The WNBA Rewind: Week ending July 15

A recap of select WNBA games and player milestones for the week ending July 15, 2018.

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Disclaimer: All statistics are taken from the WNBA site. Opinions and rankings are solely those of this author. Don’t @ me.

As the 2018 WNBA All-Star game looms (July 28), the playoff race is getting thick real quick and teams that were once thought of as invincible are...not. Let’s discuss.

The Bounce

If I hear one more color commentator say that referees don’t know how to officiate a player the size of Liz Cambage (DAL)... *rolls eyes* That sentiment is just bollocks; Brittney Griner is an inch taller than Cambage and they weigh roughly the same (Griner is listed at 6’9 and 205 lbs; Cambage is listed at 6’8” and 215 lbs.). The league referees have had six seasons (since Griner was drafted as the #1 overall pick in 2013) to figure it out, so there is no excuse why they can’t call fouls properly on Cambage.  I understand why she gets frustrated and gets into foul trouble (more on that later).

Playoff Watch

As of the evening of Sunday, July 15 (and the publication of this article), there is a tie for both fifth and sixth place in the WNBA standings. Keep in mind that in the WNBA, the top eight teams make the playoffs, regardless of conference. The top two teams get an automatic double bye, which means they don’t have to play until the semifinals -- and they can avoid the knockout, one-and-done games in the first and second rounds. Due to the condensed 2018 regular season (thanks to the upcoming 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball Cup in September, featuring Team USA), some teams will play most of the remaining scheduled games on the road (like the Seattle Storm and Los Angeles Sparks); this means that the standings can have a dramatic change week to week. Stay tuned

Hot Wings

The Dallas Wings hosted the Phoenix Mercury, who were without Sancho Lyttle for the season. Dallas came out strong on defense; Kayla Thornton (8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, one 3-pointer) did a good job of limiting Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi's (5 points, one 3-pointer) shots. The Wings’ Allisha Gray (9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, one 3-pointer) was mismatched on DeWanna Bonner (20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, two 3-pointers), bless her heart; she needed help to contain Bonner and, unfortunately, didn’t always get it in time. Still, the Wings went on an 11-3 run to be up 16-9 halfway through the 1st quarter. Dallas kept their collective foot on the gas to go up 59-39 at halftime, and they never looked back. Taurasi went out in the 3rd quarter due to illness and didn't return to the game. Dallas took full advantage of her absence and blew out the Mercury, 101-72. Skylar Diggins-Smith (20 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals two 3-pointers), Aerial Powers (18 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal), rookie Azurá Stevens (15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks), and Liz Cambage (13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, one 3-pointer) were in double digits for Dallas. Brittney Griner (21 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks) and Yvonne Turner (10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist) were also in double digits for Phoenix.

Cloudy Skies

The Chicago Sky hosted the Las Vegas Aces with only 10 players (Jamierra Faulkner is out for the season and Astou NDour is day-to-day with an ankle injury); The Aces, in contrast, were all healthy. Las Vegas started strong but turnovers midway through the 1st quarter gave Chicago the early lead. Rookie Linnae Harper (1 rebound, 3 assists) was quite disruptive for the Sky, even though her impact was not reflected in the stat sheet. The Aces’ Kayla McBride (18 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, three 3-pointers) was quiet in the 1st quarter. Rookie Ji-Su Park (7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block) broke up a 13-4 run by Chicago late in the 1st quarter with free throws. The Sky was up 21-17 to end the 1st quarter. Las Vegas came out with more energy to start the 2nd quarter; Kelsey Plum (14 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, two 3-pointers) tied the game early in the quarter. The Sky’s Allie Quigley (12 points, 1 rebound, 6 assists) was called for a Flagrant 1 foul for an inadvertent face hit to McBride early in the 2nd quarter. Las Vegas took the lead 49-36 at halftime. Rookie Alaina Coates of the sky had 4 fouls in the 1st half and Cheyenne Parker (10 points, 8 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block) picked up two quick fouls early in the 3rd quarter. McBride heated up in the second half of the game and made two 3-pointers early in the 3rd quarter. The Aces were 76-50 to begin the 4th quarter and won 98-74.

