Lineups: The Storm’s starters were as they’ve been for a while, whenever everyone’s been healthy. Reserve wing Shekinna Stricklen was out after her nasty fall and resulting neck injury against Minnesota on Sunday. The Sun made a switch, benching center Kelsey Bone after several ineffective recent performances. Kelsey Griffin moved into the starting lineup.
Story of the Game: The game was fairly even in the first quarter, with Seattle using pick-and-rolls and slip-screens to find their way into the heart of Connecticut’s defense relatively easily. But that early stretch would prove to be one of the few periods where the Storm scored with any regularity over the course of the game. Once they started to make their first wave of substitutions, everything started to fall apart at both ends of the floor. The offense stopped flowing without Sue Bird at the point, and Nicole Powell remains a patchwork cover option at best at power forward.
Although, Connecticut largely started to creep into the lead thanks to a guard who was hitting shots. Seattle missed an endless stream of jumpers, especially in the second quarter, while Alex Bentley was lighting it up for Connecticut. Given an inch of space coming off ball-screens, she was pulling up to fire, and hitting nothing but net. The two shots she missed in the first half were both forced up in an effort to beat the shot-clock; the other six all went in.
Already up by nine at halftime, Connecticut took even further control of the game in the third quarter, dominating the offensive boards for second chance points, with Bentley and her backup Renee Montgomery continuing to pile up points from the perimeter. The Sun’s defensive rotations were unusually effective inside, leaving Seattle to settle for more jumpers and miss most of them. Maybe the tip-off was too early for the Storm, even in front of their own young crowd. It was a sleepy, tired performance from them for much of the game, and they rarely looked like making a comeback in the second half.
Key Players: Bentley’s hot streak in the first half set everything in motion for the Sun – if she doesn’t hit those shots then their confidence doesn’t build early on, and maybe the course of the game turns out to be rather different. But as a team, the Sun were 53% from the field and heavily out-shot the Storm throughout the contest. Much of Bentley’s backup on the scoreboard came from Bone and Chiney Ogwumike, who were also key in Connecticut’s dominance on the glass. Seattle got outworked in virtually every area.
There was little credit for any Storm player to come out of the game. This was the beginning of their run of nine home games in their final 11 outings this season, which was meant to give them the necessary burst to make a playoff push. It was a thoroughly inauspicious start.
Lineups: Los Angeles continue to roll with their triple-post starting lineup, alongside Alana Beard and Kristi Toliver in the backcourt. Indiana point guard Briann January was out with a hyperextended right knee suffered in their game against Atlanta in Saturday, pushing Layshia Clarendon into the starting lineup. Marissa Coleman kept her spot at small forward, in her first game against LA since leaving them as a free agent in the offseason.
Story of the Game: The first quarter, and indeed most of the first half, belonged to Indiana. Tamika Catchings didn’t even have to do much, with all the supporting players stepping up and producing. There weren’t many tears shed when Coleman walked away from the Sparks for nothing in the offseason, but apparently she was excited to remind them what she was capable of (albeit disappointingly infrequently). Candace Parker played some pretty insipid defense on her early in the game, but Coleman took full advantage to drill a couple of threes and then start firing in step-back jumpers from all over the floor. Indiana were also the team pushing in transition and creating cheap points for themselves early on – LA’s favourite trick being turned against them.
After being benched for a long stretch of the first quarter after barely involving herself in the game and playing with little energy, Parker was back out to start the second period and gave LA some life. She single-handedly drew the fouls that pushed Indiana into the penalty very quickly in the period, and her all-court offense at least gave the Sparks some kind of foothold in the game. But Indiana were doing a good job of both attacking the glass and getting back in transition – two tasks which can run counter to each other and prove difficult to combine – which allowed them to maintain their lead and be up by 10 at halftime. The lack of second-layer help in LA’s defense, and the rebounds they were giving up to the much smaller Fever, were pretty embarrassing for the Sparks – although if you’re surprised by disappointing sequences of play from LA at this point in 2014, you haven’t been paying attention.
