The Daily W, 08/05/2014

 

New York Liberty 83 @ Atlanta Dream 76

 

Lineups: Same as usual for New York, and Atlanta continued with Celine Dumerc at point guard for the third game in a row. The important news for them was that head coach Michael Cooper was back on the sidelines after recent surgery for tongue cancer.

 

Story of the Game: The first half was a strange combination of dominance and calamity for New York. Tina Charles did most of the dominating, hitting smoothly with her mid-range jumper and attacking both Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle inside as well. Alex Montgomery also hit several shots from outside, providing some punishment when Atlanta tried to drop extra defenders down to surround Charles. But the Liberty also gave up 14 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, with three dreadful passes from Cappie Pondexter opening the floodgates early on and the waves just continuing from there. Atlanta’s aggressive, overplaying defense – led by Angel McCoughtry and Sancho Lyttle – always makes them a threat to grab steals like that. But these Liberty players, especially Pondexter, have played against McCoughtry and Lyttle umpteen times and know the dangers. There was some desperately sloppy passing from New York in the first half.

But while the steals and breakaways made it feel like Atlanta were in charge, they never led by more than six points and were only up by a point at halftime. The Liberty stifled their halfcourt offense entirely, with McCoughtry forcing up some awful shots and the other perimeter players cold as well. Lyttle was decent from mid-range, but when they weren’t running off steals the Dream produced minimal offense.

After Bill Laimbeer probably spent the entire halftime break screaming at his players, they did a much better job taking care of the ball in the second half. And while Montgomery disappeared, Anna Cruz stepped up as Charles’s sidekick and hit shots in the space that opened up away from the Liberty center. With Pondexter finally hitting a shot or two, and Atlanta’s offense drying up without the transition chances off steals, New York began to pull away in the third quarter.

The Dream could never quite climb back into the game in the fourth. They tried some bizarre lineups in the effort, including benching Tiffany Hayes in favour of Matee Ajavon for the entire period and trying little-used backup Nadia Colhado in the post, but it smacked of desperation. McCoughtry tried to gun them back into it, and hit a few threes to keep their faint hopes alive for a while, but New York made enough plays to hold on for the win.

 

Key Players: Charles, Charles, Charles. While Atlanta kept her a little quieter in the second half, even that just served to open things up for her teammates, who actually took advantage for once. Montgomery, Cruz and Pondexter provided enough support in the spaces that opened up, and the team rebounding against an Atlanta squad that’s very dangerous on the glass was big as well. New York had just three turnovers in the second half after the 14 in the first.

McCoughtry and Lyttle’s numbers ended up looking pretty good, but once the breakaways disappeared the Dream didn’t have a lot left to turn to. Hayes never go going, de Souza was rarely involved, and Charles was in the kind of mood where their defense couldn’t stop her whichever players they tried against her. This is the kind of game that illustrates how much of a crapshoot the Eastern Conference playoffs could be, yet again. Atlanta looked like the heavy favourites earlier in the season, but they’ve come back to the pack a little and anyone can beat anyone at this point. New York are still fighting to get in, but games like this will give them hope that if they can sneak into the postseason, anything could happen.

 

Notes of Interest: A sequence right at the end of the game, when the contest was essentially over, summed up the difference between the teams on the night. Charde Houston penetrated for New York, kicked out to an open Pondexter, and she knocked down the jumper. Atlanta went to the other end, and McCoughtry stepped directly into a three that hit nothing but backboard. The Liberty moved the ball, and hit shots in open space; the ball stuck too much for the Dream, and as a result they tossed up a lot of bricks.

 

—–

 

Connecticut Sun 69 @ Los Angeles Sparks 70

 

Lineups: The good news for Los Angeles was that Candace Parker was fit to play after her knee strain, and took her regular spot in the starting lineup back from Armintie Herrington. Connecticut put out the same group as usual.

