsewhere to work back into the game.


One moment of amusement arrived in the first half with the sight of Thompson battling with Emma Meesseman in the post. At barely 20, Meesseman is the youngest player in the league, while Thompson is quite literally old enough to be her mother and on the brink of retirement. Thompson largely came out on top – the rookie has never faced Tina before, and wasn’t quite ready for those deep threes – but there was one nice drive from the Belgian where she went by Thompson for a little runner in the lane. The generational passing of the WNBA torch, ladies and gentlemen.


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WNBA Today, 06/17/2013: Misery deepens for Fever, Shock and Sun while Angel keeps shining


After the single relaxing blowout on Saturday, the WNBA threw another quad-game slate at us on Sunday, with matchups staggered throughout afternoon. Once more, it’s a Bullet Point Breakdown to take a look at the key moments and topics raised by all four.


Indiana Fever 60 @ Washington Mystics 64

  • It never rains but it pours. With Katie Douglas, Erin Phillips, Jessica Davenport and Jeanette Pohlen all still sidelined for Indiana, rookie guard Layshia Clarendon joined them due to an ankle injury suffered late in their previous game. Karima Christmas moved into the starting lineup, and the Fever were down to eight healthy bodies again, with emergency addition Erin Thorn the only perimeter backup. Washington had everyone available.


  • It wasn’t a pretty first half. Both teams shot mid-30% from the field – which isn’t good in anybody’s book – and both fouled far too often on jumpshooters. Ivory Latta hit a couple from deep, while Crystal Langhorne amazingly didn’t take a single shot in the opening 20 minutes.


  • Indiana are still fighting, despite being understrength. Their smaller players were repeatedly hitting the deck as they dropped down on switches and fought with far bigger Mystics posts. Christmas isn’t a particularly skilled offensive player, but she’ll make little glue plays and come up with hustle stats that you don’t get from everyone. But they’re so thin, and the offensive weapons just aren’t there. It’s a little sad, after the fabulous playoff run just eight months ago.


  • The Fever double-teams were hassling Langhorne whenever the ball found her down low, but there was a clear effort from the Mystics to get her involved offensively in the second half. In her early years it would’ve been easier to keep her quiet, but these days she can step outside and hit a mid-range jumper or drive from the elbow. That at least got her into the game in the second half.


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WNBA Today, 06/16/2013: LA’s life made easy by San Antonio capitulation


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.


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WNBA Today, 06/15/2013: Third-quarters are the charm on four-game Friday


Another quadruple-header in the WNBA last night, as the bizarre roller-coaster schedule threw up a heavy evening of basketball. Back to the Bullet Point Breakdown to take a look at them all.


Connecticut Sun 68 @ New York Liberty 78

  • The Sun were still without the services of Renee Montgomery and Tan White due to injury, while New York once again had just nine healthy bodies with Essence Carson done for the year and Cheryl Ford still yet to make an appearance. In fact, it emerged after the game that the Liberty will be cutting Ford this weekend, after coming to the conclusion that her knees just weren’t going to allow her to play for them. That will allow New York to add another player, but it’s a disappointing end for a player who was expected to at least contribute after returning to the WNBA for the first time since 2009.


  • This was a contest that embodied an oft-repeated cliché in my part of the world: it was a game of two halves. The first ‘half’ lasted through the opening 23 minutes of gametime (I know that doesn’t technically make much sense – work with me here). Through those 23 minutes, the Liberty offense was an ugly mess, repeatedly turning the ball over. Cappie Pondexter missed her first seven shots of the game, being essentially shut down by Kalana Greene, as the Liberty shot 28% as a team. Kara Lawson was left open far too often to hit shots for the Sun. And the only thing keeping the Liberty in the game was that they’d managed to keep Tina Charles very quiet.


  • After her 30-point explosion on Wednesday night against Indiana, Charles found life a lot more difficult against New York. Kara Braxton and Kelsey Bone both offered bigger and taller opposition than she faced against the Fever, and with the Liberty sending plenty of help as well the Sun’s star center never found any rhythm.


  • But with Connecticut moving the ball around better than New York, and their role players joining Lawson to knock down some shots and generate offense elsewhere, the Sun had built a 40-32 lead when the game-changing sequence occurred. Charles picked up her third foul while fighting with Bone for position in the paint; then added her fourth seconds later on a soft call as Katie Smith tried to drive along the baseline. Only a few minutes into the second half, Charles went to the bench and stayed there for the rest of the third quarter.


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WNBA Today, 06/13/2013: Charles dominates ice cold Fever


Last night’s game was not quite what ESPN2 were expecting when they put this matchup on their schedule. Connecticut were meant to be the team that lost just nine games in the regular season last year. Indiana were supposed to be the squad that fought through the 2012 playoffs to earn a championship. Instead, this rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finalists saw a clash between two 1-3 teams, both beset by injuries and still trying to get their 2013 campaigns on the right track. Rather than fighting it out at the top of the East, as these two were throughout last season, this was a battle to stay out of the basement.


The Sun started the season knowing winning would be a little more difficult, due to the absence of Asjha Jones. Then in recent weeks they’ve also lost Renee Montgomery and Tan White to injury, and Kara Lawson missed their last game as well. Fortunately for Connecticut, Lawson’s back had recovered enough to allow her to face the Fever. They also had Iziane Castro Marques and Sydney Carter available for the first time, after roster moves during the week.


For Indiana it’s becoming a repetitive story. Erin Phillips, Jessica Davenport and Jeanette Pohlen are all out and aren’t expected to return for a while yet. And unlike Lawson, Katie Douglas’s back continued to keep her on the sidelines. So that’s four of the Fever’s top-eight rotation players, including Tamika Catchings’s primary sidekick – it’s not hard to see why Indiana have been struggling.


Despite that, there were a couple of positive early moments for the Fever. Their two opening buckets of the game came via drive-and-kick penetration, leading to Briann January draining a pair of threes. January has really struggled so far this season, limited by the lack of weapons for her to find around the floor. With so many important players out you hope remaining pieces – like January – can step up their game and produce more to compensate. She’s been as solid as ever defensively, but offensively that hasn’t really happened. And unfortunately for the Fever, those early threes turned out to be her only points last night. So much for the positive start.


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