Atlanta Dream 55 @ Connecticut Sun 84
Lineups: Atlanta were back to their regular starting lineup, after going big for a few games while Angel McCoughtry was suffering with tendonitis in her feet. Katie Douglas sat out again for Connecticut due to her back issues, and Allison Hightower never did make it back from midseason knee surgery that was only meant to keep her out for two-to-three weeks.
Story of the Game: With nothing on the line besides lottery percentages for Connecticut, there was an inevitable lack of energy and intensity in the game. Or more succinctly, it was dull. Michael Cooper will still be a little disappointed with how his team performed. He made heavier use of his bench than usual, but his rotation players still played significant minutes in the first half, and they were a mess. The Dream had a ludicrous 16 turnovers in the first half, and Connecticut inevitably slid into the lead.
Alex Bentley was lighting up her old team, and only went to the bench due to some foul trouble in the first half. Chiney Ogwumike played the complementary role in the paint, and Connecticut killed the game off for good in the third quarter with Atlanta losing interest to an even greater extent.
The one slightly worrying and potentially meaningful moment in the second half was Tiffany Hayes taking a heavy fall, and sitting out the rest of the game with her left (shooting) hand wrapped in ice. Hayes hits the deck and requires treatment at least once per game, but she throws her body around so much that there’s always a danger that she’ll get more seriously hurt. Hopefully the ice was just precautionary – she usually carries on and plays right through all the knocks and bruises.
Key Players: Bentley and Ogwumike did most of the work for the Sun, with a few buckets from UConn product Kelly Faris exciting the crowd. No one for Atlanta did anything worth talking about, and they’ll be hoping to flip the switch to a vastly better performance for the meaningful games that begin next week.
Notes of Interest: The Sun actually hurt their lottery chances with this win, decreasing their odds of getting the #1 pick in the 2015 draft (where they’d be expected to take yet another UConn grad, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis). Sometimes playing for pride has minor negative repercussions.
San Antonio Stars 84 @ Chicago Sky 72
Lineups: This was the game that had a chance to decide playoff seeding in both conferences (it wasn’t actually quite as clear-cut as I described in yesterday’s column – apologies for the inaccuracy). A win for San Antonio would earn them the third seed in the West and a matchup with Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs, rather than a clash with Phoenix. A win for Chicago would’ve potentially seen them finish third in the East (although not necessarily, as a loss for Indiana would’ve created a three-way tie even if Chicago won, and forced the Sky down to fourth). But Pokey Chatman made her feelings on that #3 seed clear with her lineup choices. Star trio Epiphanny Prince, Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles all began the afternoon on the bench and stayed there throughout. Courtney Vandersloot started for the first time since returning from her knee injury, with Courtney Clements and Markeisha Gatling filling the spots opened up by Prince and Fowles. San Antonio had left point guard Danielle Robinson back home to rest a turned ankle – so maybe they weren’t that worried about #3 or #4 either – but that was nothing compared to the talent Chicago left on the sidelines.
Story of the Game: Chicago hung around in contention for a while behind the shooting of Clements and Allie Quigley, but in the second quarter the limited talent they had on the floor began the have a real impact. Gennifer Brandon isn’t ready to play meaningful minutes in the WNBA, and that was once again illustrated in this game. She’s desperately raw both in terms of skills and the mental aspects of the game, and athleticism can only make up for so much. San Antonio basically just executed better, took advantage of the open spaces, and hit a few shots. That was all they needed to take control of the game and lead by 16 at halftime.
Clements and Quigley continued to be the main offensive threats for Chicago in the second half, and the Sky kept their deficit around 10, but without offering much of a threat to climb closer and make it a contest. Jayne Appel and Becky Hammon were both able to take the second half off, while their teammates secured the win that ensured the third seed and a meeting with Minnesota in the first round.
Key Players: Danielle Adams led the scoring for San Antonio, finishing much more effectively around the rim than with her bombs from outside. Jia Perkins was her typical energy and scoring boost from the bench as well, and both she and Adams are eligible for the Sixth Woman of the Year award and could receive votes. Shenise Johnson also had a decent game while filling in for Robinson in the starting lineup and playing on the ball more than usual.
The favourite for that Sixth Woman award might well be Quigley, who’s had a strong second half to the year and produced her sixth consecutive double-figure scoring game off the bench. Clements hit enough shots to at least remind Chatman that she’s around if she needs to search for someone off the bench during the postseason. In the end, both teams got what they wanted from the game.
Notes of Interest: San Antonio used their zone more when young rookie Astou Ndour was on the floor, which might be a smart move to make if they use her in the playoffs. She played zone almost exclusively for Gran Canaria in the last year or two, and may well be more comfortable doing that for the Stars, even if there are some differences in how it’s implemented.
Indiana Fever 61 @ New York Liberty 73
Lineups: With the #2 seed in the East wrapped up the day before, Indiana took the opportunity to rest several of their key players. Tamika Catchings, Briann January and Erlana Larkins all took the day off, allowing Layshia Clarendon, Natasha Howard and Lynetta Kizer to start instead. Clarendon had missed a couple of games with a hip/back problem, so she had the chance to prove her fitness before the playoffs. New York opened with the same lineup we’d seen in recent games, although Bill Laimbeer inevitably spread the minutes around. Having already been eliminated from the playoffs and having traded away their 2015 first-round pick, there was no benefit to winning or losing for the Liberty.
Story of the Game: Indiana fell behind in the opening quarter, but their reserves kept it a game through the second period and on into the second half. As always, Lynetta Kizer has never seen a shot she didn’t like, and was happy to fire away for the Fever. Tina Charles played most of the first quarter for New York, then sat out the rest of the game.
