The Daily W, 06/25/2014

 

Washington Mystics 81 @ San Antonio Stars 70

 

Lineups: The starting groups were the same as in recent games for both teams, but there was also some good news among the reserves. Rookie center Stefanie Dolson was wearing some protection on her right knee, but she was ready and available to play after an awkward looking fall in their game on Sunday night in Seattle.

 

Story of the Game: This one was pretty close for most of the first three periods. Danielle Robinson was hitting her mid-range jumper early on, as a key part of San Antonio’s offense. Once Kayla McBride stopped firing up bricks from outside and started attacking off the dribble a little, she joined in later in the game. Meanwhile Washington ran a lot through the post, with Kia Vaughn the early beneficiary and Dolson increasingly involved as the game progressed.

The Mystics pulled in front in the second quarter, hitting some of the mid-range shots that opened up once San Antonio started sending extra help into the paint to keep them away from the rim. But the Stars were hitting enough to hang around, and a trio of three-point plays from Sophia Young-Malcolm in the third quarter helped San Antonio turn the tide. Washington countered with three threes from Ivory Latta, one in transition and two from so deep that the defense was understandably a step off her. They were mostly those “No… no… no… yes!” shots that Latta tends to specialise in on her good nights.

So the game was decided in the fourth quarter. San Antonio missed some good looks, both inside and out, which ground their offense to a halt. They also went away from what had been working – we saw very little of Robinson attacking with her speed, or McBride getting to the rim. The star of the closing period was Dolson, who scored on whichever San Antonio defender happened to be near her in the paint. Kayla Alexander, Danielle Adams and Jayne Appel were all victims, as the big rookie converted on post moves and putbacks for her most productive offensive sequence as a pro. San Antonio were also dominated on the boards in the final period, which isn’t a new experience for them. The Stars couldn’t come up with any answers, and Washington eased home for a much-needed win.

 

Key Players: In the fourth it was mostly Dolson for Washington, but Latta made the big shots in the third and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt was effective in spurts for most of the afternoon. It won’t work against everyone – many WNBA teams are better at defending the paint than San Antonio – but the interior attack gave Washington a grounding throughout the game. Even if the points ultimately came from outside, it often started by getting the ball inside.

McBride and Robinson were the most effective offensive weapons for San Antonio, although it was nice to see Young-Malcolm finishing through contact in the third quarter. As we’ve seen over the years, the Stars have a tendency to live or die by the jump shot, and 2-15 from beyond the arc was too much to survive in this one

 

Notes of Interest: San Antonio switched to their 3-2 zone early in the fourth quarter, a common move by Dan Hughes to try to unsettle opponents. The interesting thing was that Washington appeared to have a set intended to force a defensive three-seconds violation, and it worked. It earned the Mystics a free throw, and pushed San Antonio to switch back to their man-to-man the next time down the floor. We’ve so rarely seen opposing teams try to actively force those issues against zones since the rule was introduced last season, so it was nice to see a counter-move work exactly as planned.

 

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Seattle Storm 57 @ Los Angeles Sparks 65

 

Lineups: Both teams started the same units that had begun their previous games. So Temeka Johnson was in the lineup again for Tanisha Wright, still out due to her bruised knee, while Los Angeles once again went big with Candace Parker at small forward and point guard Lindsey Harding on the bench.

 

Story of the Game: This was a game that LA led almost from beginning to end, but never managed to put to bed until the final moments. It was an odd kind of game, considering Seattle’s offense has been working fairly well in their recent outings while LA have been trying to fix their leaky defense – the Storm ended up having great difficulty scoring despite a painfully slow-paced game that was exactly to their liking.

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The Daily W, 06/23/2014

 

Tulsa Shock 105 @ Chicago Sky 99 (OT)

 

Lineups: Same starting groups for both teams, although Riquna Williams was available again for Tulsa off the bench. She didn’t play much after two hideous turnovers late in the first quarter – both on pathetically lazy underarm ‘passes’. Maybe she wasn’t really ready to play, although the problem looked like it was more in her head than her knee.

