The Daily W, 06/23/2014

 

Tulsa Shock 105 @ Chicago Sky 99 (OT)

 

Lineups: Same starting groups for both teams, although Riquna Williams was available again for Tulsa off the bench. She didn’t play much after two hideous turnovers late in the first quarter – both on pathetically lazy underarm ‘passes’. Maybe she wasn’t really ready to play, although the problem looked like it was more in her head than her knee.

 

Story of the Game: The defense in the opening stages of this game was flat-out embarrassing at both ends of the floor. Chicago were repeatedly giving up dribble penetration right into the heart of their defense; Tulsa’s rotations to cover after simple picks and passes were desperately slow or occasionally nonexistent. It provided a lot of points for the national audience on ESPN2, but some dismal viewing for the basketball purist.

It didn’t get a great deal better as the game wore on, although the teams tried to cover up their holes. After Roneeka Hodges had been smoking hot from outside to open up a lead for Tulsa, Allie Quigley starting draining threes for Chicago to turn it around. It helped that the Shock were barely bothering to even recognise she was on the floor, never mind defend her. Chicago led by 10 at halftime.

The Sky had Jessica Breland back in top form, being left in far too much space and adding some one-on-one moves to the free throw line jumper she’s been hitting all season. Pokey Chatman also got her team to start overwhelmingly collapsing into the lane to cover for the dribble-penetration. If you drop five defenders into the paint whenever anyone even looks like being beaten off the dribble, at least there’ll be a lot of traffic in the way when they try to get to the hoop.

With Skylar Diggins pushing the offense, and Glory Johnson picking up some scraps in her battle with Breland, Tulsa kept hanging around in range in the second half. They couldn’t quite get enough stops to complete the comeback, until the last few seconds of regulation. Jordan Hooper hit a three for Tulsa, Johnson finished off a nice feed from Diggins, and then Johnson drove from the elbow through contact for a three-point play with 19 seconds left. That tied up a game that Chicago had led for every second since early in the second quarter. It also picked up Breland’s fifth foul. Chicago had a chance to win it, but Epiphanny Prince’s pullup jumper off a high Markeisha Gatling pick was short, and Breland’s putback attempt hit the side of the backboard. Extra basketball.

Just to maintain the theme of the game, barely anyone could get a stop in overtime. It was bucket after bucket at both ends, even after Breland fouled out early in the period. Prince was doing the vast majority of the work for Chicago, while Diggins got a little help from Odyssey Sims on those same aggressive drives that Chicago had been struggling to stop all afternoon. With a minute left, a Shock defender finally managed to stay in front of Diggins and force a miss on a drive, only for Courtney Paris to grab the offensive rebound, kick it to Hooper, who drained the three. Then Chatman bizarrely ran a play that put Prince on the wing, barely moving, while backup point guard Jamierra Faulkner went around several screens trying to create something. It ended in a Faulkner jump shot blocked by Paris, and Diggins followed that with a floater at the other end that virtually sealed the win for Tulsa.

 

Key Players: Diggins went 11-20 for 33 points for the Shock, and compensated for seven turnovers with six steals. Johnson and Sims both helped with the scoring, while Paris attacked the glass. They don’t always show up collectively, but in general scoring hasn’t been a problem for the Shock this season. Against what’s left of the Sky, it certainly wasn’t. Their issues are on the defensive end, where Breland hit everything, Prince got whatever she wanted for most of the game, and Gatling pounded them inside in the second half. Chicago probably should’ve won this game, but came up short at the very end. It is a positive sign for Tulsa that they pulled out a tight game on the road – they couldn’t win close games earlier this season, and this is their first road win of the year.

After piecing together a decent defense despite their injuries and absences early in the season, Chicago’s defense has fallen to pieces in recent weeks. While she has her problems on the defensive end – and they spent last year hiding her every chance they got – the size and length of Elena Delle Donne is missed defensively, especially when the presence of Sylvia Fowles is already out of the lineup. The Sky’s organisation and movement defensively is really poor right now, especially on the second level after their guards get beaten. And their guards get beaten a lot.

