Lineups: Same fives again for both teams – so Tamika Catchings continues to sit out due to her sore back. Connecticut center Kelley Cain is also out at the moment due to a foot injury, but on the scale of importance to her team, Cain’s at almost the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Catchings.
Story of the Game: Perhaps the most important piece of information to offer from this game is that if you missed it, don’t bother hitting the archives to catch up. It wasn’t pretty, and unless you’re a diehard Fever fan, you won’t get much out of it. Connecticut got off to the better start, although partly by accident. An early knee to the thigh sent Kelsey Griffin to the bench, bringing center Kelsey Bone into the game. That slid Chiney Ogwumike over to power forward, forcing fellow rookie Natasha Howard to guard her, while Erlana Larkins took Bone. Howard couldn’t handle Ogwumike, who had the perfect opportunity to establish herself in the paint early on and dominate. Griffin came back in pretty quickly, but Connecticut led by as many as seven points in the first quarter.
At the other end of the floor, we were seeing far too much of The Marissa Coleman Show. It’s a little bit ‘chicken and egg’, but Indiana’s offense has a tendency to bog down, which led to Coleman trying to make something happen on her own, which rarely ends well. The ‘egg’ perspective is that Coleman tends to ball-stop, leading to the offense bogging down, and then she’s forced to shoot or create. They’ve asked her to do too much in some of these early games, and she’s a much more effective player as a complementary piece whose primary job is to hit open threes. Despite being a new player who’s never been on the same team as Catchings before, Coleman’s effectiveness has perhaps taken the biggest hit from the absence of Indiana’s superstar.
Connecticut’s offense started to fall apart as soon as Ogwumike took her first rest late in the first quarter. Once she was removed as a post-up target or an offensive rebounder who could salvage teammates’ bricks, the cracks started to show. The Sun don’t have a lot of movement, they’re not well-organised or well-coached, and their offensive play devolved into turnovers and bad one-on-one attempts. Indiana weren’t great either, but their ball movement improved a little, they started to hit some shots – from better looks, due to the ball movement – and crept into the lead late in the first half. Howard’s minutes were limited after that rough early stretch because the Fever found some success using Karima Christmas as an undersized power forward. Christmas is more of a small forward, but her energy, effort, and smarts can work sometimes even when forced to defend posts. Ogwumike helped by missing some looks you’d expect her to convert, but Christmas did the job her team needed.
The third quarter was painful to watch, as an endless stream of fouls and free throws dominated the action. Indiana were up by 15 midway through the period, as Anne Donovan threw out every option on her bench in an effort to find something that would work – including Kelly Faris, who’s barely seen the floor so far this season. Connecticut fell into an 11-0 run more through Indiana mistakes than their own efforts, but between Ogwumike and Alex Bentley the Sun briefly made it look like a contest again.
The Fever stopped that Connecticut run by getting out in transition, which is vital for them. Their halfcourt sets have always had a tendency to drag them down into static, immobile basketball, so quick offense is invariably their best way to avoid that. Once the transition chances get them moving, the halfcourt possessions that follow tend to have more speed and aggression behind them as well. In this game, once they found their rhythm again behind Briann January and Shavonte Zellous late in the third, they reestablished their lead before pulling away in the fourth quarter. Connecticut never looked like being able to put together a concerted push to turn the game around in the closing stages.
Key Players: The Fever gave up a ridiculous 21 offensive rebounds, without which the game wouldn’t even have been close, but the partnership of Christmas and Erlana Larkins in the post still did an important job in keeping Connecticut in check in the second half. The Sun helped out by being unable to create any decent passing lanes to feed Ogwumike, and occasionally just forgetting she was there, but Indiana did what they needed to do.
On the offensive end, January continues to shoot well from outside when they move the ball well enough to create good looks for her. Zellous also produced easily her best stretch of the 2014 season in the second half, hitting from outside and then attacking off the dribble. They desperately need that kind of production from her if Catchings’s return remains a way off.