 

Story of the Game: The defense in the opening stages of this game was flat-out embarrassing at both ends of the floor. Chicago were repeatedly giving up dribble penetration right into the heart of their defense; Tulsa’s rotations to cover after simple picks and passes were desperately slow or occasionally nonexistent. It provided a lot of points for the national audience on ESPN2, but some dismal viewing for the basketball purist.

It didn’t get a great deal better as the game wore on, although the teams tried to cover up their holes. After Roneeka Hodges had been smoking hot from outside to open up a lead for Tulsa, Allie Quigley starting draining threes for Chicago to turn it around. It helped that the Shock were barely bothering to even recognise she was on the floor, never mind defend her. Chicago led by 10 at halftime.

The Sky had Jessica Breland back in top form, being left in far too much space and adding some one-on-one moves to the free throw line jumper she’s been hitting all season. Pokey Chatman also got her team to start overwhelmingly collapsing into the lane to cover for the dribble-penetration. If you drop five defenders into the paint whenever anyone even looks like being beaten off the dribble, at least there’ll be a lot of traffic in the way when they try to get to the hoop.

With Skylar Diggins pushing the offense, and Glory Johnson picking up some scraps in her battle with Breland, Tulsa kept hanging around in range in the second half. They couldn’t quite get enough stops to complete the comeback, until the last few seconds of regulation. Jordan Hooper hit a three for Tulsa, Johnson finished off a nice feed from Diggins, and then Johnson drove from the elbow through contact for a three-point play with 19 seconds left. That tied up a game that Chicago had led for every second since early in the second quarter. It also picked up Breland’s fifth foul. Chicago had a chance to win it, but Epiphanny Prince’s pullup jumper off a high Markeisha Gatling pick was short, and Breland’s putback attempt hit the side of the backboard. Extra basketball.

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The Daily W, 06/20/2014

 

San Antonio Stars 87 @ Seattle Storm 82 (OT)

 

Lineups: As normal for San Antonio, but Tanisha Wright was out for Seattle with a right knee contusion. That was a significant loss for them, as she’s been playing well lately attacking the basket and providing their main penetrator from the perimeter. She’s also their first option as a defender on guards, and would’ve taken Danielle Robinson in this game. Noelle Quinn came into the starting lineup, while Sue Bird had the difficult task of covering Robinson for most of the night.

 

Story of the Game: The opening stages were pretty ugly offensively, with Seattle in particular unable to hit a shot. San Antonio led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, thanks to Jia Perkins bombing from outside and some unusually effective minutes from backup center Kayla Alexander. Seattle’s ball movement wasn’t that bad, but the Stars were doing a better job defensively of sticking close to shooters, making it much tougher for the Storm than they’d found it in their game against the Stars a week earlier. Seattle cut the gap down to eight at the interval largely thanks to a little transition offense – it’s harder to miss when you break away for a layup without defenders anywhere near you.

Seattle were much better offensively in the second half. San Antonio had been mixing up their defenses throughout the evening, using their ‘wheel’ zone (that’s my name for it – I have no idea what they call it) to complicate Seattle’s offense. That zone starts off as a 3-2, but rotates around with the ball to become a 2-3 when it needs to (hence ‘wheel’). The Storm started doing a better job of cutting into the seams to find space and scoring against it in the second half, with Camille Little leading the way. It was also an impressive offensive outing from Sue Bird, more aggressive in attacking off the dribble than we’ve seen for quite some time. She clearly recognised that without Wright they needed her to step up as a scorer, and produced. There were at least three Bird drives that went right to the rim, which has been more like a month of work than a single evening for Bird in recent times.

But San Antonio kept coming up with answers. Seattle would pull close, and then Robinson would knife to the rim on a drive, or Perkins would drill another shot from deep. Seattle even took the lead in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, only for San Antonio to produce a 10-0 run to take it right back.

