The Daily W, 08/02/2014

 

Connecticut Sun 89 @ San Antonio Stars 79

 

Lineups: The starters were as in recent games for both teams. Connecticut had Danielle McCray available for the first time since mid-June after recovering from her broken thumb. Her return had required the Sun to release Briana Gilbreath-Butler, who’d been used sparingly anyway by Anne Donovan during her brief stint in Connecticut. In the order of meaningful player swaps throughout basketball history, McCray for Gilbreath-Butler is not high on the list.

 

Story of the Game: Unfortunately, due to the vagaries of the WNBA’s LiveAccess service, I didn’t get to see much of the first meaningful stretch of this game. The video stopped at 5:41 in the first quarter with the score tied at 6-6, and returned early in the second period with Connecticut ahead 22-12 (and they haven’t fixed anything with the archived video). I can point out that San Antonio’s weak interior defense had already given up three easy layups before the feed died, but that the play-by-play tells us that much of Connecticut’s lead was built by hitting perimeter shots. The Sun haven’t done much of that recently, so it’s a little less embarrassing that the Stars would let them fire from there than give up the open lanes to the hoop.

San Antonio can be a pretty frustrating team. When they’re on-song, moving the ball around and hitting shots, they can be lovely to watch. But when they’re bad they’re terrible. They go cold from the perimeter, the ball stops moving, the shot clock dwindles, and they generally grind to a halt. Defensively they’ve been pretty poor all season, with the combination of a lack of size and some sloppy rotations leaving them weak inside and shaky on the glass. In this game, things only got worse in the second quarter, with Renee Montgomery scoring inside and out for the Sun while they gathered offensive boards and Chiney Ogwumike slashed to the rim with ease. It was especially disappointing how simple pick-and-rolls up top left Ogwumike a wide open lane to roll in for straightforward layups. San Antonio’s only remotely consistent offense came from Kayla McBride, and they were lucky to be down by just 13 at halftime.

The Stars still couldn’t slow down Ogwumike or Kelsey Bone in the third quarter, and the lead hit 20 at one stage. Dan Hughes screamed his way into a technical, and got desperate enough to try recent teenage signing Astou Ndour in the third period. She’s been shooting almost every time she touches the ball in her brief appearances, and that was no different in this game, but you can see the athleticism and potential. The constant firing is probably partly a product of wanting to make an impression, and partly because she doesn’t know the schemes yet so just lets fly.

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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.

 

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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, 07/27/2014

 

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, 07/26/2014

 

Tulsa Shock 77 @ Washington Mystics 82

 

Lineups: Same five starters as usual for both teams. Riquna Williams was available for the first time in over a month for Tulsa, but played so little and made so little impact in her one brief appearance that I didn’t even notice she’d played until checking the box score.

 

Story of the Game: I’ve repeated this to the point of admitted tedium, but Tulsa’s transition defense is horrendously bad. Mike Thibault was clearly well aware of this, and had his team primed to push the ball at every opportunity to exploit the chances on offer against the Shock. That resulted in a host of easy baskets, and combined with some decent outside shooting from Ivory Latta and Kara Lawson led to a double-digit advantage for Washington in the first half. Over and over again, Tulsa recover incredibly poorly from their own misses, and give up cheap points the other way. It’s been one of the central elements in digging all those holes they’ve had to try to climb out of many, many times this season.

Offensively, the Shock also looked short of ideas in the first half. Other than Skylar Diggins and occasionally Odyssey Sims creating off the dribble for themselves, or an occasional offensive rebound for Courtney Paris, they didn’t seem to know how else to create any decent offense against the Mystics. Diggins had several impressive finishes at the rim, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with Washington, and Tulsa trailed by 12 at halftime.

Washington’s offense struggled badly for much of the second half, which eventually allowed Tulsa to inch back into the game. The Mystics had found some flow for their scoring in the first half thanks to their transition game, aided by Tulsa turnovers, and when those dried up in the second half so did their production. The comeback didn’t really kick into gear until the fourth quarter, when a bit of variation from Tulsa finally gave them some decent offense. They were finally using Glory Johnson and Paris in the paint, attacking Washington’s interior and not allowing the Mystics to key on just one area defensively. It took them long enough. The slew of offensive boards keeping Shock possessions alive helped them out as well.