 

Story of the Game: The first half is best left forgotten, preferably with the video buried in a deep, dark hole. Lots of turnovers – with the resulting breaks the primary way either team managed to score any points – and the 28-27 scoreline at halftime made the game sound about as exciting as it deserved.

The second half was a lot more fun. Chiney Ogwumike was outstanding for Connecticut, scoring around, over and through any defender LA threw at her (including her sister). The second-layer help defense from LA was atrocious, although Connecticut did come up with a couple of decent sets to create space for her. The Sun don’t run the most complex offense in the world by any means, but the ‘4-out, 1-in’ plays worked well, as did the pick-and-rolls, and even some dives from the corner. She was all over the Sparks.

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The Daily W, 07/31/2014

 

Connecticut Sun 80 @ Atlanta Dream 89

 

Lineups: Still searching for their first win since head coach Michael Cooper left the team to deal with tongue cancer, stand-in Karleen Thompson pulled the trigger on the switch at point guard for Atlanta, promoting Celine Dumerc into the starting lineup ahead of Jasmine Thomas. They tried it earlier in the season, but the experiment only lasted one game (for no obvious reason). Connecticut had sometime-starter Kelsey Griffin available again, but she came off the bench with Kelsey Bone continuing to start at center. Allison Hightower and Danielle McCray were still injured; Kayla Pedersen and Ebony Hoffman both didn’t play (but no injuries were reported for either).

 

Story of the Game: Atlanta led for most of the first half, but rarely by much. Angel McCoughtry was slashing into the heart of Connecticut’s defense repeatedly, creating high-percentage chances for herself. While it was still a little focussed on her own offense – something I’ve criticised her for in recent games – it was a hell of a lot better than when she stands around the perimeter and jacks up jump shots. She was very effective, and the Dream also got out in transition and found Erika de Souza rolling to the basket more than they had been in recent games. Dumerc gave them more of a creative force on the ball, and they generally looked a bit more like the athletic and aggressive Atlanta Dream we’ve known in the past.

But Connecticut kept up with them, and were surprisingly successful themselves in getting into the paint and scoring inside. Bone, Chiney Ogwumike and Alyssa Thomas were all finding their way to the rim against Atlanta’s interior defense, which is typically very solid. It kept the game competitive.

The Sun didn’t get inside as much in the second half, but the combination of Katie Douglas and lots of help defenders did manage to cool off McCoughtry. Atlanta responded by going to the opposite wing, and letting Tiffany Hayes slash to the hoop instead. Connecticut settled for jumpers a little too much in the second half, partly because Atlanta knew the Sun’s success was coming in the paint so their defense collapsed further and further inside. The Dream allowed a 10-point lead to dwindle to just two in the fourth quarter – perhaps a touch nervous after failing to win any of their last four games – but a timeout, plus the return of Dumerc and Hayes from some rest, and Atlanta were quickly back in charge. Douglas hit a couple of threes to potentially make things interesting, but a dumb foul by Alex Bentley on a Hayes three-point attempt ended the game as a contest with a minute remaining.

 

Key Players: The combination of McCoughtry and Hayes on the wings for Atlanta – finishing the game a combined 18-29 from the field for 48 points – drove the scoring for the Dream, but there was better pace and energy all around. Erika finished with 17 points and was an important presence inside, while Dumerc was a solid controlling hand. Even Jasmine Thomas made a contribution, not pouting about being benched and bringing some energy when she came into the game. Five of Atlanta’s next six games are on the road, so they’ll need to keep working hard to maintain this level on their travels, but this was a good first step in righting the ship.

Alyssa Thomas started the game well, and the Bone/Ogwumike tandem gave the Sun a base inside, but it was another game where the Sun’s inability to hit shots from the perimeter let them down. Sometimes the likes of Douglas, Bentley and Renee Montgomery are hot, but often they’re not, and when that’s the case this team has trouble winning games.

 

Notes of Interest: There were a ridiculous number of video reviews in this game. The NBA and WNBA have to do something about the amount of time we’re all left sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting for decisions to be made – often on plays that were pretty damn obvious to begin with. It’s excruciating.