LA went smaller in the second half, partly being forced into it by a right ankle sprain for Nneka Ogwumike that kept her out for the rest of the game. Rather than giving Sandrine Gruda the minutes to fill the hole, Parker slid back to power forward alongside three traditional perimeter players – mostly Armintie Herrington joining Toliver and Beard. The Sparks also made heavy use of the 2-3 zone that they’d used for a few possessions in the first half to give Indiana a different look.
LA started the second half quickly behind strong shooting and finishing from Parker – now being defended primarily by Erlana Larkins to keep Catchings away from the heavy workload of covering her – and the gunning of Toliver. With Indiana firing up jumpers against their zone and missing a lot of them, the Sparks also had more chances to push the pace off Indiana’s misses, which played into their hands. Led by Catchings, the Fever eventually made some shots over the top of the zone, forcing LA back into their man-to-man, but by then the Sparks were right back in the game.
After being able to let her teammates carry the load in the first half, Indiana relied heavily on Catchings to be their offense in the second half. But as the fourth quarter wore on, it wasn’t proving to be enough. Indiana had switched to their own 2-3/3-2 hybrid zone, which mostly forced LA into taking jumpers, but for once the Sparks were hitting enough of them to keep their offense flowing. Parker even continued to play – and play well – after appearing to throw up on the court midway through the fourth quarter, then turning her ankle by stepping on Larkins’s foot moments later. Without January to help run the offense, and with Coleman firing up some complete junk in the second half after she couldn’t seem to miss anything earlier on, Catchings on her own wasn’t enough for Indiana. Maybe Ogwumike’s injury had forced them into a lucky break, but LA’s increased speed and mobility with their smaller lineup worked out well in the second half, and they came away with one of their better wins of the season.
Key Players: Parker ended the game 12-20 for 34 points, and the variety of different defenders and even defenses that Indiana threw at her in the second half did little to slow her down. She took many of the perimeter and mid-range jumpers that opponents would generally prefer her to take, but she can knock those down too – as she proved. Getting every last touch foul call from the officials in the second half helped as well, as did the shooting of Toliver. They can be a scary one-two punch when they’re both rolling.
Overall it was a pretty successful offensive game for Indiana, with Coleman and Shavonte Zellous the primary sidekicks for Catchings, but the drop-off in the second half was their downfall. It’ll feel like one that got away after their dominance in the first half, even if they were playing without January. Clarendon’s done okay lately, but she’s not a point guard, and she’s a mediocre shooter that teams give much less respect to than January.
Notes of Interest: Candice Wiggins is now 1-17 for the season, and that one make was a layup.
Lineups: The starters were as expected for both teams. Washington were short on the bench with Kara Lawson out due to a back problem, something which has been a recurring issue in recent years and may not go away entirely for the rest of her career. With Tayler Hill still making her way back from giving birth, and Jelena Milovanovic still out due to a knee sprain, Washington were down to nine healthy bodies.
Story of the Game: Phoenix blew this one open very early, and then it was a case of playing catchup for the Mystics for the rest of the night. Kia Vaughn and the other Washington post players looked thoroughly overmatched and even a little scared of Brittney Griner early on, which led to the Mystics flinging up a lot of jumpers while they tried to stay away from her. Meanwhile when Phoenix had the ball Washington were trying to resist double-teaming Griner because of the threat of the Mercury shooters if the ball moved back away from her, but that led to easy points for Griner in the paint – and then her teammates started firing in shots anyway. Diana Taurasi was smoking hot from outside, popping out behind screens and raining jumpers, while Candice Dupree pulled her usual trick of sliding into space and finishing plays with ease. The Mercury led by as many as 18 points in the opening quarter, and the game felt awfully over already.