So Seattle came again. Shekinna Stricklen produced a pair of huge threes to assist Bird and Little, while Alysha Clark had a backdoor cut for a layup and Bird added a big three of her own in the final minute. Nicole Powell went 1-of-2 at the free throw line to give the Storm a three-point lead with 18 seconds left in regulation. San Antonio set up a play that basically broke down. Becky Hammon tried to get open through a double-screen, but was caught in traffic. She penetrated and kicked to Robinson, who re-penetrated a swung a pass to the corner, where Hammon and Danielle Adams were almost standing on top of each other. Adams caught it, stepped back, and drained the three to tie the game. Exactly how they drew it up, honest. Out of timeouts, Seattle tried to push to answer, but Perkins poked the ball away from Bird and time expired. Overtime.

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The Daily W, 06/17/2014

 

Apologies for this post not arriving until now. The WNBA tends to take Mondays off, and occasionally I follow suit. Analysis of all Sunday’s action below, along with previews for tonight’s matchups.

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Phoenix Mercury 80 @ Minnesota Lynx 72

 

Lineups: The starters were as expected for Minnesota, but Phoenix promoted Penny Taylor for the first time this season, with Erin Phillips dropping to the bench. It was more to shift Sandy Brondello’s rotations than a benching of Phillips. The big perimeter of Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner and Taylor have too often been playing together when Brittney Griner rests this year, highlighting their defensive deficiencies. Starting all three put Griner behind them immediately, helping to cover for them. Minnesota had sixth woman Monica Wright in uniform and available to play for the first time this season after recovering from her knee surgery.

 

Story of the Game: After winning their last 14 encounters with the Mercury, it’s fair to say the Lynx were strong favourites for this game. But it was Phoenix who dominated the first half. They outplayed Minnesota in virtually every area. They moved the ball better, and hit the shots they created around the perimeter. They attacked quickly when they had the chance, with the Lynx transition defense leaving a lot to be desired. They played good enough defense, leaving Minnesota mostly settling for jump shots, which weren’t dropping with their usual rate for the star perimeter of Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore. And at the head of it all, Diana Taurasi was leading the way, hitting shots, drawing fouls, and flashing the ball around the floor for her teammates to score as well. The Mercury led by 19 at halftime.

It was an odd, unfortunate combination of issues for Minnesota. Sometimes they looked like they were playing in a rush, firing up shots quickly rather than working their offense and picking Phoenix apart as they’ve done in the past. Sometimes they looked lifeless, the ball failing to move around the floor enough to open up the defense. Griner hadn’t even managed to finish any of her efforts in the paint and was barely a factor offensively in the first half, limited by Janel McCarville’s physical defense. Griner finally got involved in the third quarter, especially once McCarville was on the bench and Devereaux Peters was trying to defend her. Peters looked thoroughly overmatched.

There was no real hint of a comeback until late in the fourth quarter, by which stage Cheryl Reeve had given up on all her big names. Rookie big Damiris Dantas was the only starter left on the floor, with Wright making her first appearance of the season with under six minutes left in the game. Phoenix looked nervous in the final stages, almost shocked that they were on the brink of finally beating Minnesota, and unsure of how to finish it off. But ultimately the gap was just too big, and six points was a close as the Lynx came.

 

Key Players: Taurasi was at her imperious best, while Candice Dupree continues to play with her trademark smoothness and happily knocks down the open shots teams keep offering her. That’s how it’s supposed to work for this team on offense – put so many dangerous weapons on the floor that the opponent has to pick their poison, and then you kill them with whatever’s left open. The big starting group clearly worked, and Brondello will probably stick with it for the forseeable future. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s as effective against teams that start quick, nippy little guards, rather than the big, physical perimeter players that the Lynx use.

It was a pretty miserable game all around for Minnesota. None of their star scorers ever really found a flow, and it took players like Tan White and Asia Taylor to really give them any impetus. It’ll be a matchup of two teams trying to regain their energy and end ugly runs when they face the Sparks tonight in LA.

