Washington Mystics 72 @ Chicago Sky 65
Lineups: The Mystics started the same five that they’ve used in recent games. They continue to work with ten players, with Tayler Hill still recuperating from giving birth, and Jelena Milovanovic out due to a right knee strain. Chicago are still piecing things together without Elena Delle Donne and Courtney Vandersloot. For the second game in a row, Sasha Goodlett pointlessly started at center with Sylvia Fowles coming off the bench.
Story of the Game: Sometimes you hope that the kids that come to these camp day games are too busy screaming their heads off to watch the basketball and consider it an accurate representation of WNBA entertainment. This was one of those times. Ugly, ugly game.
There wasn’t much to choose between the sides in the first half. As usual, Washington struggled to hit any perimeter shots, but between Kia Vaughn and Emma Meesseman they managed to produce points through their posts. Early on it was inside, with Vaughn abusing Goodlett, later both started to hit the mid-range shots that Chicago were largely willing to concede.
But the Sky hung around, thanks to their own premiere mid-range shooting post Jessica Breland – who only seems to be getting more accurate from 15-18 feet – and the Mystics’ turnovers helping out their transition game. Virtually all of Jamierra Faulkner’s points came off breakaway layups created by Washington giveaways. Otherwise, with Epiphanny Prince cold, most of Chicago’s production came at the free throw line when Washington were dumb enough to foul them.
Offensively, the second half somehow managed to be significantly worse. The Mystics shot 6-19 in the third quarter yet extended their lead by eight points. Neither team could find any space, or hit a shot, or generally do anything much worth talking about when they had the basketball. Washington are a well-drilled and organised defensive team, so they were conscious of the threats. They were barely guarding people like Tamera Young, they were going under every possible screen for Faulkner, and they were sending lots of help to cover Prince and Fowles whenever they posed any kind of danger. Without Delle Donne and Vandersloot, Chicago don’t have a lot of people who scare you offensively, and it makes it harder for the ones that are left. On the bright side for Chicago, their own defense is starting to improve with Fowles rediscovering some of her old spring in the middle. She had some blocks and some mobile weak-side help that shored up a few of the holes the Sky have been leaving open in recent weeks. Of course, the fact that Washington have barely hit a shot since the season started made defense easier for the Sky as well.
Washington crept out to lead by as many as 13 points, but without any consistent offense to keep it going, Chicago made a ‘run’. The quote marks are because it was pretty extended, slow progress, and ‘run’ typically suggests some kind of pace or speed. But the Sky did start looking to feed Fowles more consistently in the post in the fourth quarter – exactly why they hadn’t been doing that all afternoon, I have no idea – and it paid dividends. She either finished or got fouled, and the Sky scored seven straight to pull within five points with just under three minutes remaining. Then no one scored, at all, for several minutes, until a pair of Ivory Latta free throws iced the game in the waning seconds. It was an appropriate way for the game to end – a long period of futility at both ends of the floor.
Key Players: In a game of little production, Meesseman and Vaughn gave Washington a base to work from in the first half. Rookie guard Bria Hartley hit three threes in the second half, which were important in producing just enough offense to hold Chicago at bay. The Mystics still shot 6-20 from beyond the arc as a team, and would’ve lost against a better opponent.
Fowles finished with 19 points and 17 rebounds, in the one real high point for Chicago. But the game overall was too much like previous years, where they tended to forget Fowles existed for long stretches, and struggle to get her the ball even when they remembered. Prince, Faulkner and Breland all had their moments, but nowhere near enough. Faulkner still has problems finishing amongst heavy traffic, and Prince couldn’t buy a bucket for most of the game.
Notes of Interest: Pokey Chatman only used six players in the second half, growing tired of the few bench players she still has available. It’s also telling that she now has five healthy posts, and yet Tamera Young remains the backup power forward. Fowles started the second half, and it’s hard to imagine that the strange experiment of starting Goodlett is going to continue for much longer.
Seattle Storm 58 @ Phoenix Mercury 78
Lineups: Outside of Ewelina Kobryn continuing to nurse her ankle, both teams had everyone healthy and started their regular groups. Phoenix were 7-0 coming in since moving Penny Taylor into their starting lineup.
Story of the Game: For the first 13 minutes or so, this was a contest. Then very, very quickly, it really wasn’t. Early on, Seattle were inevitably taking a lot of jump shots – many teams do that when Brittney Griner is waiting for them in the paint – but they were hitting enough to stay even with the Mercury. Phoenix were missing a lot of good looks inside, with Crystal Langhorne managing to bump Griner enough to make her miss without drawing whistles.
But Phoenix went on a 19-0 run in the second quarter that decided the game. Seattle turned the ball over seven times in that seven-minute stretch, on a series of awful passes, mental mistakes and ballhandling errors. Occasionally they were making an extra pass due to the presence of Griner, which then led to the turnover. But on many occasions, they were just poor passes and painful errors. The Phoenix players have learned that they can chase over screens and challenge passing lanes more aggressively because of the size and length in the paint behind them – mostly Griner, but also the team length – which makes it more difficult to move the ball around against them. But the Storm were often their own worst enemies.
Meanwhile Phoenix started to convert their opportunities with the ball. They hit a couple of shots, finished plays inside, and generally used their unselfish and fluid offense to take whichever opportunity Seattle gave up. The Storm’s attempts to double-team Griner were miserably exposed when she made simple dump-off passes that usually led directly to layups. Seattle’s rotation behind their double-teams – in fact just their defensive rotations all around the floor – were painfully lacking, leaving players wide open elsewhere on the floor. Phoenix move the ball too well for a defense to get away with that, hence the 19-0 run. Seattle scored the last two points of the half to take their second-quarter total to four, and cut their deficit to 17.
