After two games that failed to catch fire on Saturday night, Sunday featured three matchups in the WNBA. And it’s fair to say that if you’re reading this to find out what you missed – you didn’t miss much. But don’t go away just yet. There were one or two moments of interest as the league finished off its June schedule, so check out the Bullet Point Breakdowns below for the details.
- With Atlanta sitting pretty at 9-1 before this game, it’s fair to say they’d have been strong favourites over visiting San Antonio (3-6) even if both had been using the same squads they’ve had available for most of the season. But when news emerged before the game that DeLisha Milton Jones (medial tibial stress syndrome – shin splints) and Shenise Johnson (sprained right knee) would be joining Becky Hammon, Sophia Young and Jayne Appel on the sidelines for the Silver Stars, it became even more of a mismatch. That’s basically five of their top eight players – similar to the injury list that’s led to Indiana’s horrendous start to the 2013 season.
- There was an atmosphere of inevitability around this game from the opening tip-off. Atlanta broke out to an 8-1 lead, and ultimately led for the entire afternoon. The Dream were racking up their usual pile of steals and breaks in the first quarter, leading to a lot of layups, and only their own sloppiness with the ball limited their lead. There were 16 turnovers between the teams in the first quarter.
- When her head’s locked into the game – and to be fair, that’s been the case for the majority of this season – Angel McCoughtry is an outstanding offensive leader for this team. She’s shown off her scoring talents and ability to get to the rim or draw fouls during her time in the WNBA, but she’s exhibiting more of a willingness to pass this season. She seems to be showing a greater appreciation of the fact that if two (or more) defenders are challenging her, then there’s a teammate wide open somewhere to dump the ball off to. It makes her a nightmare to defend, and she’s one of the primary candidates for league MVP so far this year.
- McCoughtry’s also leading the league in steals, but she can be a remarkably frustrating defender. There are only so many times you can get away with standing around and whining or pouting after an offensive breakdown, while your teammates are playing 4-on-5 defense at the other end. She does it repeatedly, and it’s not cute. She also gambles constantly – but that’s pretty much intrinsic to the Dream defense, so it’s usually acceptable – and often loses track of her man so just randomly double-teams instead. She’s got great instincts for the ball, and incredibly quick hands – it’s just the basic stuff that sometimes breaks down.
- All of that said, McCoughtry’s part of a Dream defense that’s leading the league in points per possession by a country mile right now – and that’s despite losing power forward Sancho Lyttle for the last six games. They’re long, they’re quick, they’re aggressive and physical – they impose themselves on opponents at the defensive end. San Antonio hung around in this game for a while, making a run in the second quarter to pull themselves back within five, but it didn’t last long. When the Dream have problems it’s usually because they force too many jump shots and take themselves out of their rhythm, but then someone forces a turnover or slices to the rim and they can rediscover it pretty quickly. They were up 49-40 at halftime, and blew the game open in the third quarter. San Antonio never really had a prayer.
- Just to compound things for San Antonio, playing out the dead minutes in the fourth quarter, Shameka Christon got tripped in traffic and had to be helped off the floor. It looked like a sprained left ankle, but it was hard to tell how serious the problem was. The very last thing the Silver Stars need is another starter on the treatment table.
- Dan Hughes has managed a few impressive results despite the injuries around his squad this year, but down five key rotation players was simply too much. Hammon is expected back soon, Appel’s concussion symptoms surely can’t last much longer, and Johnson and Milton-Jones are both currently listed as day-to-day, so hopefully they’ll be stronger in the near future. They don’t play again until Saturday, which gives them some much-needed recovery time.
- The roll continues for Atlanta. Tiffany Hayes had a nice game off the bench and backup center Aneika Henry got to boost her confidence (and numbers) by beating up on the Silver Stars in garbage time. Even better, Lyttle should be back with the squad when their road trip starts in Minnesota next Tuesday. Le’coe Willingham and various small lineups with McCoughtry at power forward have filled in nicely – as the 6-0 record without Lyttle illustrates – but they’ll still be happy to have her back. She went 9-0 at EuroBasket Women 2013, and came away with a winners’ medal and an MVP trophy, so everything’s been working like a dream for this Atlanta squad lately.
- Tulsa coach Gary Kloppenburg decided they’d waited long enough for center Liz Cambage to be part of their picture, and reinstalled her as the starting center for this game. She’d made only one appearance since missing nearly a month due to an ankle sprain, but the Cambage/Glory Johnson frontcourt pairing is a tandem they’ve been hoping to build from all season. So she replaced Jennifer Lacy in the lineup. Washington were the same as they’ve been in recent games, and came in hoping to break a five-game losing streak.