Ogwumike was once again virtually the only bright spot for the Sun, finishing the game 8-17 for 18 points and 15 boards (8 of those offensive). Bentley had a couple of moments as well, but the team shot poorly, and don’t look like they know what they should be doing. Donovan continues to cycle between her three point guard options, without looking convinced by any of them. Allison Hightower can initiate the offense, but doesn’t really create for her teammates – and when she’s shooting as poorly as she was last night, becomes a difficult player to keep on the floor. Bentley can create, and likes to shoot as well, but is a little wild and still prone to youthful mistakes. And the forgotten woman on this roster, Renee Montgomery, apparently has a near-permanent seat in Donovan’s doghouse. She’ll attack a defense, but apparently Donovan isn’t convinced that she can help this team. All three have been valuable rotation players on good teams before, but in this disorganised mess they’re just floating in and out virtually at random, hoping something works on a given night. It’s not much of a plan.
Kelsey Bone has also completely disappeared, after a decent rookie year in New York and a strong offseason in Turkey. Donovan doesn’t seem to know what to do with her, despite the huge physical advantages that an Ogwumike/Bone frontcourt should have over a lot of WNBA teams. The scrappy energy game of Kelsey Griffin is apparently more to Donovan’s liking.
It’s a young team, still finding its feet, yadda yadda yadda. How long do they get to trot out those excuses? I felt they should’ve switched to a new head coach to lead the development of their rebuilt roster, and nothing they’ve done early in the season has changed my mind.
New York @ Washington, 7pm ET. This weekend is something of a test case for the Liberty, even this early in the season. They beat the Storm during the week, but looked pretty unimpressive while doing it. Now they’re on a back-to-back against two Eastern Conference rivals, both of which work hard but don’t have the superstar talent that New York boast. They’re in Indiana on Saturday, but it’s Washington first, where they’ll be hoping Cappie Pondexter and Tina Charles combine to shoot better than the 9-28 from Tuesday. The Mystics already look like they’re going to be similar to last year – a tough team that you can’t take lightly, who’ll scrap their way to a decent number of wins without blowing anyone away.
Seattle @ Atlanta, 7.30pm ET. Seattle have had huge problems against Atlanta in recent years, largely because they just couldn’t keep up with them. Even if Camille Little and Crystal Langhorne manage to overcome the extra size and length of Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle in the paint, the Dream may well just run by them on the break. The key element to watch is Seattle’s turnovers. If they cough it up as much as they have been this season – and as much as they usually do against the Dream – they’ll struggle to stay in this game.
San Antonio @ Minnesota, 8pm ET. This one will be interesting because Minnesota’s early-season weaknesses don’t necessarily match up with San Antonio’s strengths. The Lynx have struggled with their help defense in the paint early in the season, and left driving lanes to the basket far too open. But San Antonio are more fond of jump shots than drives, and might not fully exploit that. At the other end, the Lynx have stayed perfect largely through the ridiculous offensive skills of Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus, and there’s little reason to believe that the Stars can slow those two down. Danielle Robinson and Kayla McBride will presumably start as the defenders on those two, while Becky Hammon tries to survive on Lindsay Whalen. All three of those look like dangerous mismatches for San Antonio whenever Minnesota has the ball.
Connecticut @ Chicago, 8.30pm ET. You can read the review of yesterday’s game above to see what I think of the current state of the Sun. Travelling to Chicago on the second half of a back-to-back isn’t going to make things any easier. Kelsey Griffin and Alyssa Thomas give Elena Delle Donne two players she can guard without expending too much energy, so she should be able to concentrate on the offensive end without too much trouble. If she can stay out of foul trouble this time, it’ll be interesting to see how successful Thomas is at defending Delle Donne on the other end. Hopefully this game will also mark the return of Sky shooting guard Epiphanny Prince, after she returned from her absence for personal reasons but sat out last weekend’s games in street clothes. The Sky have done an excellent job of surviving without her and Sylvia Fowles, but they’ll want to work Prince back in as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Tulsa @ Phoenix, 10pm ET. The nightcap could be a shootout, with Phoenix looking to bounce back from their home loss to San Antonio last Friday, and Tulsa still searching for their first win of the season. The Diggins-Sims backcourt is still settling in but looking offensively dangerous, and could give Phoenix some problems both off the dribble and from outside. However, Tulsa’s own defensive issues are likely to be shown up by the size and mobility of Candice Dupree and Brittney Griner inside. Of course, if Tulsa’s games so far are any guide, it’ll be a tight game that the Shock find a way to lose in the closing seconds.