Nightmare on F Street

This was the first game for the Atlanta Dream with Alex Bentley (2 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist) in the lineup (she was traded to Atlanta by the Connecticut Sun on Monday, July 9, in exchange for Layshia Clarendon and a second-round draft pick) as they visited the Capitol City.  The Washington Mystics started hot; they went on a 12-4 run early in the 1st quarter. Rookie Ariel Atkins (7 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal, one 3-pointer) was back in the starting lineup and her 3-pointer put the Mystics on the board. Elena Delle Donne (16 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, one 3-pointe ) added a 3 pointer. Jessica Breland (23 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 blocks) got hot early for Atlanta and had a huge game. Washington’s Kristi Toliver (9 points,1 rebound, 5 assists, 1 steal, one 3-pointer) was called for a technical foul late in the 1st quarter. A Bentley buzzer-beater put the Dream up 29-27 at the end of the 1st.  Atlanta came back to take a 13-point lead before clutch 3-pointers by Washington’s Natasha Cloud (17 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal) cut the lead to 8 in the 2nd quarter. The Dream shot 9/12 from the free throw line in the 1st half and was up 59-50 at halftime. A technical foul was called on Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry (24 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, one 3-pointer) due to an inadvertent elbow to Washington’s LaToya Sanders’ (6 points, 5 rebounds) face after McCoughtry made a layup. Sanders was out for the rest of the game with a facial injury. With this game, Toliver had over 1,000 career assists. Atlanta was shooting 68% from field goal range in the 3rd quarter to take an 84-70 lead to start the 4th quarter. The Dream hit the century mark with 3:20 left in the game on  61% field goal shooting and 63% from 3-point range (11/18). They went on to win 106-89. Tayler Hill (10 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 1 steal, two 3-pointers) was also in double digits for Washington. Tiffany Hayes (21 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, four 3-pointers) and Renee Montgomery (21 points, 1 rebound, 5 assists, 4 steals, five 3-pointers) were the other two members of the Dream in double digits.

The Big Payback

In a welcome turn of events, while hosting the New York Liberty, Alyssa Thomas (12 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal) returned to the Connecticut Sun’s starting lineup after missing 10 games due to a shoulder injury. Courtney Williams (16 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, two 3-pointers) was also back in the lineup, though Rachel Banham (6 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, two 3-pointers) continued to start. Layshia Clarendon (7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist), recently acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Dream, worked her way into the Connecticut system by coming off the bench. New York’s Epiphanny Prince (16 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, three 3-pointers) got into early foul trouble in the 1st quarter. Connecticut was up 23-21 at the end of the 1st quarter and went on a 6-0 run to start the 2nd. Strong bench performances by Williams and Clarendon had Connecticut leading 42-38 at halftime. The Liberty went on a run early in the 3rd to pull within 2 points. Tina Charles (19 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block) tied the game for New York 45-45 late in the 3rd quarter and took a 2-point lead seconds later. Williams tied the game again at 47-47. A Brittany Boyd (5 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, one 3-pointer )3-pointer gave New York a 3-point lead. A foul before the buzzer on New York allowed the Sun to tie the game 52-52 to start the 4th quarter. It was a back-and-forth game with 10 ties and 12 lead changes midway through the 4th. Prince tied the game 76-76 with a 3-pointer with 24 sec left in the game. Shavounte Zellous (14 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal) banked in a buzzer-beater 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left to give the Liberty a much-needed win, 79-76. Zellous’s dagger was reminiscent of Shekinna Stricklen’s 3-point shot and league record-setting 4-point play against the Liberty, in New York, on June 7, to win the game.

