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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Daily W, 07/16/2014

 

Connecticut Sun 86 @ Seattle Storm 63

 

Lineups: The Storm’s starters were as they’ve been for a while, whenever everyone’s been healthy. Reserve wing Shekinna Stricklen was out after her nasty fall and resulting neck injury against Minnesota on Sunday. The Sun made a switch, benching center Kelsey Bone after several ineffective recent performances. Kelsey Griffin moved into the starting lineup.

 

Story of the Game: The game was fairly even in the first quarter, with Seattle using pick-and-rolls and slip-screens to find their way into the heart of Connecticut’s defense relatively easily. But that early stretch would prove to be one of the few periods where the Storm scored with any regularity over the course of the game. Once they started to make their first wave of substitutions, everything started to fall apart at both ends of the floor. The offense stopped flowing without Sue Bird at the point, and Nicole Powell remains a patchwork cover option at best at power forward.

Although, Connecticut largely started to creep into the lead thanks to a guard who was hitting shots. Seattle missed an endless stream of jumpers, especially in the second quarter, while Alex Bentley was lighting it up for Connecticut. Given an inch of space coming off ball-screens, she was pulling up to fire, and hitting nothing but net. The two shots she missed in the first half were both forced up in an effort to beat the shot-clock; the other six all went in.

Already up by nine at halftime, Connecticut took even further control of the game in the third quarter, dominating the offensive boards for second chance points, with Bentley and her backup Renee Montgomery continuing to pile up points from the perimeter. The Sun’s defensive rotations were unusually effective inside, leaving Seattle to settle for more jumpers and miss most of them. Maybe the tip-off was too early for the Storm, even in front of their own young crowd. It was a sleepy, tired performance from them for much of the game, and they rarely looked like making a comeback in the second half.

 

Key Players: Bentley’s hot streak in the first half set everything in motion for the Sun – if she doesn’t hit those shots then their confidence doesn’t build early on, and maybe the course of the game turns out to be rather different. But as a team, the Sun were 53% from the field and heavily out-shot the Storm throughout the contest. Much of Bentley’s backup on the scoreboard came from Bone and Chiney Ogwumike, who were also key in Connecticut’s dominance on the glass. Seattle got outworked in virtually every area.

There was little credit for any Storm player to come out of the game. This was the beginning of their run of nine home games in their final 11 outings this season, which was meant to give them the necessary burst to make a playoff push. It was a thoroughly inauspicious start.

 

—–

 

Los Angeles Sparks 86 @ Indiana Fever 78

 

Lineups: Los Angeles continue to roll with their triple-post starting lineup, alongside Alana Beard and Kristi Toliver in the backcourt. Indiana point guard Briann January was out with a hyperextended right knee suffered in their game against Atlanta in Saturday, pushing Layshia Clarendon into the starting lineup. Marissa Coleman kept her spot at small forward, in her first game against LA since leaving them as a free agent in the offseason.

 

Story of the Game: The first quarter, and indeed most of the first half, belonged to Indiana. Tamika Catchings didn’t even have to do much, with all the supporting players stepping up and producing. There weren’t many tears shed when Coleman walked away from the Sparks for nothing in the offseason, but apparently she was excited to remind them what she was capable of (albeit disappointingly infrequently). Candace Parker played some pretty insipid defense on her early in the game, but Coleman took full advantage to drill a couple of threes and then start firing in step-back jumpers from all over the floor. Indiana were also the team pushing in transition and creating cheap points for themselves early on – LA’s favourite trick being turned against them.

After being benched for a long stretch of the first quarter after barely involving herself in the game and playing with little energy, Parker was back out to start the second period and gave LA some life. She single-handedly drew the fouls that pushed Indiana into the penalty very quickly in the period, and her all-court offense at least gave the Sparks some kind of foothold in the game. But Indiana were doing a good job of both attacking the glass and getting back in transition – two tasks which can run counter to each other and prove difficult to combine – which allowed them to maintain their lead and be up by 10 at halftime. The lack of second-layer help in LA’s defense, and the rebounds they were giving up to the much smaller Fever, were pretty embarrassing for the Sparks – although if you’re surprised by disappointing sequences of play from LA at this point in 2014, you haven’t been paying attention.