Faulkner had an interesting game, playing well enough to keep Courtney Vandersloot on the sidelines down the stretch. Faulkner’s very quick and very aggressive, able to beat people off the dribble on a regular basis. Three times during this game she made Sims – Tulsa’s defensive ‘stopper’ – look silly with a crossover that left Sims in her dust. But Faulkner’s so small that she often gets to the rim and then can’t finish when she gets there. So it’s all very impressive, but often results in zero points. She’s useful, but has a long way to go.

 

Notes of Interest: Chicago continue to use that one play – a horns set, where Gatling sets the pick and rolls down the lane, while Breland pops high on the other side of the lane – a staggering number of times. Any upcoming opponents checking out their tape are going to be incredibly prepared for that play from now on. Leaving Breland open up top just shouldn’t happen.

 

—–

 

Atlanta Dream 78 @ New York Liberty 85

 

Lineups: Same fives that started the game when these teams faced each other on Friday night, which finished in a comfortable Atlanta victory.

 

Story of the Game: From the very start of the game, supporting players Alex Montgomery and Anna Cruz looked ready to attack and look for their own offense for New York. Clearly they’d been prepared by Friday’s game, and hopefully by head coach Bill Laimbeer, to be ready for a defense that was focussed entirely on Cappie Pondexter and Tina Charles. If the opponent thinks only two players can hurt them, the others have to be able to exploit that. For once it looked like they were ready for that challenge.

It also seemed like Dream head coach Michael Cooper was experimenting, maybe not taking the Liberty that seriously. He shook up his rotations, using Swin Cash and Amanda Thompson before backup post Aneika Henry ever saw the floor. But with Angel McCoughtry looking for her own offense, and Atlanta drawing contact and fouls in the paint, the Dream still led by as many as 11 in the first half. A late New York run pulled them within two at halftime, as Sugar Rodgers found one of her occasional hot streaks to help out New York’s offense.

The second half was where New York finally seemed to discover some methods for success. They’re so much better offensively if they can use their defense to feed into their offense. They’ve been a solid defensive team all season, in terms of limiting their opponents’ scoring, but it’s barely ever led to breakaway points in the opposite direction. With McCoughtry forcing up an awful lot of bricks, the Liberty took the opportunity to push back the other way, and actually create some cheap points on quick offense. Pondexter was leading the way, and it’s much harder for extra defenders to swarm her if she’s attacking in transition.

On the defensive end, New York were employing the old rules against Atlanta – swamp the paint and force them to try to beat you from outside – and it was working. The Dream couldn’t hit enough, lost all their momentum and swagger, and the Liberty took control. Unused to winning situations, they almost gave it up in the final moments, when drives from McCoughtry and Tiffany Hayes pulled the gap down to five. But Charles hit a jumper as the shot clock expired to answer – one of her few noticeable contributions of the afternoon – and New York held on.

 

Key Players: Pondexter played distributor for much of the game, moving the ball away from the extra defenders that Atlanta were sending at her. But when she took shots she rarely missed, and she picked her moments in the second half, still finishing with 23 points. Rodgers shooting well was also important, which is a little worrying for New York – because it doesn’t seem like something you can remotely rely on game-to-game. This was a clear reminder that they have to push more, even with some old legs that don’t particularly like running up and down the floor. Their defense has to create points, because their offense finds it too difficult to manufacture them.

It definitely feels like McCoughtry’s been looking for her own offense too much in recent games – and that’s something I pointed out in recent recaps even when they were winning, not something that became an issue just because they lost their first game in seven. But it’s always somewhat chicken and egg with her and the Dream. Is she attacking more and stunting their offense with a little greediness – or is she attacking on her own because the offense isn’t creating anything else, so her one-on-one attacks are the best option left? It’s been a little too much of the latter lately, and this squad always look at their best when she’s part of the whole, rather than a star being orbited by little moons. She scored 33 points in this game, but on 25 shots, and we didn’t see enough of their other key players. Shooting 5-21 from beyond the arc hurt as well (and that definitely wasn’t McCoughtry’s fault, as she was 3-5 out there).

 

Notes of Interest: New York had 11 players eligible to play, as the game took place after they’d cut Toni Young but before they’d signed a replacement. See the ‘League News’ section below for information on that signing.

 

—–

 

San Antonio Stars 72 @ Los Angeles Sparks 69

 

Lineups: As expected for both teams, which means the five that’s started most of the season for San Antonio, and the big lineup that produced Los Angeles’s first win in five games on Thursday night against Tulsa. That meant point guard Lindsey Harding starting on the bench again, while Candace Parker slid to small forward and Jantel Lavender opened the game at center.