 

Notes of Interest: Griner finished with a +/- of -7 for the game, showing that much of Phoenix’s lead was built when she was on the bench. That’s a big positive for a Mercury team whose defense has been falling to bits when Griner rests for much of the season. They were flowing so nicely by the time she sat that the offense kept going and Minnesota never took advantage.

Reeve picked up two technical fouls, but didn’t get ejected. How did that happen? Well the first was a ‘non-unsportsmanlike’ technical for leaving the coaching box, similar to a delay of game, defensive three-seconds or hanging on the rim technical for a player. The second was the more traditional mouthing-off tech. Those don’t add up to ejection, under the rules, so Reeve got to stay.

 

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New York Liberty 72 @ Connecticut Sun 76

 

Lineups: Plenette Pierson was out for New York, after the renewed knee injury she picked up against the same opponent on Friday night. Avery Warley-Talbert stepped into the hole. Connecticut were also missing their starting power forward, with Chiney Ogwumike attending her graduation ceremony at Stanford. Kelsey Griffin filled that spot, with Alyssa Thomas continuing to start as well due to Allison Hightower’s knee strain keeping her out again.

 

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The Daily W, 06/14/2014

 

Chicago Sky 68 @ Washington Mystics 79

 

Lineups: Chicago had the same major injury problems as Tuesday night, with Elena Delle Donne (illness related to Lyme disease) and Jessica Breland (shin) joining Sylvia Fowles (hip) as absentees. Gennifer Brandon started at power forward again, while Epiphanny Prince got her first start of the season after her strong finish to the Seattle game on Tuesday. Allie Quigley went back to the bench.

Washington promoted Monique Currie back into the starting lineup, moving Tierra Ruffin-Pratt back to the bench.

 

Story of the Game: It was a scrappy first half, with Washington eventually developing a small lead via a few transition baskets in the second quarter. Emma Meesseman’s interior passing was an early highlight, while Kara Lawson came in and got the ball where it needed to be later in the half. Her shooting touch is still proving pretty elusive, but she’s an experienced guard who can run the team as well.

Chicago had Prince breaking down the defense early on, but it failed to result in many points. Quigley hit several shots once she came off the pine, which kept the game close. Washington weren’t really moving the ball well enough as a team to exploit all the holes in Chicago’s defense that Seattle had illustrated in their previous game.

Mike Thibault keeps talking in interviews about how they need Meesseman to be a more forceful player offensively, to look to score and be a central figure for them when they have the ball. She’s young and doesn’t have the selfish personality to make her naturally want to do that, but maybe Thibault reinforced the message again at halftime. We saw more aggression from Meesseman in the second half, finally going right at defenders like Brandon who really can’t guard her. When Brandon sat, Tamera Young was the emergency power forward, which gave Chicago even less chance of surviving inside.

The Mystics finally started to take over the game early in the fourth quarter, perhaps awakened by the scare from Chicago taking a brief lead. Washington used Meesseman and Tianna Hawkins together in the post for that stretch, a pair we haven’t seen much this season (they usually sub in and out for each other). They were both too big and too quick for the Chicago options. On the perimeter Washington had rookie guard Bria Hartley providing a scoring balance, and also ran a couple of plays specifically designed to get shots for Lawson – and she actually knocked them down.

After growing tired of the ineffectiveness of both Courtney Vandersloot and backup Jamierra Faulkner, Chicago had Epiphanny Prince playing as a virtual point guard for much of the second half. Just setting a high pick for Prince and letting her try to make something happen was typically a better option than trying to run an offensive set. It worked for a while, but didn’t hold up in the fourth, and Washington held on for a relatively comfortable final few minutes.