 

—–

 

Washington Mystics 76 @ New York Liberty 80 (OT)

 

Lineups: Both teams started the same fives we’ve come to expect in recent weeks. The only real note worth making from the pre-game was that Washington were in their usual road red, with New York wearing pink for Breast Health Awareness week. It’s a worthy cause, but red versus pink in a sporting event is just asinine. They’re two shades of the same damn colour.

 

Story of the Game: The first half was controlled by New York, primarily by Tina Charles. She was constantly at the heart of their offense, with Washington sagging their defense inside but trying not to actively double-team when they could avoid it. She bullied Kia Vaughn and the other Washington posts, scoring at the rim and knocking down mid-rangers as well, while playing her part in the Liberty’s domination on the offensive glass. Even beyond Charles, New York comprehensively won the energy battle in the first half, with players like Avery Warley-Talbert, Anna Cruz and Sugar Rodgers flying around the floor to make all the little hustle plays. Alex Montgomery rounded off the strong half for New York by throwing in a heave from 50 feet at the halftime buzzer to send the Liberty in ahead by 15.

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The Daily W, 07/29/2014

 

Indiana Fever 73 @ Los Angeles Sparks 77

 

Lineups: The same group that we’ve seen in recent games started for Indiana, but Los Angeles had problems again. A sore left knee took Candace Parker out for the second time in four games, and point guard Lindsey Harding was unavailable as well due to a right foot problem. Armintie Herrington started in Parker’s place, and seeing as Penny Toler has as much faith in Nikki Greene and Farhiya Abdi as Carol Ross did – i.e. none – the Sparks only used seven players all night. Toler the head coach would probably have to blame her general manager for having two apparently unusable options on the end of the bench, but if she stormed into the GM’s office to complain it’d probably just get confusing.

 

Story of the Game: The opening stages belonged to Indiana. LA couldn’t finish anything around the rim, with the Fever managing to pressure them into missing without giving up too many fouls. With their typical level of accuracy from the perimeter, if the Sparks can’t finish inside they’re going to be in trouble. Meanwhile Indiana moved the ball well, bullied their way inside, and generally looked like the team who believed they could win the game, rather than a group wondering where their superstar was.

But there were already hints of how the game was going to turn around. The Fever were starting to give up some pathetically cheap turnovers, which only got worse as the first half wore on. LA’s aggressive pressurising defense played a part, but the Sparks were given encouragement by several Indiana giveaways that didn’t have much to do with the defense. And of course, LA’s offense has been at its best all year long whenever they’ve managed to push in transition. If you allow them to take the ball away from you – or just hand it to them without much resistance – you’re inevitably going to kick-start their scoring. LA only shot 41% overall in the first half, but between steals, fastbreaks, offensive rebounds and free throws earned by attacking the basket in quick offense, they led by four at the break. LA dominated the second quarter, and it felt like they probably should’ve been up by more than that.

The game stayed tight in the second half. Indiana took slightly better care of the ball, trying to run through Erlana Larkins in the low post early on to give themselves a solid foundation. Without the transition chances to feed their offense, LA’s scoring took a step back and they had to come up with some different ideas. It took them a while. Meanwhile Indiana finally came up with the obvious response to LA’s overplaying, aggressive defense – moving the ball away from traps as quickly as possible to open shooters on the other side of the floor. Karima Christmas hit a couple of threes as a result, livening up the Fever offense a little. LA responded through the typical speed and aggression of Nneka Ogwumike, and Alana Beard having one of those unusual nights where she tosses up terrible-looking shots and they all go in anyway.

Lynetta Kizer gave Indiana some offensive pep off the bench in the fourth quarter, keeping the game close. Kristi Toliver had been kept very quiet all night by the defensive attentions of Briann January, Jantel Lavender was anonymous, and Armintie Herrington faded after a strong first half – but Ogwumike and Beard kept LA afloat. Tamika Catchings made plays for Indiana down the stretch, providing the focussed leadership that they were lacking in a lot of close games earlier in the season.