Continue reading

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.

 

—–

 

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.

Continue reading

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.

 

—–

 

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Daily W, 07/04/2014

 

Tulsa Shock 96 @ Connecticut Sun 83

 

Lineups: No changes for either side, despite both having lost their last three games.

 

Story of the Game: Connecticut had one good quarter in this game – the second – and otherwise got outplayed for most of the night. They started atrociously, with a series of bricks and turnovers featuring consecutive travelling violations by Kelsey Bone, while layups and free throws helped Tulsa to the first 12 points of the game. Odyssey Sims got off to a hot start in what turned out to be her best game so far as a pro, hitting from the perimeter but also doing a lot of work at the rim. She’s had some of the same problems as a rookie that teammate Skylar Diggins had in her first year – the ability to get past people and into the heart of a defense but then missing a lot of shots among the trees once she gets inside. In this game she was finishing almost everything, including several floaters from a few feet beyond the rim, completing the play without having to directly challenge the opposing posts.

But the Sun finally woke up in time to even the game up in the second period, with Alyssa Thomas’s size from the wing and Renee Montgomery’s quickness off the bench helping drag them back into the game. Bone was also managing to finish plays inside rather than taking four steps before putting the ball on the floor, and Tulsa’s poor interior defense helped as well.

But that second quarter proved to be a brief respite. With Sims leading the way and Diggins joining in, plus the tandem of Glory Johnson and Courtney Paris dominating Connecticut on the offensive glass, Tulsa were in complete control for virtually all of the second half. The Sun briefly threatened a comeback when Katie Douglas got hot from outside early in the fourth quarter, but Jordan Hooper answered with threes of her own and the Shock were quickly back on track. Tulsa’s defense wasn’t that great for much of the night, but with the way their offense was ripping the Sun apart, it made little difference.

 

Key Players: Sims finished the night 11-17 for 30 points, and it was nice to see her as the primary weapon for once. That was the idea when they drafted her – that between her and Diggins in the backcourt, opponents would have trouble guarding both and at least one could explode in any given game. But it’s been Diggins doing most of the work on the offensive end, and drawing all the plaudits. This time it was Sims’s night.

Douglas and Thomas were easily the most effective offensive players for Connecticut, with Thomas quietly becoming more effective as the season progresses. Her jump shot’s still very much a work in progress, but her size, strength and athleticism from the small forward spot makes her dangerous even with limited shooting range. Connecticut’s main problem in this game was their complete inability to slow the Shock down. Also, why Anne Donovan took so long to give Montgomery a chance to help in the second half was mystifying. She woke the team up in the second quarter but didn’t get much of a chance to help in the second half.

 

Notes of Interest: For the second time this season, Kelsey Griffin lost a shoe during play, and carried on playing with just one. And again, the opposing team recognised it and attacked her. But unlike the block she pulled off against Penny Taylor earlier in the year, Glory Johnson managed to draw a foul while driving at her. She should probably tie her shoes a little tighter.

Thomas lost something during play as well, but dealt with it rather better. The face mask she was wearing to protect her recently injured nose was flapping behind her head while she completed a transition layup early in the second half, then she kicked it to the sidelines before grabbing a steal and leading the break for another layup for her team. All the sequence really needed was some dramatic music as she revealed herself to be someone else under the mask.

 

—–

 

San Antonio Stars 84 @ Minnesota Lynx 91

 

Lineups: Minnesota were without Seimone Augustus for the second straight game due to left knee bursitis, so Monica Wright started for them again. Danielle Adams continues to start ahead of Sophia Young-Malcolm for San Antonio at power forward, while Jia Perkins is still out due to her hamstring injury.

 

Story of the Game: Minnesota hit several threes early on, including three from Wright, which covered up the fact that there wasn’t a lot of flow to their offense. By contrast, San Antonio – a team that often lives and dies by the outside jumper – didn’t take many threes in the first half, but inched their way ahead on layups and mid-range jump shots. The Lynx defense still isn’t where Cheryl Reeve would like it to be on the interior rotations, although they did do a decent job of extending to San Antonio’s shooters in this game, making those outside shots more difficult.