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The Daily W, 06/12/2014

 

Seattle Storm 68 @ Indiana Fever 76

 

Lineups: The expected groups for both teams. Tamika Catchings continues to sit and watch in street clothes

 

Story of the Game: Indiana got off to the slightly better start with Seattle’s posts settling for – and missing – too many mid-range shots, rather than fighting to get to the rim. The pick-and-pop into space is a nice play, but an open 15-footer is usually still a lower percentage shot than an open-ish layup. Indiana attacked a little better, and led by as many as nine points in the first quarter.

The Fever had Erlana Larkins and Natasha Howard giving them drive in the paint, but when Seattle started hitting their shots in the second quarter they moved in front. First it was Sue Bird, actually nailing a few perimeter jumpers – a sadly rare sight since her return from injury for this season. Then it was Jenna O’Hea, who appears to have returned from her broken toe with a newly refreshed jump shot. She was 2-11 (18%) from three-point range before the injury, getting off to a rocky start with the Storm offensively. In the two games since returning she’s 4-8 from outside. As with many teams, Indiana’s posts tend to sag towards the paint on picks to protect against the drive and corral the ballhandler. So when you’re using a player like O’Hea as your power forward – meaning she’s usually being guarded by a post – she often finds a lot of room on the perimeter simply by setting a screen. Her second consecutive triple gave Seattle a nine-point lead, and they were still up by six at halftime.

After a first half where they’d relied on outside shots, Seattle did a better job of finding ways to the basket in the second half. Slip screens, backdoor cuts and drives combined to give the Storm more points in the paint in the third quarter alone than they’d managed in the opening 20 minutes. They had a noticeably different approach in this game from the experimentation against understrength Chicago the night before. More off-ball movement, screening and re-screening to try to confuse the defense, rather than constantly basing everything around on-ball screens. The Storm defense was far less switch-happy as well – it was Indiana who were the more willing team to switch and let their guards battle with Seattle’s posts in the paint when necessary.

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The Daily W, 06/11/2014

 

New York Liberty 57 @ Tulsa Shock 72

 

Lineups: As expected for both teams, with both trying to build on big wins – New York in a blowout over Washington on Sunday, Tulsa with their first victory of the season over Phoenix on Friday.

 

Story of the Game: After a desperately scrappy opening – often the case in these day games that take place before players’ body-clocks say they should be playing – it was Tulsa who eventually got themselves into gear and took control of the first half. It was mostly on jump shots from their perimeter players, but with enough drive-and-kick beforehand, or the occasional post-up or offensive rebound from Courtney Paris and Glory Johnson, to keep the defense honest.

New York weren’t hitting shots like they did in the first half against Washington, so nothing looked as smooth. Paris did a decent job contesting against Tina Charles in the paint early on, and then the turnover issues started kicking in. It’s been a recurring problem for New York over the last couple of years, but generally not too bad in the early games this season. They were just sloppy, in a game where they should’ve been taking advantage of one of the weaker defenses in the league. The answer they tried for their misfiring offense midway through the second quarter was to post-up Cappie Pondexter, and it actually worked a couple of times. But a gimmick like that isn’t going to salvage your whole performance, and the Liberty trailed by 13 at halftime.

New York dragged themselves back within four points in the third quarter, as Tulsa started firing up a lot of bricks from mid-range. With Tulsa largely leaving Paris to guard Charles on her own, rather than sending the endless double-teams that come from many opponents, Charles became more aggressive and started carrying the Liberty offense.

But in the fourth quarter, Tulsa took the game back. Skylar Diggins’s one-on-one attempts to prop up her team’s offense were more successful than Pondexter’s at the other end, with a series of drives and pullups from Diggins creating the points they needed. Pondexter couldn’t convert her attempts, going 0-7 in the period, and that was the game.

 

Key Players: Paris was solid for Tulsa, doing a decent job for much of the afternoon battling Charles without a great deal of help. Paris also came up with 16 rebounds, often out-fighting Charles for them and showing more desire to claim the ball. Beyond that Diggins was the key figure for the Shock, being a willing passer for most of the game but stepping up late as a scorer, and continuing to play with increasing confidence. Odyssey Sims gets the primary defensive assignments – in this case Pondexter – but Diggins has been the superior offensive force in most games this year.