But it was LA who made the last couple of plays to earn the win. Beard hit a jumper for a one-point lead with 90 seconds left; then January and Ogwumike exchanged missed jump shots at either end, before January also blew a finish at the rim under pressure. With under 15 seconds left, and LA running down the clock, Ogwumike smartly slipped behind Larkins rather than setting the expected high screen, Toliver made a perfect lob pass over the top, and Ogwumike finished for a three-point advantage. LA’s defense on the ensuing Fever play was pretty terrible, but they got away with it. January ran a long curl along the baseline before popping back out up top to take the pass and fire for three. The defense basically appeared to lose track of her entirely, but the shot rimmed out. Then LA got lucky again, as Christmas was fouled on the attempted putback, just barely missing the chance for a three-point play that also would’ve tied the game. She made the first free throw, missed the second on purpose, but Ogwumike got to the rebound first (and got bailed out by the refs with an immediate foul call when she was about to toss the ball right back to Indiana). Ogwumike made both free throws to ice the game.

 

Key Players: Without Parker, it was Ogwumike and Beard who stepped up the most for LA over the course of the game, although Herrington was instrumental in the surge that got them into the game in the first half. It wasn’t an entirely convincing performance by the Sparks, but it was one that at least showed some energy and enthusiasm for the cause. Of course, if Beard doesn’t have one of her rare efficient shooting nights, it might not have mattered.

Even though they made a game of it in the second half, and with a couple of breaks could’ve come away with the win, it wasn’t an encouraging performance for Indiana. The pressure defense that LA unsettled them with in the first half was the sort of harrying that the Fever used to upset opponents with, rather than succumbing to it themselves. Catchings led their scoring, with positive stretches from Larkins, January, Kizer, Christmas and Natasha Howard, but without any real consistency. The Fever are still a team trying to work themselves out and figure out where the pieces all fit. In the utterly mediocre East, they’ll more than likely make the playoffs, but it’s a crapshoot as to whether they’ll produce any decent performances once they get there.

 

—–

 

Today’s Games

 

Connecticut @ Atlanta, noon ET (already played, so no preview)

 

Washington @ New York, 7pm ET. This one’s actually become more interesting in recent weeks. The Liberty have looked a little more lively, won three in a row, and then even gave Phoenix a bit of a scare for a moment or two. Washington have won six of their last seven and quietly snuck into second place in the East. All eight of the Mystics’ remaining games are against their four rivals still chasing Eastern playoff spots, so they’re not going to have any opportunities to relax for the rest of the year. While much of the focus tonight will be on Tina Charles in the paint, the game is likely to be decided by the perimeter shooting. Washington have won recently because they’ve moved the ball better and hit shots; New York are successful when their complementary players offer some support for Charles and Cappie Pondexter. It’s a make-or-miss league, as we know.

 

Chicago @ San Antonio, 8pm ET. If the Sky are going to be able to force feed Sylvia Fowles in the paint against anyone, they should be able to do it against San Antonio, who don’t protect the paint well at all. But knowing Chicago, we’ll still end up seeing 30 shots combined from Epiphanny Prince and Allie Quigley. Danielle Robinson versus Jamierra Faulkner at the point should be entertaining – pure speed against pure speed.

 

Seattle @ Tulsa, 8pm ET. Nothing’s a mathematical certainty at this point (besides Phoenix and Minnesota having qualified for the playoffs), but this is as close to a ‘must win’ game as we’ve seen so far this year. There’s a three-game gap right now between San Antonio and Los Angeles in the playoff spots, and Tulsa and Seattle below them looking up. Both teams should be able to score without too many problems in this game. Tulsa can’t protect the rim, so Crystal Langhorne and Camille Little should go to town in the paint; Seattle can’t rebound and have been disappointingly porous on defense all season, so Tulsa will pile up offensive boards while Diggins and Sims drive repeatedly all night. Both sides will likely be counting ping-pong balls at the end of the season, but at least tonight’s winner will have hope for a little longer.