Continue reading

The Daily W, 07/01/2014

 

Connecticut Sun 65 @ New York Liberty 67

 

Lineups: Both teams used the same starting lineups we’ve seen in recent games. So Allison Hightower continues to come off the bench for Connecticut since returning from her knee problem.

 

Story of the Game: This was not an offensive showcase, by any means. Credit the defenses to some extent, but basically both teams struggled to hit shots all afternoon. Connecticut in particular had problems knocking down anything from more than two feet, but compensated to some extent by working harder than New York in transition and on the offensive glass. It was a little embarrassing for the Liberty how often Connecticut produced layups simply by beating their opponents down the floor.

After her first ever zero-point game in the WNBA on Friday night against Chicago, Cappie Pondexter still wasn’t afraid to let fly, and hit a few shots in the first half. Also, with the addition of Charde Houston and incremental development of Sugar Rodgers, for the first time it seemed like New York had a bench group that might help them rather than lead to a collapse. It all balanced out to a fairly even first half.

New York crept ahead by as many as nine points in the third quarter, without seeming to do anything particularly special. Connecticut still couldn’t hit a shot unless they were right at the rim, so breakaways and offensive rebounds remained their only forms of attack with any real success. Tina Charles was drawing all kinds of attention whenever she touched the ball in the low post, but still not seeing enough of it down there. New York need to realise that even if she doesn’t score, when the ball reverses out of there they’ll generally get great shots. They often seem to start games and second halves by looking for her inside, and then she drifts away as the play progresses. But she did at least produce a few finishes for the Liberty to help the offense in the second half.

With Katie Douglas and Alex Bentley finally starting to make a few shots – Douglas’s first bucket came on a deep three when New York ignored her, and she almost seemed to shoot out of disgust – Connecticut made it a game in the fourth quarter. It was a one-point game for almost the entire last two minutes, while both sides traded misses. A dismal ‘play’ from Connecticut in the final seconds saw Bentley go nowhere, eventually reverse the ball to Douglas, who had to force up a three that never had a chance. After Anna Cruz added a free throw for New York, another Douglas heave was nowhere near at the buzzer, and New York had clung on.

 

Key Players: Pondexter and Charles led the scoring for New York with 14 apiece, without either playing particularly well. Plenette Pierson and Rodgers had productive appearances off the bench. But the game was won with their team defense and the awful shooting from Connecticut.

Chiney Ogwumike finished 8-14 for 22 points and 17 rebounds, including 8 offensive boards. Between her and Kelsey Bone the Sun thoroughly outworked New York on the glass and in running the floor, but it just wasn’t quite enough without their teammates being able to hit anything from outside. Ogwumike herself repeatedly turned down the mid-range jumpers that New York were offering her all afternoon. She’s extending her range – as all posts working under Anne Donovan are generally tasked to do – but for now she’s much more comfortable doing her work right around the rim.

 

Notes of Interest: Essence Carson didn’t make it off the bench at all, drawing her first ‘Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision’ for a long time. While Anna Cruz and Alex Montgomery have started to become more effective offensively as role players, the complete lack of production from Carson this season has been a major problem for New York. She was meant to be the third wheel for Pondexter and Charles, even if she wasn’t entirely back from her ACL tear. Instead she’s gotten progressively worse, and finally fallen off the end of the rotation. Hopefully she rebounds next year.

 

—–

 

San Antonio Stars 73 @ Washington Mystics 65

 

Lineups: Dan Hughes changed up his lineup for the first time in a while, with Danielle Adams supplanting Sophia Young-Malcolm in San Antonio’s starting lineup. Adams has been finishing plenty of games ahead of Young-Malcolm, but it still sends something of a message to remove the veteran from her long-established starting spot. Coming off her own ACL tear, Young-Malcolm hasn’t been as poor as Essence Carson in New York, but there hasn’t been that much in it. The Stars were also without key reserve Jia Perkins, who’s out for at this road trip after straining her hamstring in the game against Atlanta on Thursday night. Washington opened with the same group we’ve seen in their recent games, and had Kara Lawson available again off the bench after missing one game due to dehydration/flu.