Amazingly, Washington didn’t manage to score a single field goal in the fourth quarter until there were only 45 seconds left in the game – and yet still clung on to the lead. Their minimal scoring all came from the free throw line, and kept Washington just barely afloat. It was Lawson who broke the field goal drought in the final minute, and then Currie who made a crucial run of free throws to close the game out.

 

Key Players: Latta and Currie eventually led the scoring for Washington, although Latta did almost all her work early on and all 16 of Currie’s points came at the charity stripe. When their team defense was aggressive and they were in constant attack mode in the first half, they exploited all of Tulsa’s holes and picked up points across the board. When they slowed down in the second half, it became an attritional exercise in clinging on to their lead. But it’s their fifth win in six games, and in the tightly compacted Eastern Conference a run like that can go a long way towards cementing a playoff spot – however scrappy the performances might be.

Yet again, a poor start for Tulsa dug too big of a hole for one of their typical comebacks to drag them out of. It’s ridiculous how often they’ve done that this season. How many times can you pull out the “such a young team” excuse, rather than just admitting to a constant and repeating problem that needs to be dealt with, whether veteran or rookie? If they show up mentally focussed from the start of games, and actually work to defend in transition and rotate properly, there are straightforward improvements that can be made by this team. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this season.

 

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Chicago Sky 79 @ Atlanta Dream 75

 

Lineups: No changes from recent games for either team. Chicago are still hoping that Elena Delle Donne may rejoin the team at the end of their current road trip, starting with their game against New York on Thursday night, but there’s been no confirmation just yet.

 

Story of the Game: The game was at McCamish Pavillion again, as Atlanta completed their brief run at a temporary home before returning to Philips Arena. Based on how they played in the opening stages, they’ll be happy to escape the memories of this performance. The Dream were awful in the first half, looking ponderous and sloppy at both ends of the floor. Their string of cheap, unnecessary turnovers gave away possession repeatedly, and slow, lazy defensive rotations gave up easy, open looks to the Sky.

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The Daily W, 23/07/2014

 

Atlanta Dream 108 @ Minnesota Lynx 112 (2OT)

 

Lineups: Atlanta started the post-All-Star part of their schedule with the same starting five that helped them to easily the best record in the East so far this season. They had a difference on the sidelines, where Karleen Thompson was in charge for the first time during Michael Cooper’s absence for treatment for tongue cancer. Minnesota welcomed back power forward Rebekkah Brunson for the first time this year after recovering from offseason knee surgery. She went straight into the starting lineup in place of Damiris Dantas. Seimone Augustus was still out with left knee bursitis, but may well return for Friday’s game against San Antonio.

 

Story of the Game: The rematch of last year’s WNBA Finals produced a barn-burner to get the season’s ‘second half’ underway (unfortunately while a far less entertaining game was playing out on ESPN2 at the same time). Brunson’s impact was immediately obvious for the Lynx, with their rebounding improving just by virtue of having her on the floor. From the opening moments she was grabbing balls off the glass with authority, fitting in like she’d never been gone.

But the star was Maya Moore, a trend that would persist for much of the night. The Lynx ran pin-down screens, and staggered screens, and back-screens, and generally just set picks all over the floor all night long, for Moore to curl up and around and fire up her ridiculously smooth jumper and hit repeatedly. This wasn’t a night where we saw much of her on drives, or attempted post-ups. It was old-school Lynx, with perimeter shots from one of the best shooters the women’s game has ever seen their first option.

But in another element that we’d see recur throughout the game, Atlanta always found ways to respond. They were hyper-aggressive in attacking with pace in transition, picking up far more points just moments after Minnesota baskets than Cheryl Reeve could’ve possibly been happy with. Angel McCoughtry was attacking off the dribble and firing away at every chance she got, while Shoni Schimmel gave the Dream a three-point threat and was happy to rain them down after her success at the All-Star Game over the weekend. Minnesota were collapsing their defense inside at every opportunity, looking to protect the rim, preventing layups and offensive rebounds as their first priority on defense. But Sancho Lyttle was doing some Brunson-y things for the Dream, with some second-chance points and mid-range jumpers, and Atlanta were still within four at halftime. Moore already had 23.

The Lynx appeared to take over the game late in the third quarter, inevitably with Moore leading the way again. Lindsay Whalen was an excellent sidekick, and happy to keep feeding the ball Maya’s way when not driving for her own occasional scores, but it was another run of jumpers from Moore that gave Minnesota a nine-point lead at the end of the third. When McCoughtry picked up her fifth foul in the opening moments of the fourth on a Moore cut, and the Lynx extended their lead to 14 in the minutes that followed, Minnesota seemed relatively comfortable.

