I don’t pretend to understand the whims of the WNBA schedulers, but for whatever reason they left blank dates either side the 4th of July, while finding time for a game in Los Angeles yesterday afternoon. On the bright side, it was a pretty entertaining game with plenty to talk about, so let’s get to it.
The LA Sparks came into this matchup with New York at 6-0 on their own floor. More than that, despite having played Western Conference champions Minnesota twice already at Staples Center, the Sparks had a ridiculous average margin of victory of 24 points across those six games. So it probably wasn’t the place New York would’ve picked to complete a week-long, four-game road trip, especially considering they were 1-4 on the road before this encounter.
LA were healthy and unsurprisingly stuck with their usual starting five, considering they blew the Lynx out again on Tuesday night. Bill Laimbeer maintained the same starting five from the Liberty’s last outing as well, although Avery Warley didn’t last long before Plenette Pierson took back her regular spot at power forward.
After Phoenix’s giant lineup gave New York – and Leilani Mitchell in particular – matchup difficulties in their previous game, Los Angeles presented rather different problems. Kristi Toliver is one of the few off-guards in the WNBA that doesn’t have a significant size or strength advantage over Mitchell, so the Liberty gave her the job of chasing Toliver around while Cappie Pondexter took on Lindsey Harding. It would be unfair to blame what followed on Mitchell, but it’s fair to say that the plan didn’t work. Elsewhere, Kara Braxton started the game on Candace Parker, which led to Parker scoring six points in the opening 92 seconds of the game. Yeah, Candace was pretty confident she could attack Kara.
With no games on July 3rd or 5th (but bizarrely one on the 4th itself), the WNBA packed four games into the schedule last night. So to cover it all, it’s a midweek WNBAlien Bullet Point Breakdown.
Tulsa Shock 69 @ Connecticut Sun 88
- Shock head coach Gary Kloppenburg moved Liz Cambage back to the bench to start this game, with Jen Lacy taking her starting spot back from the big Aussie. Maybe he wanted to keep Cambage out of early foul trouble, or just didn’t like the matchup between her and Tina Charles. Fortunately, Glory Johnson was healthy to play after an awkward twist to her knee in their previous game, and making sure she was part of the action may also have played into the decision to bring Cambage off the bench. Johnson rather disappeared from their offense when the focus was on Cambage in their last game. Connecticut had the same list of injuries as in recent outings – Kara Lawson, Renee Montgomery and Tan White all sidelined – so Iziane Castro Marques started at shooting guard once again.
- We got a taste of vintage Izi in the opening quarter, with some crazy-looking floaters that found their way in, and “no, no, no… yes!” shots from outside. She didn’t do much after the first quarter besides play deplorable defense and turn the ball over, but the Sun have been so desperate for perimeter offense lately that they’ll have been happy to see her come alive – however briefly.
- Once Cambage did enter the action you could clearly see why Kloppenburg had been wary of using her against the Sun. On defense Tulsa kept her as far away from Charles as possible, afraid of what even this year’s version of the Sun center would do to her. When the Shock had the ball, Connecticut dropped down to double-team every time she touched it, and it was reminiscent of Bad Kara Braxton. The double-teams weren’t just pressuring Cambage into giving up the ball, but were forcing errors and creating turnovers. Even when the double-team wasn’t imminent, she became so conscious of the possibility that she was rushing into offensive moves and missing. She’s got lots of talent and obvious physical gifts, but there’s still some way to go for Cambage at this level.
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.
San Antonio Silver Stars 67 @ Atlanta Dream 93
- 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.