Connecticut Sun 68 @ Chicago Sky 78
Lineups: Same starting fives for both teams as in their previous outings. So Alyssa Thomas went from defending Maya Moore in her last game to opening this one chasing Elena Delle Donne. Welcome to the pros, rook.
Story of the Game: Thomas actually did fine on Delle Donne to open the game, and scored two buckets herself before the Sky’s star troubled the scorers. But Thomas also picked up two quick fouls while trying to defend Delle Donne, and went to the bench.
There was some pretty shocking defense played in the first half, mostly by Connecticut, although Chicago had their moments as well. For the Sky, they just don’t have the same level of help defense behind the perimeter defenders without Sylvia Fowles on the floor (Delle Donne, Jessica Breland, Sasha Goodlett and Markeisha Gatling just don’t have Fowles’s size and defensive instincts to provide the same kind of cover). So if you can break down the initial defender you’ve got a decent chance of getting to the rim. But the Sun were a mess. Their handling of screens seemed to vary from possession to possession almost at random, although switching at the slightest provocation seemed the favourite option (because it’s the easiest). It led to big holes in their defense and/or painful mismatches, resulting in either layups or open jump shots for the Sky. Even the likes of Allison Hightower and Katie Douglas, long seen as two of the better perimeter defenders in this league, either looked confused or seemed to be expecting help defenders where none were in evidence.
Chicago did a decent job of moving the ball and attacking – or at least setting enough screens in most possessions to leave Connecticut dazed and confused – but without doing anything too special the Sky broke out to a huge lead in the first half. Connecticut were doing a lot of the work for them. The Sky were also helped by Chiney Ogwumike joining Thomas in early foul trouble, and Kelsey Bone being unable to make a shot, regardless of the distance or how open she was. It’s been a rough start for Bone in Connecticut, and although it’s very, very early, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if her next sustained passage of good play in the WNBA comes under a different head coach. Whether that’s via a trade or a change of leadership in Connecticut remains to be seen.
Chicago led by 19 at halftime, and complacency looked like being their biggest threat. A third quarter sequence where they scored only two points in nearly seven minutes of action gave Connecticut a chance, but even after that the lead was still nine. The Sun showed a little more life and endeavour in the second half, and maybe even a touch more organisation, but Anne Donovan still doesn’t seem to know quite what to do with her roster. Her rotations are fluctuating wildly from game to game, with players in favour and out seemingly on a whim. Renee Montgomery was back as the backup point guard in this game, after playing only five minutes on Sunday, and Connecticut only really got going when Donovan threw the other point guard option – Alex Bentley – out for a try in the fourth quarter. The Sun also seem to have one offensive play that they run about twenty times a night, involving one player dribbling the clock out, three standing around, and Katie Douglas running around like a headless chicken hoping she gets open. It’s early in the season, and all the coaches are still figuring things out, but after such a promising outing against Minnesota on Sunday most of this game was a disappointing fall back to Earth for Connecticut.
Bentley’s energy, especially with her defensive ball pressure, helped drag the Sun within six in the final minutes. They also switched Douglas onto Courtney Vandersloot, and her length either troubled Sloot or forced the ball into Allie Quigley’s hands – both of which are bad news for Chicago. But a near-airball and an offensive foul from Kelsey Griffin killed off any Sun momentum, while the Sky finally injected a little pace and pushed their lead back out again (Griffin getting lost on both Chicago possessions didn’t help either – you’re really not going far in this league if she plays 32 minutes at power forward, which was the case today). That was all she wrote and Chicago eased home for their third straight win to start the season. Connecticut had to swallow their third straight loss.
Key Players: Once again, Delle Donne led the scoring for Chicago, although without shooting a great percentage. The threes she takes and the fouls she draws – plus the simple defensive attention she pulls away from everyone else – means that her shooting percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. She’s pressing a little, putting up some awkward shots at times just because she feels that’s her responsibility, and to some extent that’s right. Without Fowles and Epiphanny Prince, they need her to carry the bulk of the scoring load. But she’ll be hoping to shoot a little more accurately over the course of the season.
Vandersloot had a productive game as well, continuing to run the team as Pokey Chatman wants and look for her own offense a little more than in previous years. She wasn’t afraid to attack Hightower off the dribble, or fire away from outside. But once again the key supporting player for Delle Donne was Jessica Breland. She was far too quick and mobile for the likes of Griffin and Kayla Pedersen, finished her easy chances inside, and piled up rebounds. It’s been a fantastic start to the season for her in Chicago. Swin who?
After the tough start with a couple of early fouls, Ogwumike quietly went about her job inside, and already looks like a seasoned pro. If you hadn’t heard about the Tina Charles trade and forgot to bring your glasses to the game to pick out faces, you might not realise the Sun had changed centers since last season (except that she’s playing mostly in the paint this year). Otherwise a forgettable day for the Sun, when Alex Bentley’s fourth quarter cameo – where she only shot 1-5 – was probably the most memorable supporting performance.
Notes of Interest: With centers Sasha Goodlett and Markeisha Gatling either in foul trouble or just not particularly effective, and Allie Quigley hitting a few shots on the perimeter, Chicago went ‘small’ with Breland and Delle Donne as their post pairing for much of the game. Griffin posing minimal threat as a post made it a more comfortable option in this particular game, but it’s good for Chicago to know that those two are viable as the 4/5 pair, not just as the 3/4 with an extra big alongside.
The WNBA today announced a campaign marketing directly to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Considering those groups have made up a significant proportion of the league’s fanbase since it began, many feel it’s about time that the WNBA took a more direct, centralised approach to appealing to those fans. Many teams have made efforts on their own to reach out to their local gay communities, but this is the first time that the League – or any major sports league in the US – has openly stated that it would be aiming to build their gay fanbase. It’s definitely a case of better late than never, and with the likes of Michael Sam and Jason Collins coming out in recent times, it’s another small step along the way to inclusion and acceptance for all in sport and society as a whole.
Friday May 23rd
Seattle @ Connecticut, 7pm ET
Washington @ Indiana, 7pm ET
Minnesota @ Tulsa, 8pm ET
San Antonio @ Phoenix, 10pm ET
I wonder if the Sun would be better off playing Thomas at power forward, even if she’s a little undersized. It seems like her biggest assets are her strength and her craftiness at finishing around the rim (not to mention her rebounding in college) – and defenses are going to continue to sag waay off her on the perimeter until she gives them a reason not to. I guess that leaves a pretty big hole at the SF position in terms of defense, though…