Only for the Dream to come again. Lyttle was huge for Atlanta down the stretch, in a role that made it surprising she hadn’t been more successful earlier in the game. Minnesota’s concentration on collapsing inside had nullified center Erika de Souza all night, but Lyttle loves to pop into that mid-range zone 15-18 feet from the basket, which is often left open when everyone revolves around and sags into the paint. So Lyttle hit a bunch of jumpers from that area, Minnesota missed a few shots while McCoughtry chased Moore and Atlanta finally forced someone else to try to beat them, and the lead quickly dwindled. The Dream tied it with a Tiffany Hayes free throw with under two minutes to play, and should’ve taken the lead – but Hayes and Lyttle missed three straight efforts at the line.

Janel McCarville gave the Lynx the lead again briefly on a nice bank shot, before Hayes charged to the other end and contrived a finish in traffic to tie it again. After McCoughtry and Monica Wright exchanged misses, the Lynx had 27 seconds to win it. The ball inevitably went to Moore, but Atlanta knew just as well as everyone else in the building that the Lynx wanted her taking the shot. She tried to dribble through a triple-team, lost the ball, and Schimmel took off upcourt the other way. She put up a little hook that was just off, de Souza couldn’t finish the putback, and the buzzer sent us to overtime.

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The Daily W, 07/18/2014

 

San Antonio Stars 90 @ Tulsa Shock 95

 

Lineups: As expected for both teams. Jia Perkins, Riquna Williams and Tiffany Jackson-Jones may all make appearances soon after the All-Star break, but exactly when is still up in the air.

 

Story of the Game: There was a lot of comically awful defense played in this game. Both teams did a dismal job of protecting the paint and preventing easy opportunities for their opponents. Tulsa started off with a run of layups for Courtney Paris inside, and then Danielle Robinson had trouble containing Skylar Diggins off the dribble – and got no help from any rotating teammates behind her. Meanwhile, Tulsa have been terrible at protecting the rim all season, and this game was no different, with various Stars scorers taking turns at slicing in for layups. Although funnily enough it was a string of threes for San Antonio from Danielle Adams, Kayla McBride and Shenise Johnson that allowed them to take a seven-point lead at halftime. Sometimes when you’re getting ripped apart inside, everyone overcompensates towards the middle and you start leaving shooters wide open.

But while San Antonio’s defense wasn’t great in the first half, it was absolutely disastrous in the second, with a miserable third quarter performance handing all the initiative to Tulsa. The Shock had the sense to attack the basket, resulting in either layups or free throws (or both), and San Antonio capitulated. No one on the perimeter could stay in front of their man, no one inside could rotate to help, and their transition defense was awful as well. And as often happens, when you start to fall apart at one end of the floor it transmits into your play at the other. San Antonio started settling for nothing but jumpers, missing most of them, and the offense ground to a halt. They lost the third quarter 25-8 and the game seemed to be slipping away.

While their scoring picked up, the Stars couldn’t get the stops to build a comeback in the third quarter, so eventually we saw a tactic that would’ve been seen in more Shock games this year if they’d had more leads – Hack-a-Paris. Dan Hughes called for his team to intentionally foul Courtney Paris, who’s shooting under 50% from the foul line this season, in a last-ditch effort to get back in the game in the final three minutes. While she went 3-of-6 on the intentionally gifted free throws – which is just about acceptable in those situations – San Antonio suddenly started nailing threes at the other end and clawed back within two points in the closing minutes. Tulsa actually produced a couple of good possessions of perimeter defense late in the game – running San Antonio off the three-point line by switching smoothly – and then a couple of misses from Adams and McBride finally ended any chances of San Antonio pulling off the comeback.

 

Key Players: The regular four scorers of Diggins, Sims, Paris and Johnson were Tulsa’s leaders yet again, and the Shock did an impressive job of exploiting San Antonio’s defense in the second half to take over the game. Even when one team is playing atrocious defense, the other side have to be playing well enough to take advantage. Tulsa also shot a ridiculous 32-39 from the foul line, illustrating how consistently they got inside and attacked the defense.

San Antonio actually shot an even higher percentage from the field than Tulsa, and went 11-21 from three-point range, but the porous defense killed them off. Usually Hughes has his teams well-drilled and organised to prevent such consistent breakdowns, but they’ve been a pretty poor defensive team for much of the season. This was the nadir.