Charles finished 11-19 for 25 points and 10 boards, but didn’t get a lot of help. Pondexter’s shot wasn’t falling, and the supporting players continue to disappear for the Liberty. Essence Carson has been MIA for a while now, Plenette Pierson was invisible, and rotation pieces like Anna Cruz and Alex Montgomery are sometimes a little too comfortable fading into the background. The roster was built around two stars with a supporting cast, but the players can buy into that format a bit too much at times. It’s hard to win games with only two real threats on the floor, especially when both rarely hit form on the same night.

 

Notes of Interest: Maybe that dominating first half against Washington really was just a fluke. Sometimes that first swallow flying by was just lost.

 

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Phoenix Mercury 81 @ Washington Mystics 66

 

Lineups: As normal for the Mercury, with Bria Hartley coming back into the starting lineup for Jelena Milovanovic for Washington.

 

Story of the Game: It felt like Phoenix were in control for most of the first half, but they never managed to convert it into a significant advantage on the scoreboard. They were moving the ball well, and finding open shooters off pick-and-roll actions, with Brittney Griner, Candice Dupree and even DeWanna Bonner all producing points. But it wasn’t efficient enough to pull away.

Washington got a nice run of points from Emma Meesseman in the opening period, but otherwise spent too much time firing mid-range jumpers and missing most of them. An 8-2 advantage on the offensive glass, and the resulting edge in second-chance points, helped them keep up with the Mercury. Tianna Hawkins, the young power forward acquired from Seattle in the Crystal Langhorne trade, played a central role in that and continues to produce well on a per-minute basis (but not play that many minutes). Even with the desire to feature Meesseman (who mostly plays the same position), if Hawkins keeps performing they’ll have to find more playing time for her.

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The Daily W, 06/07/2014

 

Before reading today’s column, there’s an extra WNBAlien article for you to enjoy over at Hoop365.com HERE. It covers the strong starts from Chicago and Minnesota, plus various items of interest from around the WNBA. Please check it out.

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Indiana Fever 64 @ Washington Mystics 61

 

Lineups: Tamika Catchings was still out for the Fever (and didn’t even travel with the team, so is also very unlikely to be playing tonight in Connecticut). Making things worse for the Fever, point guard Briann January – who’d been shooting the lights out lately – was also out after tweaking her ankle in practice. Layshia Clarendon started in her place, allowing Sydney Carter to continue her role coming off the bench. Washington opened with the same group that helped them beat Connecticut the night before, with rookie Bria Hartley in the lineup ahead of veteran Kara Lawson.

 

Story of the Game: Indiana were horrible for the opening 12 minutes of the game. Couldn’t hit a shot, no movement, no rhythm, no finishing – ugly. That was with both Clarendon and Carter trying their hand at running the team. After falling behind by as many as 16 points, the Fever finally got something going when Lin Dunn without a point guard, unless you count rookie gunner Maggie Lucas (which you really shouldn’t). Neither of the backup point guards had been doing anything at either end of the floor, so they simply let the likes of Shavonte Zellous and Marissa Coleman start with the ball in their hands and went from there.

With Zellous and Coleman leading the way, and finally hitting a couple of shots, the Fever came back into a game that Washington had been leading almost by default. The Mystics weren’t playing that well themselves, but had moved into the lead due to how poorly Indiana had played. Washington still led by nine at halftime.

Fever center Erlana Larkins had managed to pick up four fouls in the first half, the final one on a harsh call where she chased down a loose ball, slipped to the ground, and an opponent fell over her. Despite that foul trouble, she started the second half as normal, and proceeded to be the best player on the floor for the next 20 minutes – while playing all 20. She was a beast on the offensive glass, finished via post moves and putbacks, hustled after everything, kicked out for several open threes by teammates, and generally led the Indiana turnaround. With Washington continuing to be as mediocre as they’d been for most of the night, that swing changed the game.