 

Story of the Game: As anticipated, it was rookie guard Kayla McBride on Parker to start the game, and the reverse at the other end. It took six minutes for the Sparks to run any kind of post-up to attack the mismatch – which seemed ridiculous – and San Antonio used at least two different zone defenses over the course of the game to help cope with LA’s size. The Sparks couldn’t always just attack a smaller defender with Parker, because sometimes she was just guarded by whoever was near her. That said, LA rarely looked to exploit the mismatch even when San Antonio were in man-to-man.

This was a tight game virtually all afternoon, with the lead for either side rarely rising above five points. Rather than hurt themselves with the porous defense they’ve been playing lately, the Sparks discovered a whole new problem to scupper their chances – cheap turnovers. There were so many weak, lazy passes from LA in this game, and San Antonio’s quick hands were happy to gobble them up whenever they were offered up. Many of the problems came on attempted high-low passes from the top of the key or even beyond the arc, trying to loop passes directly down into the paint. They became so predictable, with the ball never reversing or changing the angle to move the defense, so either San Antonio picked them off easily or the ball went sailing out of bounds when the passes were thrown too hard. As before, some of it was spacing related – without shooting on the perimeter, the defense compresses inside, and you’re trying to pass through smaller windows. But many of them were just really bad passes.

The second half was a scrappy affair, almost made for the skills of Nneka Ogwumike. She was flying up and down the floor, taking passes and finishing through contact in the lane. She even showed off a little range on her jump shot occasionally, something which has been decidedly rare from her in the WNBA. But with little help, it wasn’t enough to pull away from the Stars, and LA made the crucial mistakes down the stretch. Firstly, recent pickup Darxia Morris played a bizarre amount of minutes in the fourth quarter, after not even appearing on the floor in the opening 30 minutes. But when she was replaced by Armintie Herrington, things didn’t go well for LA. The Sparks did little on offense in the final minutes besides turn the ball over in increasingly embarrassing ways. Beard and Parker both tried to pass into traffic, and were picked off. Then Parker had the ball poked away while trying to post up Danielle Adams. The with eight seconds left, Lavender tried to attack and should’ve been called for a double-dribble, before tossing up an airball that Parker couldn’t hold on to under pressure from Adams.

In between all of that, Danielle Robinson twice went straight past Herrington up high, once going left, once going right, once using the Jayne Appel pick, once rejecting it. Both times LA’s help defense was too slow to come across and challenge behind the play, and Robinson converted the layup at the rim. With LA unable to even get shots off, that won the game for San Antonio, with Parker’s heave from halfcourt to tie the game nowhere close at the buzzer.

 

Key Players: The most significant stat was the 23 turnovers that LA gave up, which simply killed off too many Sparks possessions. They shot better than San Antonio, their defense was serviceable for most of the afternoon, and they killed the Stars on the glass – they just couldn’t complete enough passes, especially against the extended arms in San Antonio’s zones. Parker ‘led’ the group with seven turnovers, as LA found yet another new way to beat themselves.

Robinson made the crucial crunch-time plays for San Antonio, while Becky Hammon made a trio of big threes in the fourth quarter, all from almost exactly the same spot, when LA kept going under screens or gambling for steals and not covering behind. After all these years, you’d think veteran defenders like Alana Beard would know not to give Hammon an inch around the arc.

 

Notes of Interest: The game didn’t end well for Beard even before the final score, as she limped off after a collision with Jia Perkins with 40 seconds left in regulation. She went down in visible pain, holding her knee, and everyone feared the worst. But she got up and walked off under her own steam, not looking too bad, so hopefully she’s okay. After all her injury problems over the years, everyone holds their breath whenever she hits the deck.

 

—–

 

Indiana Fever 77 @ Minnesota Lynx 83

 

Lineups: Indiana made a switch, replacing Marissa Coleman with Karima Christmas at small forward. It was presumably a primarily defensive move, putting Christmas on the floor to guard Maya Moore, although she’d also been more productive offensively in their previous game against Chicago. Seimone Augustus was in the lineup for Minnesota, continuing to play through bursitis in her left knee. This was the end of a run of six games in ten days for the Lynx, and Augustus in particular must’ve been looking forward to a little rest.