 

Los Angeles @ Phoenix, 10pm ET. We saw this matchup five days ago, and LA got blown off the floor – even when they had Candace Parker. Considering the minimal likelihood of a Sparks victory whether she plays or not, it’d make sense for Parker to rest her knee for another night, and save her body for games her team has a greater chance to win. On the second half of a back-to-back, LA did the necessary work to ensure the split by beating Indiana last night. It’d be something of a success if they could just manage to keep this one competitive for a while and avoid being embarrassed like they were last week.

 

The Daily W, 07/27/2014

 

Los Angeles Sparks 77 @ Seattle Storm 69

 

Lineups: Seattle had Sue Bird back, after she’d missed one game due to a sore neck. So Temeka Johnson joined what is probably a very short list of basketball players who’ve been benched for the game following a triple-double. Los Angeles started their regular group, with Penny Toler still looking for her first win since taking over as head coach. If Seattle could’ve won this one it would’ve left them just a game behind LA in the standings, giving them realistic hopes of catching the Sparks for a playoff spot. Considering they’d already lost the tie-breaker to LA, a loss – and the resulting three-game gap – would leave the Storm a serious long-shot for the postseason.

 

Story of the Game: There wasn’t much between the teams in the first half. Easily Seattle’s most effective offensive weapon was Crystal Langhorne, who produced some lovely moves in the paint to finish past LA’s bigs. They hit an occasional three as well, and that was about the extent of the Storm offense.

But it was enough to avoid falling too far behind. LA were strong on the offensive glass, and had a brief sequence early in the second quarter where they looked good while running through Nneka Ogwumike in the low post. But she picked up her third foul and had to sit, which put an end to that. With Candace Parker looking fairly aimless and half-hearted, it was all the second-chances that kept LA just slightly on top. It was mostly the guards finding their way in to snare those loose balls, and then finishing off the plays – a welcome production for the Sparks from their perimeter players, even if it was via unusual methods.

So the Sparks led by just three at halftime, and the game remained close for much of the third quarter. But Parker had started to look a little bit more like she gave a crap about whether her team won the game, and she played a central role in a key run for LA to close the third period. Seattle went cold, and couldn’t hit a shot inside or out for a long stretch. Meanwhile Parker hit a couple of jumpers, Armintie Herrington sliced into the Seattle defense for a layup, and then Parker rounded off the period with a three in the waning seconds (Mark Jackson would’ve been screaming “hand down, (wo)man down!” in response to Nicole Powell’s lackadaisical defense on her, if he’d been broadcasting the game). In the final three minutes of the quarter, a two-point game that was anybody’s suddenly blew up to a 10-point LA lead.

And Seattle could never quite make it a contest again. It was always a bucket then a miss; or Kristi Toliver would hit a jumper; or most frequently, Nneka Ogwumike would make a play to continue holding the Storm at arm’s length. With under four minutes left, and LA inbounding with a single second left on the shot clock, Ogwumike took a pass and swished a turnaround three that made it clear it wasn’t going to be Seattle’s night.

 

Key Players: It was by no means an outstanding performance by LA, but Parker and Ogwumike showed up enough at different times to lead the offense, and they got enough support from Toliver, Herrington and Alana Beard to get over the line. It was an odd performance from Parker, who’s been a strange combination of disinterested and apparently trying to lead the team since Carol Ross was fired. If she could stay out of foul trouble, and therefore on the floor, Ogwumike’s actually looked the more effective player lately. As this game suggested within a single evening, even a mediocre version of the Sparks is likely to make the playoffs in this year’s Western Conference. But as LA’s destruction by the Mercury in their last game reminded everyone – it’s going to take significant improvement or something very unlikely for LA to go anywhere in the postseason.

