As you can probably tell from the length of time it took for this coverage to appear, detailing the WNBA All-Star Game wasn’t high on my list of priorities. The ins and outs of who makes it to the game or who goes overlooked is generally far more interesting than the game itself, which is a meaningless exhibition, usually filled with terrible basketball. This year at least, it did turn out to be reasonably entertaining. And if you’re going to cover 204 regular season games, a few minutes taking a look at the showpiece midseason event seems only right. So let’s take a look at a few of the highlights.
- Indiana Fever and Eastern Conference All-Stars head coach Lin Dunn said during her pregame speech that she’d been all over social media hyping the game, including Myspace – leaving many viewers and several of her own players cracking up with laughter. Listening to Lin Dunn is always worthwhile, one way or another.
- Shavonte Zellous created the first vaguely entertaining interview WNBA president Laurel Richie has provided in as long as I can remember. Richie’s usually as mind-numbing in interviews as her predecessor Donna Orender, but Zellous jumping into the back of the shot and shimmying to music only she could hear offered a welcome distraction. It was nice to see some new faces at All-Star, and the likes of Zellous and Latta clearly enjoyed the hell out of the experience.
- Also amusing was how much several players lived up to their performances – or lack thereof – from the first half of the season. Tina Charles and Cappie Pondexter tossed up a whole lot of bricks; Pondexter had a couple of nice assists, but also sent several passes into the crowd, maintaining the turnover binge she’s been a central part of in New York; and Rebekkah Brunson charged after every loose ball and rebound like her life depended on it – apparently she only has one gear.
- It was 49-43 to the East at halftime, with Chicago’s Epiphanny Prince probably the sweetest shooter on show to that point. The four Minnesota Lynx on the West squad provided 32 of their team’s 43 points in the first half.
- The West players tried to feed Tina Thompson in the first half, with everyone wanting a big night for Tina in her final season. Unfortunately, her trademark bombs from outside refused to drop.
- The officials were keeping it loose along with everyone else. Lamont Simpson had Refcam strapped to his head again, and seriously, if that’s how he sees the world the man might want to see a doctor. It did provide some nice footage of him informing Ivory Latta that no one had ever picked up a technical in an All-Star game (surely it should’ve been Diana Taurasi hearing that piece of information?), and of Angel McCoughtry preening for the camera. Meanwhile, a highlight package of Candace Parker included an amusing moment from ref Amy Bonner, telling Parker she would’ve blocked her shot but she didn’t want to make Parker look bad.
- There was a lovely moment in the third quarter after the ESPN cameras went inside the East huddle during a timeout, showing Dunn drawing up a play. The action restarted, Allison Hightower ran through the paint, Latta curled high to receive the inbounds pass, and drilled a three straight off the catch – exactly like Dunn drew it up. That’s how good she is, even diagramming plays that work to perfection in meaningless All-Star games. Cheryl Reeve’s play that followed at the other end worked pretty nicely as well, but Taurasi ruined the effect by firing up an airball.
- The West were behind by as many as 11 points early in the third quarter, but as tends to happen in these games, everyone started to take it a bit more seriously down the stretch. Of course, ‘a bit more seriously’ still doesn’t involve playing a great deal of defense. After the Lynx-led first half, it was the turn of the Los Angeles Sparks to carry the West in the second.
- First it was Kristi Toliver, who started lighting it up from outside to match the scoring of Latta and Prince on the opposing side. Then it was Candace Parker, putting the effort in to grab rebounds and run the floor for easy points. We really should’ve seen it coming. Due to injuries and several years where the event didn’t take place, she’d never actually taken part in a WNBA All-Star game before. But she’s made for these games. No one’s playing defense to stop her, and she isn’t expected to waste her time and energy playing defense at the other end (so she can’t make the usual mistakes). Plus she invariably plays better in nationally televised games for LA – of course she’d step up in one of the very few games on network TV. She’s also remarkably talented, of course. Parker helped the West take over much of the fourth quarter, as Reeve went with the LA trio of Parker, Toliver and Nneka Ogwumike alongside Seimone Augustus and Danielle Robinson down the stretch.
- The East were still within range in the closing moments. McCoughtry pulled them within two with a minute to play on a cutting layup (Charles made a nice pass to her out of a double-team – another instance where the All-Star game imitated the regular season, with Charles being hounded by an extra defender). After Augustus and Toliver missed jumpers, the East had a chance to tie or take the lead. Pondexter pulled up for three, but it came up short. The East eventually realised they had to foul (which seemed inherently ridiculous in an All-Star game, but it was the right play). Toliver made both foul shots, making it a two-possession game (and nicely covering the 3.5-point spread, thank you very much Kristi). That was it, and the West had sealed a 102-98 victory. Parker was the fairly obvious MVP.
- All in all it was a pretty decent game, compared to most years. The whole thing still needs to be more of an ‘event’ if the WNBA are really going to make it a showpiece part of their season. They’ve dispensed with all the extras around the game, like the three-point contest or skills competition, and there wasn’t even a ‘Fan Fest’ for the supporters who showed up. An extended debate around playing the game somewhere new lasted for a day or two among fans and the media, but what it really needs is more effort to be put into the whole thing – wherever they’re going to play it. Moving it away from the Mohegan Sun might help offer greater entertainment options for fans and players over the weekend, but the event would still feel just as half-assed if there’s so little beyond the game in Minnesota, Indiana or LA. Plus, of course, someone has to be willing to pay for it. That’s always the big issue. The League doesn’t want to spend large amounts of its own money on the game, so it goes to whoever is willing to stump up the cash to host and organise it. Still, hopefully one way or another we’ll see the event in different cities in future.
- Thompson was the only player not to score a point all night, by the way. Not every story has a fairytale ending.
All the teams utilising seven-day contracts to fill their roster re-signed the same player again. So Jasmine James in Phoenix, Nakia Sanford in Seattle, and Samantha Prahalis in New York have another week to impress (or not, as the case may be). By the way, teams can sign a player to as many of these seven-day deals as they like – there’s no limit like the NBA, which requires teams to either give up on the player or sign him for the rest of the season after two ten-day contracts.
The USA won FIBA’s Under-19 World Championship for Women over the break, led by the University of Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart. But for WNBA purposes, the other teams were more relevant than the USA. Assuming the qualification criteria don’t change significantly in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (the current one expires at the end of this season), many of the best players from other countries in this tournament will be eligible for the WNBA draft next year. So watch out for Spain’s Astou Ndour, a long-limbed 6’6” athlete who’s only 18 and already playing heavy minutes in Spain’s top division. France had point guard Olivia Epoupa and wing Valeriane Ayayi. And there are several Australians who might be late-round options, including 6’1” guard Stephanie Talbot. Emma Meesseman was the obvious overseas standout this year – there might be a few options next season worth taking a look at.
Wednesday July 31st (tomorrow):
New York @ Washington, 7pm ET. Mystics -6.5 is the line, showing just how poor New York have been over much of the first half of the season. It seems a little high, but New York haven’t earned any respect after following up their win over Indiana with an insipid performance in San Antonio. I’ll take Washington to win and cover.