 

Story of the Game: Minnesota were the team off to the hot start, with their active defense swamping the interior as expected and picking up a lot of deflection to disrupt Indiana’s offense. The Lynx led by as many as seven in the first quarter, with Augustus looking smooth offensively regardless of however much pain she’s playing through. Center Janel McCarville also took the open jumpers on offer to her from the top of the key in the first half, and hit the lot of them.

But Indiana came back into the game in the second quarter, and even took a lead in at halftime. The Fever had started moving the ball back out to their perimeter better, rotating the ball well, and knocking down threes. Meanwhile the Lynx were still shooting well when they got shots up – but that was happening all too rarely. An endless stream of turnovers saw Minnesota finish the first half shooting 62% from the field to Indiana’s 42%, but trailing by six regardless due to their 13 giveaways.

Erlana Larkins, who’s been at the center of many of Indiana’s best performances this season with her effort and hustle in the paint, was left in a heap at the halftime buzzer, and limped back to the locker room. She started the second half, but was clearly playing through discomfort for the rest of the night. In fact, it was a tough, battling second half for everyone involved. Minnesota tried to run through the post more than they had early on, with Augustus and Maya Moore both looking to get inside. That led to more contact, more fouls, and an even more physical game between two teams that tend to bring that out in each other. It wasn’t always the prettiest basketball, but the all-out effort was on clear display for everyone to see.

Minnesota had evened the game up in the third quarter, so the fourth became a fresh battle from a virtually even start. Indiana had tried to spread things out a little more in the second half, running Christmas at power forward instead of Natasha Howard, allowing an extra perimeter player in Maggie Lucas on the outside. But that left them very small defensively at times. When they went with Lucas, Layshia Clarendon and Briann January together on the perimeter, Minnesota simply posted up Moore every time down the floor, and she dominated January inside.

It was Moore’s scoring, along with another collision for Larkins sending her to the sidelines for a couple of minutes in pain, that allowed Minnesota to pull out the final, telling advantage. Lynetta Kizer isn’t the same defender as Larkins, and Moore made a huge three before driving past Shavonte Zellous for a layup to give the Lynx a five-point lead with 42 seconds left. The Fever couldn’t quite hit enough shots to drag it out even more in the final seconds.

 

Key Players: Moore’s bounced back after that mini-slump to start June, and is back to being a ridiculous offensive force that opponents can hardly even slow down. Christmas and Zellous did everything they could, but she stepped up when she needed to. Augustus and Lindsay Whalen were the other primary weapons as usual, with McCarville taking those open looks the Lynx want her to take in the first half. Devereaux Peters also played a lot of second half minutes again, giving Cheryl Reeve that viable alternative option in the post. Minnesota also only turned the ball over six times in the second half – a crucial improvement over the 13 from the opening 20 minutes.

Indiana gave it everything they had and came up just short. If Larkins hadn’t been banged up so many times, or they’d managed to shoot better than 3-13 from beyond the arc in the second half, they might’ve pulled off the win. Lucas kept firing away from outside, and hit a couple of big ones, plus the experience of trying to guard that Lynx perimeter for the entire second half can only aid her development. She’s up to 35% on her threes this season – not exactly matching her sniper reputation yet, but not bad.

 

Notes of Interest: Coleman only played six minutes for the Fever, which is a huge drop-off from the time she has been getting. It still feels like she’ll benefit as much as anyone whenever Tamika Catchings finally makes an appearance this season. She needs someone to initiate and kick her the ball to be at her most effective.

 

—–

 

Washington Mystics 86 @ Seattle Storm 89 (OT)

 

Lineups: Still without Tanisha Wright due to her bruised right knee, Seattle went with Temeka Johnson to fill her starting spot this time instead of Noelle Quinn. Washington kept faith with the same five that have started their recent outings, despite their run of six losses in seven games.

 

Story of the Game: Without wishing to impugn the skills of either of these teams, this was a shockingly well-executed game offensively at both ends of the floor. While the day had started with a lot of scoring that felt like largely the result of terrible defense in the Chicago-Tulsa game, it ended with a highly-efficient offensive battle that seemed much more the result of execution and impressive shooting. Neither team led by more than seven points all night long, because there was always a response when they needed it.