Langhorne and Camille Little in the paint remain Seattle’s best options offensively, but they didn’t go there often enough or hit enough perimeter shots to balance the offense and help create room for them. It’s been a difficult year all around for the Storm, and this is their fourth loss in four games to the team that might’ve been most vulnerable to being caught for a playoff spot. The battle isn’t over yet, but lottery ping-pong balls look like they’re more likely to be a consideration for Storm fans than playoff tickets (and unfortunately for them, we’re in a year where the consensus is that it’s a terrible draft class).

 

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Indiana Fever 75 @ San Antonio Stars 68

 

Lineups: Same again for Indiana, with San Antonio choosing to start Sophia Young-Malcolm over Danielle Adams for the second game in a row at power forward. Maybe Dan Hughes realised that Adams was a contender for Sixth Woman of the Year, and he’d be making her ineligible if she continued to start for the rest of the season. Jia Perkins was still out, but could return on Tuesday against Chicago.

 

Story of the Game: Indiana started incredibly slowly, and were awful for most of the opening period. They weren’t doing enough to shift San Antonio’s defenders around, leading to contested jump shots or drives right into the Stars posts. None of that worked particularly well, as you might expect. It took the entrance of reserves like Lynetta Kizer and Layshia Clarendon to wake the Fever up, and then the starters came back in with better energy in the second quarter and picked it up. Shavonte Zellous, in particular, hit shots and drove right at the San Antonio defense in the second period, and the Stars couldn’t handle her. It took the Fever far too long to bring any directness or energy into their play.

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The Daily W, 07/25/2014

 

New York Liberty 84 @ Seattle Storm 80 (OT)

 

Lineups: Sue Bird was a late scratch for Seattle after coming out to try to warm up but being ruled out with a neck strain. Temeka Johnson stepped in to start in her place. Shekinna Stricklen retained her spot at small forward, suggesting that move was about more than just matching Phoenix’s size in the Storm’s previous game. New York opened with the same group as usual.

 

Story of the Game: Seattle got off to a great start, attacking the basket through Crystal Langhorne and Camille Little in the paint, with New York giving up a string of cheap turnovers and looking a little tired after their exertions the night before in Los Angeles. Defensively, Seattle inevitably leaned plenty of help towards Tina Charles and Cappie Pondexter, with many of Charles’s early efforts coming from outside the paint.

But as the first half wore on, Seattle didn’t manage to roll that start on into a significant advantage. New York got a boost from their reserves, with Plenette Pierson and especially Sugar Rodgers picking up the offensive slack. Rodgers remains a livewire option for the Liberty off the bench, whose quickness and offensive aggression can give them a real shot in the arm on certain nights. This was one of those nights. Seattle’s offense increasingly drifted away from the basket, disappointingly. In fairness to them, they shot well from three-point range with Stricklen leading the way, stretching out New York’s defense and taking the looks that were on offer when the Liberty sagged into the paint. But the Storm had done such an impressive job of shifting New York’s defense early on and using their skilled interior players to get high-percentage shots. It seemed like they went away from that without any real need to. But 45 points in a half is an astronomical amount for the slow-paced, low-scoring Storm, so the combination was working. It was just that they’d given up 41, so they weren’t exactly in total control.

Seattle used Little and Langhorne popping into space and hitting from the perimeter to break ahead again by nine points in the third quarter, but it was a short-lived advantage. Cappie Pondexter had shaken off the cobwebs, benefitting from a couple of second-chance opportunities when Seattle conceded offensive rebounds, and then started to attack more off the dribble. The Storm contained Charles in the second half, with their physical defense inside making her miss or keeping the ball away from her in the first place. But Pondexter compensated, with Rodgers continuing to play a strong sidekick role. Temeka Johnson used her speed to take Anna Cruz apart whenever the Spanish guard was on the floor, so Rodgers increasingly took the backcourt minutes instead.

