Lineups: San Antonio started their regular five, while Tulsa head coach Fred Williams made the seemingly obvious switch I talked about in yesterday’s mini-preview – promoting Odyssey Sims into the starting backcourt alongside Skylar Diggins, allowing Riquna Williams to return to her bench-gunner role. San Antonio’s bench was a little shorter than usual, with Shenise Johnson ruled out due to a strained right hamstring.
Story of the Game: Both teams were insanely hot from outside in the first half, combining to hit the first 11 three-point shots attempted. There were under four minutes left in the half when Shameka Christon tossed up the first missed three of the evening. The star of the show amongst the floor-wide bombing was a former Notre Dame guard – but not the one who tends to get all the press. Kayla McBride was smoking hot from the perimeter, not afraid to put the ball on the floor to create easier looks, and even made a couple of nice passes along the way as well. This is why Dan Hughes took her #3 in the recent draft, ahead of players like Alyssa Thomas and Natasha Howard who might’ve filled a more obvious hole on his roster.
McBride’s former college teammate Skylar Diggins was producing pretty nicely as well, continuing to look vastly more confident – and competent – than she did last season. Between Diggins, Sims, Williams and Jennifer Lacy firing from outside, and the interior of San Antonio’s defense looking shockingly soft when the Shock attacked it rather than firing away, Tulsa shot 65% in the first half and led by as many as nine points in the second quarter.
But with both teams turning the ball over far too cheaply, no one managed to maintain control of the game for long, regardless of the shooting. A late run for San Antonio, capped off by yet another McBride three, cut the Stars’ deficit to four points at the break.
Danielle Adams started the second half for San Antonio in place of Sophia Young-Malcolm, which was a little worrying considering the knee injury Young-Malcolm is still working her way back from, and the heavy knee brace she’s wearing to support it. But she re-joined the action later in the period, so maybe it was just a coaching choice from Hughes.
The shooting accuracy inevitably cooled off in the second half, although both teams also took slighty better care of the ball. San Antonio were clearly looking to push whenever they could to take advantage of Tulsa giveaways, after turning the Shock’s 13 first half turnovers into just four points. That helped the Stars add a few cheap points, and took some of Tulsa’s rhythm away – but still neither team could take control of the game.
Sims stepped up in the fourth quarter helping to wipe away San Antonio’s six-point lead with a variety of drives and jump shots. Diggins and Sims seem to have slipped pretty comfortably into an equal-opportunity backcourt, where both take on some of the ballhandling and point guard responsibilities. There are still some rookie mistakes at times – both teams made too many blind passes on the pick-and-roll in this game, for example – but the Shock have a backcourt they can build with now. They just need to work on the rest of the roster.
A lovely 30-foot feed from Diggins to a streaking Glory Johnson tied the game with two minutes left. Adams took the lead back with a post move that left Johnson in her wake. Then Diggins tied it again with a backdoor cut that beat Danielle Robinson, taking a nice pass from Sims and finishing past Robinson and Jayne Appel. That’s the kind of play that Sims and Diggins can make for each other, and it should become easier as they play together more and develop greater chemistry. It’s also the kind of layup that Diggins would’ve almost certainly blown last season.
San Antonio ball, tied game with 35 seconds left. The possession didn’t really go anywhere and the shot clock was dwindling when the ball found McBride up top. She dribbled right, and threw up an off-balance, fading heave for three that swished through for the lead. She was having that kind of night.
Considering the ridiculous number of close games that Tulsa have lost in recent years – and Fred Williams’s less-than-stellar record in similar games in Atlanta – it didn’t take a genius to guess what would happen in the remaining 13 seconds. The ball came in to Roneeka Hodges, who looked for Sims off what was probably supposed to be a pin-down screen from Johnson. Sims didn’t find much room, eventually received the pass, and had to force up a three under heavy pressure off an improvised second screen from Johnson. It bounced off the iron and away, and Tulsa had lost yet another close game – their third in three outings this season, and their umpteenth over the last few seasons.
Key Players: It was all McBride for San Antonio, finishing with 30 pints on 10-16 shooting, including threes that closed out the first, second and fourth quarters. Danielle Adams was the only other Star in double-digits, with 10 points. The especially impressive part of McBride’s performance was that she never seemed to be forcing anything, but once they realised how hot she was they were always looking for her to score. Practically everyone else chipped in here or there, with even Christon hitting a couple of threes. It’s a little worrying how ineffective Young-Malcolm has been so far, though. Hopefully she’s still finding her feet, because the version we’ve seen of her in 2014 is nowhere near as productive as she was before the ACL injury.
Sims and Diggins were the leading lights for the Shock, although both Johnson and Courtney Paris did some decent work inside. Sims kept Danielle Robinson quiet for most of the game on the defensive end, but the team still needs better cohesion as a collective unit on defense. And, of course, they have to work out how to close out games. The bright side is that when you’re losing close games, you’re closer to turning the corner than when you’re being repeatedly blown out. But this trend of losing tight contests has been going on for so long now, it must be painfully dispiriting for the Shock – both players and fans alike.
The New York Liberty waived veteran center Kara Braxton yesterday, opening up room on the roster to re-sign rookie post Shanece McKinney, one of their final cuts in training camp. Braxton’s always been a frustrating player, exhibiting surprising skill and mobility for her size at one moment, before making a bonehead mistake the next. She’s also repeatedly struggled to stay in shape, had DUI issues, and been dumped by a couple of teams for attitude issues. When you’re over 6-4 and can play basketball, there are often a lot of second chances on offer, but we may have seen the last of Braxton in the WNBA. Bill Laimbeer, her coach back in the Detroit days, was meant to be the one who could get something out of her – and he just gave up.
Los Angeles’s Kristi Toliver has already left town to join the Slovak Republic national team in preparation for their EuroBasket Women 2015 qualifiers in June. She’ll be gone for the best part of a month, and is likely to miss at least eight Sparks games, maybe ten. They’ll be hoping that Alana Beard’s ankle sprain and Candice Wiggins’s swollen knee are feeling better, or even LA’s deep roster will be struggling to fill the gap. Whether those two are available or not, teams will be collapsing inside and daring the Sparks to beat them from the perimeter more than ever.
Connecticut @ Indiana, 7pm ET. Already battling it out in the lower reaches of the Eastern Conference, both these teams could use a win. More than anything else, Indiana need Tamika Catchings back on the floor to bring her energy, defense, ballhandling and leadership to a team that’s looked a little rudderless at times this season. No news yet on whether she’ll return tonight from her sore back.
Connecticut are still trying to work themselves out, looking impressive for stretches and a complete mess for others. Anne Donovan is struggling to figure out her rotation as much as her players are struggling to fit in on the floor, although #1 overall pick Chiney Ogwumike has been consistently impressive. In fact, with Natasha Howard and Alyssa Thomas both involved as well, much of the interest in this encounter comes from the rookies that’ll be fighting it out on either side. Beyond that, it’s also the return for Katie Douglas, who left the Fever in the offseason to return to the Sun, after Indiana refused to guarantee her contract. Shooting just 34% so far this season, maybe a revenge game back in her old arena is just what Douglas needs to find her touch.