Express Yourself

The Dallas Wings visited the Los Angeles Sparks and started out strong. Liz Cambage (12 points, 6 rebounds 1 block) picked up 2 fouls in the 1st quarter. The Sparks were sloppy on defense;  Los Angeles’ Riquna Williams (16 points, 1 assist, 1 steal, four 3-pointers) ) and Dallas’ Cayla George (12 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist)  both came off the bench very early in the game to provide crucial contributions for their respective teams. The Wings were up 21-19 at the end of the 1st quarter. Three of Williams’ 3-pointers came in the 1st half for the Sparks. Los Angeles’ Alana Beard left the game scoreless with a strained groin halfway through the 1st quarter and did not return. Los Angeles got to the foul line frequently in the 2nd quarter; free throws by Odyssey Sims (7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) tied the game late in 2nd quarter. Cambage was ejected with 2:09 left in the 2nd quarter due to a double technical foul for complaining loudly and at length about a missed call, which allowed the Sparks to take a 50-48 lead at halftime. Cambage’s ejection also left the Wings in foul trouble: Skylar Diggins-Smith (22 points, 3 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 steals, four 3-pointers) and Kaela Davis (6 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists) had 2 each; Kayla Thornton (6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal) had 3. Still, the Wings kept pushing and scored 13-2 second-chance points halfway through the 3rd quarter to take a 69-65 lead into the 4th quarter, which they started with an 8-0 run by Wings and the fifth basket from George. Turnovers really hurt Los Angeles in the second half and specifically the 4th quarter; the Wings won 92-77 for their fifth straight win in a true team effort, and handed the Sparks their third straight home loss, Rookie Azurá Stevens (16 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 2 blocks) really stepped up in Cambage’s absence. Candace Parker (21 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block) and Nneka Ogwumike (12 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block) were also in double digits for Los Angeles.

Movin’ On Up

The Connecticut Sun hosted the Phoenix Mercury on the third game of their four-game road trip.  Chiney Ogwumike (22 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists) picked up her first foul in first 15 seconds of the game. Shekinna Stricklen (8 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, two 3-pointers) picked up her first fou; 30 seconds later. Despite those early fouls, the Sun shot 63% from field goal range in the 1st quarter and managed to contain Phoenix’s Brittney Griner (19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks) while going on a 7-0 run late in the 1st to take a 27-20 lead heading into the  2nd quarter. Phoenix returned the favor with a 6-0 run halfway through the 2nd quarter to cut a 12-point Connecticut lead to 6 points before leading 45-43 at halftime. The Sun’s Courtney Williams (25 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) made a 3-pointer to begin the 3rd quarter, then is fouled and made both her free throws. She scored a total of 7 points to open the 3rd quarter. Jasmine Thomas 14 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, season-high 4 steals, 1 block) made a steal and passed it to Williams, who made yet another shot. Connecticut outscored Phoenix 30-16 in the 3rd quarter and was up 73-61 to start the 4th.  Phoenix closes the gap to 82-78 with 4:36 left in the game; Ogwumike fouled out of the game with 3:28 left. Diana Taurasi’s (28 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, five 3-pointers) fifth 3-pointer of the game cut the Sun’s lead to 2 points with 3:05 minutes left. The game was tied at 85-85 with 2:35 left but the Sun pulled out a home win 91-87.

Shut ‘Em Down

The Las Vegas Aces and, specifically, rookie A’Ja Wilson (11 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists,1 steal, 4 blocks)) dodged a bullet when they visited the Minnesota Lynx; Rebekkah Brunson did not play due to a thigh injury. Temi Fagbenle (10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists) started in her place. Las Vegas’ Kelsey Bone (1 rebound, 1 assist) picked up two quick fouls early in the 1st quarter. A buzzer-beater by the Lynx’s  Cecelia Zandalasini (8 points, 2 rebounds) put the Lynx up 26-25 at the end of the 1st quarter despite the Aces shooting 56% from field goal range. A Tamera Young (13 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal) basket and foul kicked off the 2nd quarter for the Aces. Minnesota went on a 9-0 run early in the 2nd quarter behind an excellent game by Lindsay Whalen (22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, three 3-pointers) to give Minnesota a 2-point lead. Las Vegas shot 52% and took a 49-46 lead at halftime. Kelsey Plum (11 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists, three 3-pointers) rolled her ankle early in the 3rd quarter but stayed in the game. A technical foul was called on the Lynx’s Seimone Augustus (14 points, 3 assists), who also drew a foul and went to the free throw line.  Las Vegas outrebounded Minnesota 30-25 in the third quarter to start the 4th quarter with a 68-62 lead.  Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles (7 points, 17 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal) rolled her ankle during the first 20 seconds of the 4th quarter. Young was huge in the 4th quarter for Las Vegas and the Aces held the Lynx to 42% shooting (and contained Fowles) to win 85-77. Kayla McBride led Las Vegas with 24 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 block, and one 3-pointer. Carolyn Swords chipped in 11 points, 11 rebounds, and 1 assist.