With all the threes Seattle had jacked up – and almost invariably missed in the second half – the Storm took advantage of the Liberty expecting them to pop outside a couple of times down the stretch, with both Stricklen and Tanisha Wright faking outside and then cutting behind the defense. A Wright free throw on the second play gave the Storm a two-point lead with under a minute left in regulation. New York ran a set designed to feed Charles in the paint, but great denial from Little inside stopped to entry pass and eventually led to a Rodgers turnover. Noelle Quinn missed a jumper on a messy Storm possession that followed, giving the Liberty another chance with 18 seconds left in regulation. A triple-screen for Pondexter saw her curl around to receive the pass, with Wright right on her heels regardless of the picks. But Cappie faded away, and tossed up a fadeaway rainbow that dropped in and tied the game. Little couldn’t convert a fadeaway in the lane for Seattle, before Pondexter and Charles both missed in the final few seconds to send the game to overtime.

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The Daily W, 07/24/2014

 

Connecticut Sun 75 @ Washington Mystics 89

 

Lineups: Kelsey Griffin was out for Connecticut with what was listed as a left ankle problem in the box score, although on a Washington broadcast we received no details on the injury. So after a couple of games coming off the bench, Kelsey Bone moved back into the starting lineup almost by default. As an extra option to help fill the hole left by Griffin, Ebony Hoffman was available in a Sun uniform for the first time after recently being signed to replace Kelley Cain. Washington started what’s become their regular starting five, and had Kara Lawson available again off the bench after missing a couple of games due to a back problem.

 

Story of the Game: Monique Currie was hot early for the Mystics, and between her and Ivory Latta the basic element of hitting some outside shots made Washington’s offense run a lot more smoothly. Unfortunately, they lost Currie for a while after she was chopped on a drive and had to receive treatment. She came back, but had to play the remainder of the game with heavy strapping around the thumb on her shooting hand.

Neither side managed to maintain control of the game for very long in the first half. Connecticut were trying to push the ball whenever they could, as usual, and a run of offensive boards late in the half for Bone and Chiney Ogwumike pulled them even on the scoreboard. Turnovers became an issue for Washington as the half wore on, but they shot well enough to mitigate it and the game was tied at 38-38 at the interval.

The third quarter was more of the same – offensive boards for Connecticut giving them easy second-chances inside, but with Washington clawing their way to enough points to always keep the game close, and the score still tied heading to the fourth. Then in the final period, one team finally managed to separate themselves. Latta led the way for the Mystics, hitting a couple of shots but also injecting the energy, passion and enthusiasm that the game had lacked for most of the afternoon. Then the post combination of Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson took over the scoring load, with Meesseman’s vision and passing helping find Dolson inside to finish plays and produce the points. Washington scored 10 straight in the middle of the fourth in the space of less than two minutes, turning a three-point deficit into a seven-point lead, and that essentially decided the game. Connecticut couldn’t find any way to answer, the gap crept to double-digits, and the contest was over.

 

Key Players: Currie had one of those strong games that she pulls out of the bag every now and then, which are nice to see, but also frustrating because they make you wish they occurred more consistently. In fairness to her, she’s had several effective performances recently, and bounced back from an early-season slump where she couldn’t buy a basket. Latta finished 9-14 from the field, including 5-7 from beyond the arc, playing a key role for the Mystics as well. She might’ve made the All-Star team (via a ludicrous replacement choice), but she hasn’t played like one for most of the year. They need at least one of Latta, Lawson or Bria Hartley to be making shots on any given night to win games. Meesseman and Dolson came through late, even if Washington got killed on the offensive glass for most of the game.

Connecticut are a bad road team. There’s just no getting around that, with their record away from the Mohegan Sun dropping to 3-10 this season, and they’ve fallen down the standings ever since their schedule evened up and forced them to play away from home more. Ogwumike and Bone gave them a chance inside in this one, and Alex Bentley made some shots from the perimeter, but they couldn’t finish the game out in the fourth quarter. Which isn’t much of a surprise, considering how often that’s happened in previous games this year.

