The Daily W, 07/04/2014

 

Tulsa Shock 96 @ Connecticut Sun 83

 

Lineups: No changes for either side, despite both having lost their last three games.

 

Story of the Game: Connecticut had one good quarter in this game – the second – and otherwise got outplayed for most of the night. They started atrociously, with a series of bricks and turnovers featuring consecutive travelling violations by Kelsey Bone, while layups and free throws helped Tulsa to the first 12 points of the game. Odyssey Sims got off to a hot start in what turned out to be her best game so far as a pro, hitting from the perimeter but also doing a lot of work at the rim. She’s had some of the same problems as a rookie that teammate Skylar Diggins had in her first year – the ability to get past people and into the heart of a defense but then missing a lot of shots among the trees once she gets inside. In this game she was finishing almost everything, including several floaters from a few feet beyond the rim, completing the play without having to directly challenge the opposing posts.

But the Sun finally woke up in time to even the game up in the second period, with Alyssa Thomas’s size from the wing and Renee Montgomery’s quickness off the bench helping drag them back into the game. Bone was also managing to finish plays inside rather than taking four steps before putting the ball on the floor, and Tulsa’s poor interior defense helped as well.

But that second quarter proved to be a brief respite. With Sims leading the way and Diggins joining in, plus the tandem of Glory Johnson and Courtney Paris dominating Connecticut on the offensive glass, Tulsa were in complete control for virtually all of the second half. The Sun briefly threatened a comeback when Katie Douglas got hot from outside early in the fourth quarter, but Jordan Hooper answered with threes of her own and the Shock were quickly back on track. Tulsa’s defense wasn’t that great for much of the night, but with the way their offense was ripping the Sun apart, it made little difference.

 

Key Players: Sims finished the night 11-17 for 30 points, and it was nice to see her as the primary weapon for once. That was the idea when they drafted her – that between her and Diggins in the backcourt, opponents would have trouble guarding both and at least one could explode in any given game. But it’s been Diggins doing most of the work on the offensive end, and drawing all the plaudits. This time it was Sims’s night.

Douglas and Thomas were easily the most effective offensive players for Connecticut, with Thomas quietly becoming more effective as the season progresses. Her jump shot’s still very much a work in progress, but her size, strength and athleticism from the small forward spot makes her dangerous even with limited shooting range. Connecticut’s main problem in this game was their complete inability to slow the Shock down. Also, why Anne Donovan took so long to give Montgomery a chance to help in the second half was mystifying. She woke the team up in the second quarter but didn’t get much of a chance to help in the second half.

 

Notes of Interest: For the second time this season, Kelsey Griffin lost a shoe during play, and carried on playing with just one. And again, the opposing team recognised it and attacked her. But unlike the block she pulled off against Penny Taylor earlier in the year, Glory Johnson managed to draw a foul while driving at her. She should probably tie her shoes a little tighter.

Thomas lost something during play as well, but dealt with it rather better. The face mask she was wearing to protect her recently injured nose was flapping behind her head while she completed a transition layup early in the second half, then she kicked it to the sidelines before grabbing a steal and leading the break for another layup for her team. All the sequence really needed was some dramatic music as she revealed herself to be someone else under the mask.

 

—–

 

San Antonio Stars 84 @ Minnesota Lynx 91

 

Lineups: Minnesota were without Seimone Augustus for the second straight game due to left knee bursitis, so Monica Wright started for them again. Danielle Adams continues to start ahead of Sophia Young-Malcolm for San Antonio at power forward, while Jia Perkins is still out due to her hamstring injury.

 

Story of the Game: Minnesota hit several threes early on, including three from Wright, which covered up the fact that there wasn’t a lot of flow to their offense. By contrast, San Antonio – a team that often lives and dies by the outside jumper – didn’t take many threes in the first half, but inched their way ahead on layups and mid-range jump shots. The Lynx defense still isn’t where Cheryl Reeve would like it to be on the interior rotations, although they did do a decent job of extending to San Antonio’s shooters in this game, making those outside shots more difficult.

The Lynx took charge of the game with a run that stretched across halftime. They scored the final 11 points of the first half on a combination of nice interior passing and some transition buckets, before Tan White capped it with a wide open three. Then a 9-1 run to open the third quarter made it 20-1 overall in around seven minutes of basketball. There wasn’t anything particularly noticeable that changed to shut down San Antonio’s offense, but the Lynx did force a few turnovers and then the Stars went cold from outside. It happens sometimes when you’re a jump shooting team.