 

Notes of Interest: For the third time this season, WNBA officials screwed up an ‘away from the play’ call in the final minute of a game. In that situation, if a defensive foul is committed away from the ball, it’s supposed to result in one free throw for the offensive team (taken by anyone on the floor) and they retain possession. Instead, yet again, the referees considered it a standard foul and sent Jen Lacy to the free throw line for two shots when she was fouled miles away from the ball with 33 seconds to play. It’s a pretty simple rule – and it’s in the rule book specifically to prevent things like ‘Hack-a-Paris’ extending into the closing moments of a game. You’d think they’d have been ready for it after the exact same mistake was made twice earlier this season when Brittney Griner was fouled late in Mercury games. Apparently not.

 

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Chicago Sky 64 @ Indiana Fever 82

 

Lineups: Same again for Chicago, with the same problematic injury list. Indiana had point guard Briann January back from her knee problem after missing just one game, and she slid straight back into the starting lineup ahead of Layshia Clarendon.

 

Story of the Game: The first quarter stayed close, with the more fluid and attractive offense coming from Indiana, but Sylvia Fowles bullying her way to points inside and Allie Quigley hitting from outside to keep Chicago even. Rookie Fever forward Natasha Howard had a nice run of points while Tamika Catchings was resting, but Howard’s defense doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and she had no hope at all against Fowles and Jessica Breland in the paint.

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The Daily W, 07/15/2014

 

Los Angeles Sparks 90 @ Connecticut Sun 64

 

Lineups: As in recent games for both teams. Allison Hightower and Danielle McCray are still working their way back from their respective injuries for Connecticut so were still unavailable.

 

Story of the Game: All the talk around this game surrounded the Ogwumike sisters, facing each other for the first time in the WNBA. Both did indeed seem to have that extra spark of energy, and stretches of the first half felt like an energetic night in the Ogwumike back yard. Both were attacking the basket, both were finishing – often past or over each other – and both led their respective teams in scoring in the first half. LA also had Kristi Toliver looking for her own shot early and hitting a few, and were getting into the heart of Connecticut’s defense far too easily on simple middle-of-the-floor pick-and-rolls. But with some success on the offensive boards – even against the size of LA’s frontcourt – and just as many transition points as the Sparks, the Sun didn’t let the lead get too big in the first half and stayed in contention.

Until we hit the third quarter. Connecticut made a horribly slow start to the second half, with turnovers and missed Kelsey Bone layups scattering their offense. Meanwhile LA continued to pound the ball inside, finally using Candace Parker on the low block a little more, with Nneka Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender also taking advantage and transition speed adding cheap points on top. The resulting 17-4 run that opened the third quarter basically decided the game, and Connecticut were never in the contest from there on.

 

Key Players: Offensively, Parker had one of her quietest games of the season, only taking six shots. But the Sparks didn’t need any more from her. Ogwumike and Lavender were productive inside, the team as a whole hit enough jumpers and played good enough collective defense, and that eventually ran Connecticut out of the building. The Sun have now lost seven of their last eight, and haven’t been playing well for a while, but LA still had to show up and take advantage. For once, they did just that.

Chiney Ogwumike had a strong first half, but that was about it for any positive elements from the Sun. They fell apart in the third quarter, with their defense leaving big gaps through the middle and the offense stagnating against LA’s length. Their three primary guards – Alex Bentley, Katie Douglas and Renee Montgomery – combined to shoot 7-31, which didn’t leave them with much chance of staying in the game.

 

Notes of Interest: No one paid much attention to Sandrine Gruda until she threw an elbow into Briana Gilbreath-Butler’s gut late in the first quarter. Gruda used to be a Connecticut player, then decided she didn’t want to bother showing up to play for the Sun, then forced a trade to LA in the offseason. But with a four-year gap since she’d been seen in a Sun jersey, few people in the crowd seemed to remember – until she gave them something to boo about.

 

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Seattle Storm 60 @ Minnesota Lynx 77

 

Lineups: Seattle had what’s become their regular lineup in place, while Minnesota continued to play without Seimone Augustus or Rebekkah Brunson. It’s hoped that both could return soon after the All-Star break.