 

Story of the Game: The main difference for much of this game was simply shooting. Emma Meesseman produced some points early for Washington, while Ivory Latta drives and Stefanie Dolson finishes added on later in the first half, but San Antonio consistently out-shot them from the perimeter. The ball movement to create the looks for the Stars was pretty good, but having people like Becky Hammon who are a threat to drill threes as soon as they cross half-court was the key element. She had four triples in the first half, three of them from so deep that normally you wouldn’t worry about the player letting fly. But Becky Hammon isn’t exactly a ‘normal’ player, even in the midst of – for her – a pretty mediocre season.

Continue reading

The Daily W, 06/28/2014

 

Phoenix Mercury 81 @ Indiana Fever 76

 

Lineups: Phoenix stuck with the big lineup that’s been working for them lately, but Indiana made yet another switch to their starting lineup, this time specifically tailored to the Mercury. Former Phoenix center Krystal Thomas, who’s barely played for most of the season in Indiana, came in to start the game and guard Brittney Griner. Karima Christmas dropped to the bench, while Erlana Larkins slid over to power forward.

 

Story of the Game: Indiana were in front and on top for the vast majority of this game, but could never quite kill it off. They played with fantastic energy in the first half, doubling and rotating when they needed to on defense but recovering well to challenge every shot. They got caught out a couple of times with Candice Dupree scoring over smaller defenders in the post after switches, but in general they kept Phoenix very quiet.

On offense, the Fever did a good job of attacking the rim and maintaining their aggression despite the Mercury’s size and length. Obviously, that was easier when Griner was resting, but they kept it up even when she was in the game. Marissa Coleman was also having one of those nights when pullup jumpers and fadeaways were dropping, which helped boost the offense.

Thomas had the first half of her WNBA life, playing effective defense against Griner and the Mercury drivers in the paint, and even chipping in with a couple of buckets when the ball fell her way. She was getting lots of help whenever necessary, and Phoenix struggled to get Griner the ball in the first place, but when Lin Dunn dreamed how inserting Thomas into the lineup would play out, that first half was almost exactly it. Indiana led by nine at the break.

The Fever looked outstandingly well prepared for playing Phoenix, knowing where the holes in the Mercury’s defense were going to crop up before they showed themselves. But Phoenix wouldn’t go away. They still had Dupree finishing plays inside, and Penny Taylor helped in the third quarter as well with her familiar tricky spinning drives into the lane. Phoenix were also starting to shoot a heap of free throws, with Diana Taurasi leading the way after being antagonised by Briann January’s physical defense earlier in the game. Opponents often find they don’t like Diana when she’s angry.

January had a poor game, and was the central figure in the turnover problems that seriously damaged Indiana in the second half. Too many passes went flying out of bounds, or hit a teammate in the feet rather than the hands. And in the final period Phoenix finally completed the comeback. Indiana’s offense had tired and stagnated, while the Mercury were still energised by their charge back into the game. DeWanna Bonner – whose defense has been deservedly castigated here many times in recent years – had two crucial steals in the latter stages. The first created four points because it led to a clear path foul, the two resulting free throws, and then a Dupree finish in the lane. The second came on the ensuing inbounds play, just to further demoralise the Fever.

Indiana were given a chance when Taurasi fouled Shavonte Zellous on a late three, with the resulting foul shots making it a one-point game. But Sandy Brondello drew up a beautiful play in the timeout that followed, confusing the Indiana defense and leaving Taurasi open for three. She drilled it, and that was just about the end of Indiana’s chances.

 

Key Players: Dupree was the most consistent threat for Phoenix over the course of the night, but Taylor’s ‘old man game’ moves helped drag them back, and Taurasi’s driving and big-shotmaking finished it off. Griner was swallowed whole by Indiana’s defense and faded from the game badly, which was a discouraging sign, despite her six blocks.

Indiana actually played a heck of a game, but just couldn’t keep it up for all 40 minutes. After recent close losses to Tulsa and Minnesota, they’ll be very disappointed to let this one slip away as well. Thomas did what was asked of her on the defensive end, and may well have earned more minutes even against other opponents. Lynetta Kizer is the far more talented offensive player, but Thomas is the vastly better defender. Coleman and Zellous did most of their scoring, with some help from Larkins and Christmas, but it was a collective effort that nearly held off one of the better teams in the league. Unfortunately, ‘nearly’ doesn’t count for anything in the standings.

Continue reading