Yesterday saw two WNBA games, between pairs of teams in very different situations. Our early game featured two franchises whose highest potential reach this season is likely the fourth playoff spot in the Western Conference – although both might admit in their more honest moments that they’d be better off in the lottery. The late game involved opponents with much higher aspirations in 2013, both hoping for a deep postseason run. Maybe it wasn’t a surprise which game turned out to be distinctly more entertaining.
First let’s get the early mess out of the way. It was Seattle’s Camp Day, with thousands of kids packing into Key Arena ready to scream their heads off. Brian Agler stuck with the starting lineup he went with in their win against shorthanded Atlanta on Sunday night, which meant Shekinna Stricklen’s second start on the wing. For Tulsa there were changes. Regular starting point guard Skylar Diggins was out after tweaking her ankle in their previous game (and apparently took the opportunity to take a trip back to Notre Dame, rather than rehabbing in Tulsa), which pushed Angel Goodrich into the starting lineup instead. Glory Johnson had recovered sufficiently to return after her neck problem, and Gary Kloppenburg decided to try the Liz & Glory frontcourt that he’d largely been avoiding, pairing Johnson with center Liz Cambage from the start. Tiffany Jackson-Jones, recently returned from her stress fracture, wasn’t announced as injured but went from starting their last game to spending all day on the bench. That was strange, unless there was a physical issue that caused the decision.
Tulsa had won only three games all season coming into this matchup, but two of those wins had come over the Storm – a desperate mess of a first half helped illustrate why. Cambage absolutely murdered Seattle in the opening minutes, and it set the tone for the rest of the half. She drove past Camille Little from the elbow for a running finish on the first possession of the game, then proceeded to back down Little or Tina Thompson and finish with ease at the rim on multiple occasions. Seattle’s starting frontcourt is undersized in terms of pure height, but usually they do a decent job of masking that with positioning and strength – Cambage was just too big, and the double-teams far too slow to arrive, leading to yet another dreadful start for Seattle.
Other teams around the league have managed to neutralise Cambage with quick double-teams forcing her into mistakes, or ball pressure forcing the Shock into errors when they try to pass the ball to her. Apart from the occasional problem that Cambage created for herself by driving wildly into the lane without looking where she was going – which invariably leads to offensive fouls – the Storm did a poor job of making entry passes difficult, and an equally terrible job of stopping her inside. When they eventually started sending lots of help down to her later in the first half, she moved the ball out successfully and the Shock were left with wide open looks from outside which even they managed to knock down at a reasonable rate.
Besides the Cambage dominance, the main feature of the first half was turnovers. Lots and lots of turnovers. Seattle’s offense was going nowhere, looking sleepy and aimless. When they remembered they were supposed to they tried to attack Cambage on pick-and-rolls, but not with any level of conviction. She still has problems at times on defense, always instinctively wanting to fade back into the paint and clog the lane, regardless of where her man or the ball are. Little and Tianna Hawkins took advantage of that occasionally by hitting shots in space when Cambage hadn’t tracked them out to the perimeter, but in general Seattle failed to punish her. They just drove into traffic without much sense of direction, or threw the ball away. Tulsa actually had even more turnovers themselves, on sloppy passes or offensive fouls, but the combination of Cambage being too big and Riquna Williams too quick overcame that for the Shock. By halftime, Tulsa led 45-26.