 

Notes of Interest: In a tightly compacted Eastern Conference, this win could be important for the Mystics beyond the single victory. It was their third over the Sun this season in three encounters, with two more left to be played, so they’ve already sewn up the tie-breaker over Connecticut should they be tied at the end of the season. With five teams fighting for three postseason spots in the East, picking up wins over any of those rivals is going to be especially important down the stretch.

 

—–

 

New York Liberty 66 @ Los Angeles Sparks 64

 

Lineups: The big news around the Sparks all week had been Carol Ross’s firing as head coach, and coaching novice Penny Toler adding that job to her general manager responsibilities. But the headline item before tip-off in Toler’s coaching debut was that superstar Candace Parker was a late scratch due to a left knee strain. The conspiracy theorist in the back of my head forces me to mention that it’s a hell of a coincidence that Parker’s first missed game of the year would come in the first game after a coaching change. But she was on the sidelines cheering the team on, so maybe she really did just tweak her knee. Even ignoring the new leadership, it’s a horrible time for an injury to their star, considering this started a run of five games in seven days for LA (including two against league leaders Phoenix). Hopefully she’ll recover quickly. Armintie Herrington came into the starting lineup as Parker’s replacement, with the other four starters remaining the same as in recent games under Ross.

New York had their regular starting five in place. Speedy guard Natasha Lacy made her debut in a Liberty uniform after recently being signed to a seven-day contract.

 

Story of the Game: There weren’t many conspicuous differences to how Los Angeles played under Toler, which is hardly a surprise considering she’s only been in charge for a couple of days. Also Gary Kloppenburg, an assistant who’s been there all season, seemed to be doing a lot of the actual coaching. Toler mostly appears to be there to act as a glorified cheerleader, and provide the typical ra-ra speeches.

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The Daily W, 07/21/2014

 

While the All-Star festivities were taking place in Phoenix over the weekend, the Los Angeles Sparks were making moves that might affect actual meaningful games in the WNBA. They relieved head coach Carol Ross of her duties on Sunday night, replacing her with long-time Sparks general manager Penny Toler until the end of the season.

As has been mentioned here several times this season, Ross’s job was inevitably going to come under threat as a team that was supposed to contend for a championship sat under .500 and barely clinging to a playoff spot. The Sparks have been a disjointed team all season, inconsistent at both ends of the floor, and the head coach is invariably the person who has to pay. Ross floated between different lineups and systems this year, searching for something that would click and have the Sparks playing closer to their potential, but never managed to find it. Injuries and absences didn’t help, primarily Candice Wiggins (knee) and Kristi Toliver (missing several games due to joining the Slovak national team), the two guards on the roster with remotely consistent three-point range. But either the team had tuned her out, or Ross had run out of ideas – either way, it’s a little surprising that the decision took this long.

Toler taking over is a shocking move. She has absolutely no coaching experience, having gone directly from playing the game to the LA front office. Assistant coach Gail Goestenkors resigned in apparent solidarity with Ross, but Gary Kloppenburg is sticking around to help out while Steve Smith returns after previous stints as an assistant with the Sparks several years ago (not the NBA player with the Hawks and several other teams, by the way – different Steve Smith). Without being inside the franchise, it’s hard to know what the process was here. Maybe Goestenkors and/or Kloppenburg were offered the top chair, and didn’t want to touch it with the state the team are currently in. Maybe the relatively new Sparks owners told Toler to go down to the bench and sort out her own mess, refusing to pay a second head coach on top of whatever Ross is still getting. Maybe Toler’s just a complete egomaniac who feels like the roster she assembled should’ve been playing much better, so she’s pushed Ross out of the way in anticipation of being able to do better herself. Regardless of the process, putting the team in the hands of a complete coaching novice – assisted by one of the people who helped create the current situation and guy even Sparks lifers would struggle to remember – seems a hell of a hail mary. When Phoenix dumped Corey Gaines in midseason last year, and didn’t want to hand the reins over to an existing assistant, they at least went out and found an experienced coach to take over for the rest of the year. They didn’t just send someone down from the office, hand her a whistle, and tell her to get on with it.

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