In the first half and on through much of the game, there was a battle of UConn guard generations, with Sue Bird and Bria Hartley going back and forth. Both drilled a series of jumpers to help carry their respective offenses, with Tianna Hawkins making a couple of plays against the franchise and head coach who traded her after just a year, and Shekinna Stricklen joining Bird in the barrage rom outside. Seattle led 45-41 at halftime, but it was anyone’s game.

This was Stricklen’s fourth straight productive offensive game, which is a welcome hint of consistency from a player who’s shown frequent flashes of usefulness as a pro but never been able to keep it up for very long. Even if her game is beginning to center around three-point shooting more than anything else, that can be a big help if she hits them consistently and sprinkles in an occasional drive or hustle play. The Storm desperately need to develop some youth, and Stricklen remains virtually the only young-ish piece on their roster.

The Storm cooled off a little in the second half and had to scrap harder for their points, while Hartley continued to knock down everything in sight and got some help from Monique Currie and Kara Lawson. Camille Little couldn’t hit anything from the field in the second half, but had the smarts to attack the basket off the pick-and-roll and slip screens, drawing contact and trips to the free throw line. The Storm wore down a late six-point Washington lead, with a throwback killer three from Bird tying the scores with barely a minute left in regulation. Both teams got scrappy on the remaining possessions, with Seattle’s best look a Bird three on a busted play, and Washington’s an alley-oop inbounds play to Tierra Ruffin-Pratt as time expired. Both came close but didn’t fall, leaving us with overtime.

Noelle Quinn had a huge three and a key steal in the extra period, leading people to check her stat-line and notice that she’d produced 11 rebounds and seven assists over the course of the game. She’d amassed those numbers incredibly quietly, which is typical of her performances. Hartley was still the one making plays for Washington, with a three and a driving layup pulling them within a point with 10 seconds left. After a pair of Little free throws, Washington had eight seconds to find a three to tie, and the play didn’t really work. The inbounds went to Emma Meesseman, who handed off to Ivory Latta, who was immediately trapped by the two nearby Storm defenders. With Hartley only just emerging into any kind of space, Latta forced up a heave under heavy pressure, didn’t come close, and that was the game.

 

Key Players: Hartley was outstanding for Washington, finishing the game 11-16 for 26 points. She got some help from various players over the course of the night, but she was the unquestioned star. Seattle were never going to take her in the draft – technically they selected her, but it was on behalf of the Mystics after the Crystal Langhorne trade had already been agreed. Brian Agler has said he would’ve taken Natalie Achonwa if the Storm had kept the pick. But this was the kind of performance by a young guard that could only make Seattle fans wish Hartley was on their team’s books after all.

While Bird and Little led the scoring again, and Quinn filled the stat-sheet in other areas, this was an impressive collective performance by the Storm. Agler will probably find fault with the defense – Washington shot 52%, after all – but they pulled out the win eventually. If this does turn out to be the year that the Storm finally miss the playoffs for the first time since 2003, they’re not going to go down without a fight.

 

Notes of Interest: Langhorne was quiet yet again, even against her old team. That only made the whining from people who disliked trading Hartley and Hawkins for her even more vociferous.

Washington center Stefanie Dolson landed awkwardly late in the third quarter, and was on the ground for a long time while they appeared to test the integrity of her right knee. She walked off the court in some discomfort, but mostly under her own power – even returning to take the free throw she’d earned while making a layup during the collision. She left for the locker room and never returned after that, but hopefully those were positive signs that she’ll be okay.

 

—–

 

League News

 

New York went with the signing that had been anticipated, replacing Toni Young with former Phoenix and Minnesota forward Charde Houston. For a team that needs offense and energy it’s a move that makes sense. Houston has never seen a shot she didn’t like, unless someone else was taking it. She could play either forward spot for New York, although might be less of a defensive issue for Bill Laimbeer at small forward. It’s another option at least, and she’ll join Sugar Rodgers as an aggressive weapon who can shoot you both into, and out of, any given game.

 

—–

 

Tuesday’s Games

 

Washington @ San Antonio, 12.30pm ET

Seattle @ Los Angeles, 3.30pm ET

 

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2 comments on “The Daily W, 06/23/2014

  1. […] What a great way to spend a beautiful Sunday and get NO work done: watch a sweet quintology of WNBA games. […]

  2. DAMIAN says:

    Let’s hope it works in New York’s favor.

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