Behind drives and bombs from Hartley and Ivory Latta, Washington managed to pull within a point late in the game. After a pair of Coleman free throws, the Mystics needed a three to tie in the final nine seconds. Natasha Howard extended her long limbs to block Hartley’s effort, and when the ball dropped to Stefanie Dolson she made the mistake of passing off to Kia Vaughn well inside the three-point arc. By the time Vaughn kicked it back out to Lawson, time had expired and the Fever had held on.

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The Daily W, 06/04/2014

 

Los Angeles Sparks 85 @ Atlanta Dream 93

 

Lineups: Atlanta had French point guard Celine Dumerc available for the first time, bus as she’d only arrived a couple of days earlier she came off the bench behind the same starting five we’d seen in recent Dream games. LA shook things up, starting Candace Parker as a small forward for the first time in years. Jantel Lavender came in to start at center, with wing Armintie Herrington dropping to the bench. The Sparks also had Kristi Toliver available after returning from her brief trip to Slovakia. She’ll be heading back there again in less than a week.

 

Story of the Game: The opening stages were dominated by LA, something we’ve already seen more than once in Sparks games this season. They come out with high intensity, force mistakes and turnovers from their opponents, and then score before they have to set up or run anything complicated in the halfcourt. But it’s just not possible to keep that pace up for 40 minutes, so the game slows down and they become far less effective.

Atlanta briefly tried to cover Parker with Tiffany Hayes, a matchup which illustrates how far the Dream will often go to keep Angel McCoughtry away from tougher defensive matchups. But Hayes picked up two fouls in the first 38 seconds (one trying to cover Parker, the other in transition) and then a third a minute later (after Michael Cooper decided not to take her out). At that point, McCoughtry was virtually forced to pick up Parker.

LA led by as many as nine points in the first quarter, constantly looking for quick offense even when they weren’t technically in transition. While most teams and coaches will tell you that attacking early before a defense can settle is usually a good idea, there was a hint of desperation about it for the Sparks. It felt like they were in this constant press for quick offense because they knew how much they’d struggle if they slowed down.

The Dream were already sliding back into the game as the opening period progressed, and took over the lead in the second quarter. LA’s defense was scrambled early, so willing to switch or pick up whoever’s in the vicinity that at times it looks almost like a zone. Switching is fine, as long as the communication’s good and everyone rotates and recovers where necessary. But Atlanta were moving the ball and finding huge gaps in LA’s defense when the Sparks got confused or failed to help after teammates got beaten. You would think with an extra post player coming into the lineup that the middle of the defense should be more secure – bigger, longer defenders, more rim protection, more crowded in the lane – but LA were giving up a ridiculous number of points in the paint. The vast majority of Atlanta’s points were coming on layups and finishes around the basket, rather than from outside.

Dumerc came in for Hayes after her early foul trouble, but it was the other ‘backup’ point guard that helped ignite the Dream. Shoni Schimmel came in and started linking up with Erika de Souza, or creating points for herself off the dribble. Schimmel’s vision and ability to make accurate passes to players in motion or posting up is excellent, and her energy and flair is always going to excite a crowd. There’ll be an occasional head-shaking turnover, and the defense is still a work in progress, but in the early stages of her pro career the good is already significantly outweighing the bad.

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The Daily W, 06/02/2014

 

Atlanta Dream 76 @ Connecticut Sun 85

 

Lineups: Connecticut’s Kelsey Griffin was out with what was worryingly reported as a gall bladder problem. That made the decision for Anne Donovan in the post, although she later said that Kelsey Bone would’ve started at center alongside Chiney Ogwumike anyway. Kelley Cain was also available again off the bench after her foot injury. Atlanta went with the same five as in their previous game, and the absence of Inga Orekhova on the bench proved to be a telling sign of who was being cut to make room for Celine Dumerc’s imminent arrival.