With a team like Seattle who play at such a pedestrian pace, and therefore in low-scoring games, big leads are even harder to pull back. They don’t have the kind of explosive offense that can get back in games from big holes. So the second half was almost entirely garbage time. There was never a hint of a comeback, especially when Griner started finishing in the paint early in the third quarter. As a result, Phoenix started the second half with an 11-1 run, taking the overall stretch from early in the second quarter to 30-3. It was embarrassing for the Storm, and the game was well and truly finished.
Key Players: Phoenix were very balanced. No one needed to take over, and obviously the reserves played a lot of minutes in the second half. Penny Taylor’s return to fitness and semi-rebirth this season has been very important for them, especially because she’s one of the few players they have with a post game to capitalise on the size advantage the Mercury typically have all around the floor. She was the one finishing plays even before the rest of the team got going in the second quarter.
No one from Seattle came away with any credit whatsoever. It was a massacre.
Notes of Interest: DeWanna Bonner has to work on her post skills, and hopefully her physical strength as well. Opponents constantly hide their smallest, weakest defender on her, because they know she’ll rarely exploit the mismatch. Seattle were guarding her with 5’3″ Temeka Johnson at times, which Bonner should be embarrassed by. If she can develop enough of a post game to exploit that matchup, defending Phoenix becomes even more impossible than it already is.
New York Liberty 66 @ San Antonio Stars 80
Lineups: The opening lineups were the same as in recent games for these teams, with Danielle Adams and Avery Warley-Talbert continuing to start in the post ahead of teammates who’ve been more regular starters over their careers.
Story of the Game: Well it wasn’t quite as much of a demolition as the Storm-Mercury game above, but it wasn’t far off, and the blowout got underway even quicker. San Antonio scored the first 12 points of the game thanks to a backdoor cut, a couple of threes, and a breakaway Danielle Robison layup that finally pulled Bill Laimbeer out of his chair to scream for a timeout. Meanwhile New York had blown a series of layups at the other end, but were also already seeing the signs of what San Antonio would be throwing at them all night. Tina Charles’s first touch of the ball anywhere near the rim drew a triple-team, forcing the ball right back out again. Her aggression and effectiveness in the post had driven New York’s excellent performances in their previous two games, and the Stars had no intention of letting her do that to them as well.
And then there was Kayla McBride. New York’s defense wasn’t great in this game by any means, especially in the first half. Also, their schemes and help-principles are designed to protect the rim, which can become a problem against teams like San Antonio who move the ball well and have multiple players who can shoot from the perimeter. But McBride flat-out lit them up. She scored 15 points in the first quarter, mostly on threes and perimeter jump shots, although she wasn’t afraid to put the ball on the floor and go past recovering defenders for an occasional finish at the rim as well. Then, after a surprisingly long rest, she came back in midway through the second quarter and immediately buried another three. The Liberty did a poor job of covering her, but she was crazy-hot, and San Antonio led by 13 at halftime as a result.
It didn’t take long for New York to give up the ghost in the third quarter. With Danielle Adams taking up the mantle of punishing them when left alone behind the three-point line, and San Antonio’s passing and movement starting to slice and dice their way through New York’s defense, the lead hit 20 in the third quarter and the backups played out the remainder of the game. The 14-point gap in the final scoreline scarcely reflected how comfortable the victory had been for the Stars.
Key Players: While she was a little quieter in the second half, McBride was the star and finished with the second 30-point game of her rookie season, shooting 12-20 from the field (including 4-6 from beyond the arc). She’s fit right in on this team, where firing away from outside is more of an expectation than a suggestion. She can be an electric scorer, and gives a team with so many varied scoring threats just one more to punish opponents with. Between Adams, Robinson, and bits and pieces from elsewhere, it was more than enough. The defensive gameplan to limit New York’s scoring did the rest.
Cappie Pondexter tried to stay aggressive in the first half, continuing to drive for points and free throws when nothing else was working. But with Charles limited by the heavy defensive help thrown at her – and then resorting to some terrible shots to try to beat that defensive pressure – the Liberty quickly ran out of ideas. No one else did a thing to help out the offense when the game was still in doubt, although Sugar Rodgers enjoyed herself in the plentiful garbage time in the second half.
Notes of Interest: San Antonio used their ‘wheel’ zone in the third quarter, illustrating that it’s not just something that Dan Hughes will resort to when their man-to-man is breaking down. Sometimes it just helps to keep the opponent off-balance, and having to think about what they’re running rather than just reacting to the same defense.
Amazingly, less than an hour after the Liberty-Stars game ended last night, one of the players who’d been involved in the action was traded. DeLisha Milton-Jones played for less than five minutes, but she did play, which isn’t something you often see when a player is about to be moved. Either it was a deal that came together very quickly, or something happened behind the scenes that we haven’t heard about yet.
Milton-Jones was sent to Atlanta in a straight swap for Swin Cash, who was only acquired by the Dream in a trade with Chicago just before the season began. It’s an exchange of veteran combo-forwards, neither of whom have played particularly well this season, and both of whom have seen much better days. It reunites the players with coaches they’ve worked with before, although the relationship between Cash and Bill Laimbeer wasn’t particularly friendly by the time he traded her away in Detroit. But maybe time heals all wounds, especially when you were barely seeing the floor on your previous team and you’re playing for one more decent WNBA contract. Cash may help out the Liberty at small forward behind Alex Montgomery, but both she and Milton-Jones will likely be primarily 4s for their new teams, which is also largely where they’ve been seeing time with their previous clubs. It remains to be seen if either can be of much use, but both sides probably feel like they’re not giving up much to find out.
Connecticut @ Indiana, noon ET
Minnesota @ Tulsa, 8pm ET