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.
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.