- The Shock had some success in their efforts to work through Cambage early on. Two simple pick-and-rolls with Skylar Diggins found Cambage easy layups, and another Diggins lob in transition forced Washington to foul and send Cambage to the line. She’s just so damn big that she’s a tough cover for a lot of teams. If the Mystics center was pulled even slightly out of position, then all Tulsa had to do was put the ball high and no one but Cambage could get near it. They’re still figuring out how to use her – and her own acclimatisation to WNBA officiating seems to be starting over – but there were one or two promising signs in the opening minutes.
- The Shock are still having problems in a lot of areas right now, however. The Diggins/Wiggins backcourt continues to struggle, primarily because neither of them has been able to hit a damn shot so far this season. Diggins has had difficulties with the increased athleticism and quickness of opponents in the pros, and is still figuring out how to play against opponents who are often faster and/or more mobile than her. She’s also lost all confidence in her outside shot, which becomes a vicious circle and leads to hesitation and more misses. Wiggins has shown a slightly improved willingness to drive this year rather than remain the spot-up shooter she’d become in Minnesota, but she’s not finishing with any consistency. It’s left the Shock relying on Riquna Williams to produce off the bench, and giving up a lot to opposing backcourts at the start of games. It’s still early, but they were hoping for more when they put this near-namesake backcourt together before the season.
- It was a tight game for most of the first half, with Washington turnovers and Tulsa offensive rebounds compensating for some terrible perimeter shooting from the Shock. Even with Cambage and Johnson in the frontcourt, they continued to fire a never-ending barrage of threes, and they’ve shot poorly from out there in recent games. Cambage finding herself in foul trouble didn’t help. The Mystics made a push in the last couple of minutes before the break, involving a Crystal Langhorne drive, an Ivory Latta floater, and a Matee Ajavon triple. As the Shock continued to toss up bricks, it allowed Washington to go in at halftime up 44-34.
- Nothing much changed in the second half as Washington aggressively double-teamed Cambage whenever the ball went in to her down low, and Tulsa continued to miss from outside. The Mystics were wildly dominant on the glass, hoovering up all those misses, and turned the game into a blowout in the third quarter. Tulsa just quietly faded away.
- On top of the poor game, there was a worrying moment for the Shock in the closing moments of the third quarter. Glory Johnson, whose performances have been the primary bright spot of their season, got caught up with Monique Currie in the fight for a rebound. Her left leg was trapped under Currie as she reached for the ball, and it clearly caused some pain. She stayed in to shoot her free throws, but left immediately afterwards and didn’t return (not that there was any reason to – the Shock were already down by 23). She had a quiet game – somewhat removed from the offense due to Tulsa’s efforts to involve Cambage – but they certainly won’t want to see her miss any time. The Shock frontcourt has been undermanned too much already this year.
- It was a big win for Washington to break their losing run, and Mike Thibault has them playing some solid basketball. It was also a big win for him personally, tying him with Van Chancellor for most wins as a head coach in WNBA history. Obviously most of Thibault’s came with the Connecticut Sun, but he’s already illustrating his coaching ability with the turnaround that’s begun with the Mystics. His first chance to take sole possession of the WNBA wins record comes on Saturday against Seattle.
- Tulsa have had a road-heavy schedule to start the season, which hasn’t made things easy for them, but this was another game where the continuous stream of misses from the perimeter grew tiresome. A little more penetration – not just on dump-downs to Cambage, but also with more movement off the ball – would be nice to see. They can only expect the individual creation of Williams and a vast number of threes to produce so much.
- Very slowly, the Fever are getting some of their players back. Tamika Catchings was playing her second game after returning from her back problem, and rookie guard Layshia Clarendon was available again off the bench after hip and ankle issues. That gave them 10 healthy bodies for the first time in a while. Guard Erin Phillips is expected to return from her torn meniscus in 7-10 days, which will also help them out on the perimeter. Maybe there’s hope for Indiana yet. Seattle had their regular 10 available – their major injuries came before the season, when Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird were ruled out for the entire year.
- The Storm reportedly had problems getting to Indiana due to flight cancellations, and they started the game like they were still jet-lagged. Catchings hit a couple of long jumpers for Indiana, before Shavonte Zellous and Briann January joined in, breaking the Fever out to a 17-4 advantage after the opening five minutes. All Seattle could offer in response was a lot of perimeter misses, with Temeka Johnson particularly culpable.
- As Indiana’s shooting inevitably came back down to Earth, the Storm eased into the game. The first half as a whole was a messy display, with both teams struggling to produce more field goals than turnovers. Defense dominated, and after 22 combined giveaways in the first half (and only 20 buckets) Seattle led 30-29. It wasn’t pretty.