 

Story of the Game: The first half was reminiscent of the tight, low-scoring affairs we’ve gotten used to Seattle dragging the Lynx into. On the rare occasions that either team got the ball into the paint, both struggled to finish amongst all the defenders that collapsed on top of them to contest. That left both teams shooting a lot of jumpers, with Minnesota having to rely on a lot of those mid-range shots from their bigs that became so important in their previous clashes with Seattle this season. The Storm hit a few shots early on, and benefitted from a hot streak for Camille Little in the middle of the second period where she was successful inside and out, but spent most of the half bricking their own jumpers.

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The Daily W, 07/12/2014

 

Los Angeles Sparks 68 @ New York Liberty 54

 

Lineups: Same again for both teams, with Kristi Toliver and Alana Beard continuing to start in the backcourt for Los Angeles. New York had Swin Cash available for the first time after they acquired her in a trade for DeLisha Milton-Jones on Wednesday night.

 

Story of the Game: While we’ll go into a little more detail, the story of this one for New York wasn’t particularly complicated. The newly rejuvenated Tina Charles showed up for them again – but no one else did. And however good your one player may be, it’s very hard to win a basketball game with only one offensive weapon.

But for three periods, the Liberty gave it a decent shot. In the first quarter, it looked like Charles might get some help. Alex Montgomery hit a couple of shots when the ball was reversed back out to her away from the attention Charles drew, Plenette Pierson and Cash were hitting from mid-range just like Charles herself when LA left them in space, and the team defense was good enough to at least keep them within striking distance.

The Sparks got most of their offensive production from their starting frontcourt, with the offense initially waking up when Candace Parker started to take over in the second quarter. Some fairly pathetic turnovers from the Liberty helped as well, but it was Parker’s ability to grab rebounds or loose balls and immediately turn up-court and create quick offense that spurred LA on and pushed them into a nine-point halftime lead. Then it was Jantel Lavender going shot-for-shot with Charles in the third quarter that carried LA’s offense for a long stretch, either finishing efficiently in the lane or hitting from mid-range with her standard consistency. And she was doing all that with Charles as her primary defender, while Tina was answering at the other end over a variety of opponents, mostly with the spinning jump hook that she often resorts to in order to score before extra defenders arrive.

Behind that offense from Charles, New York managed to pull within two points late in the third quarter, but it had become glaringly obvious that Charles was the only reliable option that New York had left. Cappie Pondexter had been ineffective all night, failing to score a single point on five attempts from the field, and never came back in after subbing out three minutes into the third quarter. The MSG network were utterly useless in providing any information as to exactly why New York’s star guard and leader wasn’t playing, but the achilles problem she’s been fighting through for quite some time seemed the likely culprit. With the Sparks able to collapse even more defenders and attention on Charles than they’d been doing for the rest of the game, New York’s offense collapsed entirely in the fourth quarter. They couldn’t get her the ball, and when they did and multiple defenders forced the ball back out, no one could make a shot for the Liberty – or even seemed to want to take one. The Sparks’ offense also devolved in the fourth quarter, with a lot of one-on-one play and minimal ball movement, but with the Liberty only scoring four points in the entire period, it was still more than enough for LA to coast home.

 

Key Players: Parker, Lavender and Nneka Ogwumike were once again the most effective parts of LA’s offense, although the guards did manage to hit a few shots here and there to provide some balance. Credit the team defense for playing its part in keeping New York’s non-Charles pieces quiet, and forcing some of the demoralising turnovers that eventually finished off the Liberty. But New York gave up many of those in ways that didn’t have a great deal to do with LA.

Charles finished 10-17 for 20 points and eight boards, carrying New York’s offense for long stretches on her own. You can’t really blame her for continuing to call her own number when she was virtually the only one producing, but failing to attempt a single free throw illustrates the way jumpers and fading hooks produced much of her offense, which doesn’t tend to draw fouls. And maybe another pass or two away from the LA defenders would’ve kept her teammates more involved and more likely to keep helping her out as the game wore on. But that’s probably a vain hope. No one else in a Liberty jersey looked like they were going to score in the second half.

 

Notes of Interest: Cash looked frisky in her opening moments in a Liberty uniform, which surprisingly came as early as the first quarter. Clearly her familiarity with the sets and plays Laimbeer likes to run from their Detroit days made him more willing to throw her into the fray than he had been with new signings like Shanece McKinney and Charde Houston earlier in the season.

In news of another player we haven’t seen much of this season, Candice Wiggins looks mobile and lively after returning from her knee injury, but her shot looks painfully flat and isn’t even coming close to going in. Hopefully it’ll improve once she gets her legs under her again, because LA really don’t need another perimeter player who can’t shoot, even if she’s a reasonably active defender.