The game still wasn’t over, despite that painful stretch for San Antonio turning a five-point lead into a 14-point deficit. They wiped out most of that gap before the end of the third quarter, with Danielle Robinson using her speed to get to the rim and Jayne Appel looking perkier than usual as an offensive threat inside – a role forced on her partly by some foul trouble for Adams.

But most of the comeback happened while Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore were resting on the bench, and as soon as they came back out for the start of the fourth quarter the Lynx were off and running again. Whalen drove to the rim for a couple of buckets, Moore had a three and some free throws, and suddenly a 12-2 run had Minnesota back in charge. With Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson out of action life gets more difficult, and your depth takes a hit – but having another couple of superstars to rely on is a nice fallback.

The Stars still didn’t quit, and it was mostly the speed of Robinson that helped give them a prayer in the closing stages. She was just grabbing the ball and taking off upcourt, giving San Antonio much better pace to their attack and creating quick offense. But even with two incredibly stupid Lynx fouls on outside jumpshooters in the last minute, San Antonio never came closer than five points in the final moments.

 

Key Players: Whalen and Moore were the key pieces for Minnesota when they needed to get things done. The heavy bench-units that Reeve tried at times struggled, but they had enough to hold off San Antonio in the end. Wright is working her way back, and starting to make more of an impact on games, but her line in the boxscore was bolstered by that trio of early threes. It was Moore and Whalen who carried the team at crucial stages.

San Antonio had six players in double-digits – although got nothing from Becky Hammon, which is probably where Wright made her most notable impact. They scored well enough, even taking into account that awful stretch in the middle of the game, but couldn’t contain the Lynx consistently. Minnesota shot 34 free throws, an indicator of how often they left the Stars with no option other than to grab them to prevent scores.

 

—–

 

Los Angeles Sparks 70 @ Seattle Storm 56

 

Lineups: Los Angeles continued with their big lineup with Candace Parker at small forward. Seattle had Tanisha Wright back from her knee bruise, and she went straight back into her customary starting spot, but lost Camille Little for the night due to the death of her grandfather. She’s expected back for Saturday’s clash with Chicago, but it was a big loss for the Storm for this game. LA tend to dominate them inside and have a significant size advantage, so losing their best post player in recent weeks was obviously a problem for Seattle. Backup center Angel Robinson started her first game for the team after a strong fourth quarter in their last game (apart from the vital layup she missed right at the end).

 

Story of the Game: There isn’t a great deal to say about this game, because it was so one-sided. The final gap on the scoreboard was 14 points, but it felt more like 40. Seattle did okay in the first quarter, with Crystal Langhorne more involved in the offense than she has been in weeks due to the absence of Little almost forcing Seattle to go to her. Then in the middle of the second quarter, it seemed like the Storm were starting to work out how to exploit LA’s defensive switching, with Alysha Clark converting consecutive layups over smaller defenders.

But then LA closed out the first half with a 15-2 run, and the game was virtually over already. Turnovers and inconsistent rebounding had already been problems for the Storm, and the basic raw size of LA is always an issue for them. Candace Parker’s eyes lit up when she saw former-Spark Jenna O’Hea was the player trying to guard her, and immediately attacked the Storm forward. O’Hea’s proven herself as a decent defender in the past, but Parker clearly had a lot of confidence going against her – maybe she used to light O’Hea up in practice all the time – and a full-speed Candace Parker is tough for anyone to handle.

Even when it wasn’t Candace, LA were repeatedly getting right into the heart of Seattle’s defense off pretty simple actions, and passing over the top of the Storm defense – or just rolling through the middle of it – was far too easy. Nneka Ogwumike continues to be one of the primary beneficiaries of Parker’s move to playing more on the perimeter. She has more room to work under the rim, and Parker’s passing from outside helps get her the ball. It’d be nice to see Parker exploit the matchups she gets at small forward more in the paint – she should be posting up players like Clark immediately – but it can work out in other ways as well.