- January also suffered an accidental knee to the head from Camille Little during the first quarter. January went down and stayed down, understandably, but returned to the game and played the entire second quarter. That seemed to suggest she was fine, but she failed to emerge for the second half with what was eventually diagnosed as a mild concussion. Clearly, they screwed up by letting her play after she took the hit – but the Fever are so ravaged by injuries that they were probably desperate to believe that she was okay to continue.
- Clarendon started the second half in place of January, but most of the open minutes created by the point guard’s absence went to posts Jessica Breland and Jasmine Hassell. It meant Catchings playing point guard even more literally than she often does for Indiana. She frequently brings the ball up the floor and initiates the offense, despite being nominally the power forward, but she took the role on virtually full-time in the second half. She was the best option they had left.
- While there was a slight uptick in offensive production, the game remained close through the third quarter. Seattle hit a couple of shots, and Indiana began to dominate the glass with their bigger lineups on the floor – making up for their misses. The key run came in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, when Indiana strung together a couple of finishes inside and Seattle kept missing jumpers. The Fever did a solid job all night of clogging the paint and closing out well enough to make Seattle miss from outside.
- Shekinna Stricklen – whose general lack of improvement from last season has been one of the more disappointing aspects of the opening month for Seattle – came in and hit a couple of shots that gave the Storm hope in the closing minutes, but they never managed to drag the deficit below four points. A Catchings drive past Tanisha Wright for a layup, followed by a Jasmine Hassell finish from a Catchings feed, iced the game in the final moments. Putting Wright on Catchings made some sense, trying to use a guard’s quickness to limit Catchings’s penetration, but the basic height discrepancy worked in Indiana’s favour on those plays. The Fever star could see, pass and score right over Wright, and it helped Indiana pull out the victory.
- That’s two in a row for the Fever since Catchings returned from injury, and despite all the doom and gloom they’re only 1.5 games outside the playoff spots in the East. Jessica Breland finished with the first double-double of her WNBA career, and looks like she might be able to contribute to this team in future off the bench. Zellous and Karima Christmas have also stepped up at times during this horrible run of injuries. It’s possible that the development those players gained from all this playing time could help the Fever down the line, even if it’s been a painful process. There were also more worrying moments in this game, with January’s concussion and Erlana Larkins twisting an ankle in the final moments, while both Catchings and Zellous took hard hits during the course of the action. If they can keep their remaining players healthy, and start to bring some of the injured ones back, maybe this season isn’t a dead loss for Indiana just yet.
- Fatigue from the travel problems may well have played a part in Seattle’s second-half performance. After holding their own in the first half, they were destroyed 20-5 on the glass in the final 20 minutes, which compounded the poor shooting performance. A couple of positive sequences from Stricklen and rookie forward Tianna Hawkins were at least something to take away from the game. Hopefully they’ll have found some time to rest before the nationally televised clash with Chicago on Tuesday night.
Spain just about held off hosts France to win EuroBasket Women 2013 with a dramatic 70-69 victory on Sunday night. While Sancho Lyttle was given the MVP award, the two other stand-out performances came from players whose WNBA rights are held by the Connecticut Sun – Sandrine Gruda and Alba Torrens. Between them they scored 46 points in the final – one point more than all of Tina Charles’s teammates managed on Saturday against the Mercury. Torrens seems unlikely, but Gruda has made noises about potentially joining up with the Sun at some point this season. Connecticut could certainly use her.
In three remarkably easy decisions, Angel McCoughtry and Diana Taurasi were named the WNBA Players of the Month in their respective conferences, while Elena Delle Donne was named Rookie of the Month. Delle Donne and Taurasi also won the Players of the Week awards.
Tuesday July 2nd (tomorrow):
Tulsa @ Connecticut, 7pm ET. Considering how the Sun have been playing, Connecticut -7.5 is too much against anybody – even with how Tulsa have been playing. I’ll take the Shock to cover.
Seattle @ Chicago, 8pm ET. Sky -8 is the line, and I’ll take them to beat the Storm by more than that in front of the ESPN2 cameras. Seattle still have a lot to prove.
New York @ Phoenix, 10pm ET. Mercury -12 is the line, and it should be an interesting clash. Phoenix are all-offense, no-defense; New York are the reverse. I think the Liberty can at least keep it closer than 12.
Minnesota @ Los Angeles, 10.30pm ET. The third meeting in 12 days for these teams, LA -3.5 is the line after a blowout either way. Home court has been so important to these franchises this year, so I’ll take LA.