 

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Seattle Storm 88 @ San Antonio Stars 67

 

Lineups: Both teams started the groups we’ve seen in their recent games. The news on San Antonio sixth woman Jia Perkins is that her hamstring injury will keep her out at least until the All-Star break, at which point she’ll be reassessed. It looked pretty bad when she pulled up lame against Atlanta, so it’s not really a surprise that it’s proven to be a relatively serious injury. San Antonio have done a good job of surviving without her – winning four of five since she went down – but this was one game where it finally felt like they missed her contributions.

 

Story of the Game: The first quarter stayed fairly even, with a brief early lead for San Antonio developing when the game strayed into becoming a jump-shooting contest, but Seattle doing enough to quickly pull it back. Then the Storm started to pull away in the second quarter, with Shekinna Stricklen providing the impetus. Stricklen’s a frustrating player, because she’s got all the attributes – size, range, mobility, good speed, a reasonable handle – and occasionally she has breakout games like this. She’ll hit a bunch of threes, leak out on the break for transition finishes, make some hustle plays for rebounds or steals, and get everyone excited for the one hint of youthful potential on Seattle’s roster. And then she’ll disappear into obscurity for three weeks’ worth of games and we’ll all forget she exists again. Performances like she produced in this game on a regular basis would make her an all-star, or at the very least a building block for Seattle’s future. Doing it once every two or three weeks just makes you tantalising and often distinctly disappointing.

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The Daily W, 07/10/2014

 

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.

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The Daily W, 07/06/2014

 

San Antonio Stars 71 @ Indiana Fever 70

 

Lineups: San Antonio were as expected, with Danielle Adams continuing to start ahead of Sophia Young-Malcolm at power forward, but the big news was among Indiana’s starters. Tamika Catchings made her first appearance of the season after recovering from her back problem, and went immediately into the starting lineup in place of Natasha Howard.

 

Story of the Game: Indiana were in charge in the first quarter, energised by the return of their leader and star. Catchings looked strong and mobile, making plays with her defense and her ability to attack the paint and draw help defenders on offense. Rather than forcing her to cover Danielle Adams and deal with her occasional physical post-up moves, Indiana smartly put Catchings on Jayne Appel, which allowed her to roam more defensively and make plays without taking a pounding inside. Her jump shot looked flat and rusty, and the Fever kept a tight rein on her minutes during the game, but otherwise Catchings seemed in pretty good shape.

All afternoon, Indiana went after Becky Hammon with whoever she was trying to guard. Danielle Robinson can cope with slightly bigger opponents, but the Stars still have a very small starting perimeter and try to hide Hammon as much as possible on defense. The Fever used players like Shavonte Zellous and Marissa Coleman to post-up Hammon or go by her, and eventually forced San Antonio into their zone defense just so that they could keep Hammon on the floor. The second quarter was earlier than Dan Hughes usually resorts to his zone, but it turned out to be a productive switch for the Stars. Indiana moved the ball well to shift the zone around, and clearly knew what they were supposed to do against it, but still had far more problems creating good looks than they’d had against the man-to-man. With Indiana’s bench players failing to produce as they had in recent games, San Antonio came into the game in the second quarter, started hitting some shots, and eventually took a narrow lead into halftime.

While neither team was particularly effective offensively in the second half, it was Indiana who eventually managed to inch out a lead. They rarely converted anything when they broke down the zone and got to the rim, but decent three-point shooting from Karima Christmas, Shavonte Zellous and Briann January helped them pull in front. They’ll get better, cleaner looks out there now, purely because of the attention that Catchings draws from opposing defenses. With just over five minutes left in the game, Indiana led by 13 points and seemed to be in control – while Hughes was going nuts on the sideline and drawing a technical for his screaming.

But then Hughes finally found a lineup that worked – bigger on the perimeter, with Robinson, Kayla McBride and Shenise Johnson; slightly more mobile inside, with Young-Malcolm and Adams playing together – and Indiana’s problems closing out games resurfaced. The Fever lost any offensive rhythm, and committed several turnovers, while San Antonio ran off those giveaways and used Adams as a focus inside and out when they were running halfcourt sets. 14 straight points, capped by two free throws by Robinson after a desperately soft foul call, gave San Antonio a one-point lead with 22 seconds left in the game.

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