Natasha Howard and Shavonte Zellous helped keep Indiana in it in the second half, and then Maggie Lucas started raining in threes to make the Liberty fans a little nervous in the fourth quarter. But with Natasha Lacy, Swin Cash and Plenette Pierson leading the way, the Liberty held on for the win in the closing stages. Anyone checking the standings in future years will see that New York only lost out on the playoffs due to a tiebreaker with Chicago, even if the Liberty’s season felt a lot more disappointing than that while it was in progress.
Key Players: A few reserves took the opportunity to leave an impression and make sure they’re remembered when it comes to making decisions for next year. Lacy looks like she could at least be a solid backup point guard for someone in the WNBA, and both Cash and Pierson have ended the season stronger than they began it. Indiana got through the game without anyone getting hurt, which was the main element from their perspective.
Notes of Interest: While Lucas almost hit enough late shots to ruin it, the loss was important in a couple of ways for the Fever. It ensured that they’d face Washington in the first round of the playoffs, because even if Chicago had won they’d have finished fourth in the East due to the three-way tiebreak. It also dropped the Fever into a four-way tie with Washington, Los Angeles and San Antonio, which the Fever ‘lose’, giving them the 6th pick in the 2015 draft (Chicago will pick 5th, with LA 7th, Washington 8th, and San Antonio 9th). If Indiana had won this game, they’d have dropped all the way to 9th in the draft order. So the loss was win-win all around for the Fever.
Phoenix Mercury 78 @ Seattle Storm 65
Lineups: Both teams started their standard lineups for the final game of the regular season. Phoenix had nothing to play for besides becoming the first team in WNBA history to win 29 games (although both the Houston Comets and Los Angeles Sparks had finished with higher winning percentages when the league played fewer games). Seattle were playing for pride in front of their home crowd, who wouldn’t be seeing playoff basketball for the first time since 2003. Brian Agler was probably well aware that a loss would slightly improve the franchise’s odds of winning the #1 pick in the lottery, but once you get out on the court you play to win.
Story of the Game: While Diana Taurasi never seems particularly interested in games where there’s nothing on the line – even with the game taking place in Phoenix, she didn’t particularly want to see the floor in the All-Star Game earlier this season – the rest of the Mercury team took the game reasonably seriously. Brittney Griner dominated in the paint, scoring efficiently and drawing quick fouls on Crystal Langhorne that saw her sit on the bench for far longer than originally intended in the first half. That did at least mean we saw more of Waltiea Rolle for the Storm, who looks like she has some potential as a young project post for Seattle.
The Storm trailed by 11 at halftime, and hung around within range for most of the second half with Langhorne doing some decent work inside once she could actually stay on the floor. But the Mercury starters played just enough minutes and paid just enough attention to hold on to their lead and finish out the win. It’s illustrative of how these teams have played this season that a half-interested Mercury team were always fairly comfortable against whatever lineup Agler threw out on the floor. Seattle have some rebuilding to do.
Key Players: Griner was Phoenix’s best player, and continues to develop her offensive game to go along with the game-changing defense. Candice Dupree hit shots as well, and Erin Phillips was effective off the bench. Phillips gave the Mercury a scare in the third quarter when she was flattened by a Camille Little screen and hobbled back to the locker room for treatment. But she’s a typical Aussie, and was back playing by the start of the fourth.
Langhorne and Noelle Quinn were the only double-digit scorers for Seattle, with Agler spreading the minutes around. Tanisha Wright made a couple of nice plays early in the game, with questions swirling about whether this might be her final game in the WNBA. Selfishly, I hope we see more of her in this league – she’s a skilled player who always gives everything for the cause and plays some of the best perimeter defense in the game when healthy. But it’s always understandable when players whose bodies have taken a pounding from year-round basketball consider moving on with their lives.
Notes of Interest: Technically, Seattle still finished 5th in the Western Conference (you have to go a long way down the tiebreakers to work it out, but they eventually beat out Tulsa). But for lottery purposes, all that matters is that they dropped into a tie with the Shock. More on that below.
With Seattle and Tulsa both finishing 12-22, they split the percentages for the ‘top’ two teams in the lottery evenly between them. They each have around a 36% chance of the #1 pick, with Connecticut’s two picks (they own New York’s as well from the Tina Charles trade) combining to give them a 28% shot. More details on all the other odds in this tweet that I sent out after the games yesterday, or check out this thread over at the RebKell boards. The draw takes place early this year, on Thursday night during ESPN2’s broadcasts of the opening playoff games.
As always, there’ll be in-depth previews of the upcoming playoff series at WNBAlien, so check back over the next couple of days for those.
First Round Playoff Schedule
Thursday August 21st
Washington @ Indiana, 7pm ET
San Antonio @ Minnesota, 9pm ET
Friday August 22nd
Chicago @ Atlanta, 7.30pm ET
Los Angeles @ Phoenix 10pm ET
Saturday August 23rd
Indiana @ Washington, 5pm ET
Minnesota @ San Antonio, 7pm ET
Sunday August 24th
Atlanta @ Chicago, 7pm ET
Phoenix @ Los Angeles, 9pm ET
Monday August 25th
Washington @ Indiana, TBD (if necessary)
San Antonio @ Minnesota, TBD (if necessary)
Tuesday August 26th
Chicago @ Atlanta, 7.30pm ET (if necessary)
Los Angeles @ Phoenix, 10pm ET (if necessary)
New York should make moves starting with the top then down to coaching and players because seriously the it’s taking too long for New York on how to figure out what needs to be done for the Liberty to win its first WNBA title and yes they need to go more younger seriously.