With an 18-point LA lead at halftime, and the gap hitting 25 early in the third quarter, most of the second half was garbage time. Matchups always influence sporting contests, but it’s remarkable how many problems Seattle can give the reigning-champion Lynx, while frequently capitulating against the Sparks. The loss of Little didn’t help, but the mental element may also have a significant amount to do with it at this point. Seattle know they trouble Minnesota, so they go into those games expecting to be competitive; they know they’re usually dominated by LA, so they show up expecting to lose. And then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Key Players: Once again it was that Parker/Ogwumike tandem that did much of the damage for LA, with Jantel Lavender becoming an increasingly consistent third wheel. It scarcely mattered that the rest of the team were a combined 8-23 from the field. LA play four of their next five on the road (with the one home game against league-leading Phoenix), and three of those five are on national television. This was a great start to the upcoming run, but they’ll face much tougher tests, starting with the Mercury on ESPN2 on Sunday.

Langhorne had a nice stat line by the end, but no one from Seattle came out of this game with any credit. It was a miserable performance that they’ll hope to forget as soon as possible.

 

Notes of Interest: This was LA’s third win in three games over Seattle this season, which seals the tie-breaker over the Storm even with a couple left to play. The Sparks wouldn’t have expected to be worrying about that at the start of the season, but with the way they’ve struggled through the first half of their schedule it’s a nice thing to have in their back pocket just in case.

 

—–

 

League News

 

We’re halfway there – the Lynx-Stars game above was the 102nd of the regular season, while Storm-Sparks was 103rd on the 204-game schedule. It doesn’t actually mean anything, but seemed like a milestone vaguely worth mentioning.

 

—–

 

Saturday’s Games

 

San Antonio @ Indiana, 5pm ET. The big news for this one is the return of Tamika Catchings, although after nearly a year since playing her last competitive basketball game we have no real idea how ready she’ll be to contribute. But it’s Catch, and they’ve clearly tried to be as careful with this injury as possible, so hopefully she’s fully fit and ready to go. The Fever have also won their last two even without her, discovering a little depth off their bench and finally managing to close out some games. And against San Antonio, the Sydney Carter/Briann January backcourt we’ve seen a lot of recently isn’t even undersized. The Stars are on the fourth game of a road trip which started surprisingly well despite the absence of Jia Perkins, but then took a turn when they ran into the Lynx. It’ll be interesting to see if Catchings plays primarily at power forward as she has in recent years, or if she slides in at the three. San Antonio are undersized themselves, so playing the four against opponents like Sophia Young-Malcolm would be a fairly comfortable reintroduction to the WNBA – but they may not want a star returning from a back injury trying to body up to Danielle Adams on the low block.

 

Washington @ Atlanta, 7pm ET. In their last four games combined, Washington are 11-61 (18%) from three-point range; in their last four games combined, Atlanta are 14-65 (22%) from three-point range. So this game could come down to which side can make a freaking shot. But the difference is that Atlanta have won games this season despite their shooting, while Washington often haven’t been able to overcome theirs. With the frontcourt of McCoughtry, Lyttle and de Souza, the Dream will work the ball inside as much as possible on Washington, who’ll send lots of help and hope that the likes of Meesseman, Vaughn and Dolson can hold up in the paint. Atlanta will use their size and length to close off the interior, and Washington will struggle to compete unless they pick up their shooting from the perimeter. It’s getting repetitive, but they just have to shoot better.

 

Connecticut @ Tulsa, 8pm ET. A rematch from Thursday night, and after barely showing up on their own floor the Sun will be hoping to produce something much better on the road. While execution and gameplanning will be part of it, much of the difference has to come in simple effort – competing for 40 minutes, battling with Johnson and Paris on the boards, and not allowing Sims and Diggins to penetrate through the defense so easily. Tulsa will give up points, both in transition and with the softness of their interior defense, but the Sun have to put up a fight in order for that to matter.

 

Chicago @ Seattle, 10pm ET. Seattle will be hoping to wipe away the memory of that Sparks game as quickly as possible, while Chicago continue to battle serious injury problems. The Storm will have Tanisha Wright to use on Epiphanny Prince, but that still means someone has to handle the quickness of Jamierra Faulkner, who’ll be much happier against Seattle’s small lineups than she was against the length of Phoenix. And if Sylvia Fowles wants an opportunity to kick-start her production after returning from injury, Seattle’s diminutive interior could be just the tonic, especially if Little doesn’t make it back in time for the game. But the Storm will definitely feel like they have a chance. Chicago’s defense hasn’t been great either since early in the season, and Seattle should be able to find some holes, while they’ll happily tilt extra defenders towards Prince and challenge the rest of the Sky to beat them from the perimeter.

 

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