 

Story of the Game: The two young Sun posts bookended the first half for Connecticut, Bone getting them off to a strong start, and Ogwumike dominating the closing stages. The Sun led for most of the opening 20 minutes, with Atlanta’s only consistent success coming via the offensive boards. Both teams displayed some terrible transition defense at times, but Connecticut were more consistent in attacking with pace and taking advantage of Atlanta’s lapses. Renee Montgomery got another chance to make an impression after her strong finish to their previous game, and gave the Sun the burst of speed and scoring that’s always been the central positive to her game. It’s still not entirely clear why Donovan has left her stuck to the bench through most of their early games.

Both teams were sloppy in the second quarter, as turnovers started to dominate the action. Angel McCoughtry was having a tough time getting anything going, with both Katie Douglas and Alyssa Thomas doing a decent job on her defensively. But Angel tends to be her own worst enemy at times, and she started to force things and make it worse. She was 0-9 at the interval, and Connecticut led by double-digits.

It didn’t get much better for the Dream in the second half. They cut the gap to six early on, but the Sun quickly pushed it back out, and were fairly comfortable for the rest of the afternoon. After some poor displays so far this season, it was a nice respite for Connecticut, and they’ll be hoping it’s a sign of things to come.

Atlanta were frustrated, and started losing their heads. McCoughtry screamed about a defensive lapse – that was her own fault – and was benched. Michael Cooper picked up a technical of his own. And then Matee Ajavon added her second tech of the game to get herself ejected – she’d been a disaster on the floor anyway, so it was no great loss. To add injury to a fairly insulting performance, Tiffany Hayes picked up a painful knock while running into a screen with only three seconds left in the game.

 

Key Players: It’s hard to pick out anyone worth mentioning for Atlanta. Hayes and Erika de Souza were the most effective scorers, and Shoni Schimmel had a few decent moments when Cooper used her – which wasn’t all that much – but no one had the best of days. For all of Cooper’s talk about wanting to play even faster than the Dream have in the past, Atlanta haven’t been earning as many points off turnovers as in previous seasons. The loss of Armintie Herrington hasn’t helped in that area. Without those steals and breaks to ignite their play and provide cheap points, they lack the electricity that this team possesses at its best. In fact, they’re giving up more points off their own miscues than they’re creating via takeaways. But Cooper’s still settling in, Dumerc’s arrival will help, and they’re in the East – they’ve got plenty of time to improve.

Ogwumike and Bone, the post pairing many of us have been begging for since opening day, was the bedrock for this performance and should be for the Sun going forward. Kelsey Griffin is a nice player, but she’s a good energy backup. Bone’s a 23-year old true center, and the partnership she might develop with Ogwumike could be their core for a decade.

The Sun also look better with Alex Bentley or Montgomery as the ‘point guard’, allowing Allison Hightower to help out with initiating the offense but putting another creator next to her. It may mean they need to be a bit more creative to find minutes for Alyssa Thomas, but it’s far from impossible.

 

Notes of Interest: This was the promising, potential-laden Connecticut Sun that many of us wrote about in the preseason. If they can play like this more often, Anne Donovan might save her job yet.

 

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Los Angeles Sparks 84 @ Washington Mystics 92 (3OT)

 

Lineups: With Kristi Toliver in Slovakia representing her recently-adopted nation, Armintie Herrington and Alana Beard started on the wings for Los Angeles. Candice Wiggins was still out with her swollen knee – more on that in the ‘League News’ section at the end of this article – so the Sparks were looking thin on the perimeter. Especially as Carol Ross doesn’t really trust young Swedish backup Farhiya Abdi. Mike Thibault tinkered with his starters again, bringing Kara Lawson back in while Jelena Milovanovic went back to the bench. That slid Tierra Ruffin-Pratt to small forward, while Lawson joined Ivory Latta in the backcourt.

 

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