But to be fair to the Mystics, they didn’t quit and they came back into the game at least a little. Both in the second quarter and on into the second half, they did a better job of dragging Griner out of the paint, allowing them to attack the rim occasionally. They also hit a few shots, Phoenix cooled off a little, and the prospect of a comeback at least raised its head once or twice. In fact, Washington shot 55% from the field in the second half, which looked almost unfathomable in the opening period. But Monique Currie and Bria Hartley connected from the perimeter, and occasionally Vaughn and Emma Meesseman managed to slide in for a point or two in the paint. The gap came down to eight points early in the fourth quarter.
But the Mercury hadn’t cooled off by much. When Hartley hit the three to get Washington within eight, Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello immediately called a timeout and put four starters back into the game simultaneously. Penny Taylor came up with a sweeping drive and tough floating finish over three defenders to push the gap back to double-digits immediately, and moments later a series of passes left Griner in space on the baseline to produce her second dunk of the season. From there, the game was quickly killed off as a contest once again.
Key Players: All five Mercury starters finished in double-digits, and the team shot 9-17 from three-point range as a group. Washington really couldn’t do much to slow them down throughout the game – too many weapons, great ball movement, dangerous size, and too much shooting. The Mystics will just be happy that being in the East means they only have to see the Mercury twice a season.
Funnily enough, all of Washington’s starters were in double-figures as well, and it was an impressive offensive display in the second half when many teams might’ve waved the white flag and given up the fight. The Mercury were just a bit stronger in almost every area, and that added up to a relatively comfortable win for Phoenix.
The WNBA announced the All-Star reserves during the ESPN2 broadcast last night, with Jessica Breland, Tina Charles, Erika de Souza, Katie Douglas, Briann January and Chiney Ogwumike named to the bench in the East. Seimone Augustus, Candice Dupree, Glory Johnson, Nneka Ogwumike, Danielle Robinson and Lindsay Whalen were the six chosen in the West. As you can probably tell from the squads I picked in my article before the selections were made, I’d take most issue with the Eastern choices. Douglas and January ahead of Tiffany Hayes and Epiphanny Prince – especially Hayes – are pretty terrible blown choices in my opinion. Erlana Larkins can also consider herself pretty unlucky not to be included, but the frontcourt spots were much more crowded than the backcourt. In the West the coaches came up with the five I felt demanded inclusion, and then Johnson filled the sixth spot, which was reasonable enough even if it differed from my pick.
Then today, WNBA President Laurel Richie’s selections to replace the injured Augustus and Elena Delle Donne were announced, and they easily beat out the coaches’ picks for level of ridiculousness. Sue Bird and Ivory Latta don’t make much sense at all based on merit from this season. They’ve clearly been included so that all 12 teams are represented at the All-Star Game – which I always feel is a pretty frivolous qualification – but even then the choices are a stretch. Bird’s there on her reputation and career, more than anything. Latta’s there for no good reason at all, shooting 35% from the field this season with Bria Hartley playing better alongside her in the backcourt, and Emma Meesseman would also have been a more worthy choice. Oh well.
In unfortunate injury news, veteran forward DeLisha Milton-Jones is out for the remainder of the season after rupturing her right achilles tendon early in the second quarter of Atlanta’s game against Chicago. On the video you can see her pull up and then look behind her as if to see if someone had kicked her in the ankle – a common reaction to that injury – so we probably should’ve seen the announcement coming. She’d only appeared in two games for Atlanta after being acquired in a midseason trade for Swin Cash, and while it isn’t a huge loss for them they’d have liked to have her as added depth at both forward spots. Considering she turns 40 this year, it might well be the last we see of her in the WNBA. She’s been a strong, reliable, physical – occasionally too physical – swing-forward for well over a decade, so it’d be an unfortunate way to go out. But her play’s dropped off significantly in the last couple of years, and it may well be time to hang them up. She’ll still be in Atlanta to offer her veteran experience to the team for the rest of the season.
Atlanta @ New York, 11am ET
Tulsa @ Minnesota, 1pm ET