Back and Forth

The Dallas Wings visited the Seattle Storm in what was a  back-and-forth game for most of the night. There were 14 lead changes and two ties in the 1st quarter alone, and 18 lead changes in 1st half; the largest lead for either team was 4 points. Dallas was up 27-25 at the end of the 1st quarter. Kayla Thornton ( 18 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, three 3-pointers) picked up her 3rd foul late in the 2nd quarter for the Wings. Seattle came back to take a 46-44 lead at halftime.  Seattle’s Sue Bird (5 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists) was out with an illness to start the 3rd quarter but came back later in the game. The Storm went on a 13-0 run to begin the 3rd quarter and opened up a 13-point lead. The Wings’ Kaela Davis (3 rebounds, 4 assists) picked up her fourth foul halfway through the 3rd. Dallas’ Allisha Gray (8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, one 3-pointer) tied the game with 26 seconds left in the 3rd but Seattle’s rookie Jordin Canada (8points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) regained the Seattle lead to go up 64-62 to start the 4th quarter. A technical foul was called on Bird early in the 4th quarter to give Dallas the lead. There was more back-and-forth lead change until Dallas’ Liz Cambage (23 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal) was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul  for an inadvertent elbow to Natasha Howard's (17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block) face with 3:29 left in the game, followed later by a technical foul with 1:21 minutes left. A clutch 3-pointer by Bird and missed layups and a lack of offensive rebounds by Dallas gave Seattle the win, 91-84. Bird tied retired San Antonio Stars legend Becky Hammon for all-time three-pointers made (829). Breanna Stewart led the Storm with 35 points, 10 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, and three 3-pointers. Jewell Loyd added 13 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and one 3-pointer. Skylar Diggins-Smith had 21 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, and two 3-pointers for Dallas.

Sidebar: I don’t cover the Dallas Wings on a regular basis (for a deeper dive into the team, follow @whoopsblogger on Twitter) but I have to comment on Cambage and her recent foul issues. She reminds me of a younger Brittney Griner before Griner learned to control her emotions and channel her emotional play as a professional athlete. Cambage is an undisputedly talented player and is a key part of Dallas’ success this season;  but at what point does her emotions become a liability, despite her prodigious skill? And will she get it together in time for the playoffs, especially when the first two rounds are knockout, one-and-done games?

Oops, I Did It Again

The Washington Mystics visited the Atlanta Dream with the bad memory of the 106-89 beatdown Atlanta put on them four days prior. opened up 9-0 run to open up the 1st quarter. Elena Delle Donne (23 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, three 3-pointers) reached 3,000 career points in 148 games, the fastest to reach that milestone. Another milestone occurred in this game, as Washington’s Monique Currie (12 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist) played in her 400th career game. The Dream clawed back, but the Mystics led 26-15 to end the 1st quarter. Atlanta took the lead with 1:32 left in the 2nd quarter and was up 37-36 at halftime. The Dream came out strong to begin the 3rd quarter but allowed the Mystics to tie the game, 53-53, with 2:21 in the 3rd quarter. Atlanta was up 59-58 to start the 4th quarter, thanks to a second-chance three-pointer by Brittney Sykes (17 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block, three 3-pointers), who then went unconscious for the rest of the quarter with 13 straight points within a two-minute span (including another 3-pointer). Atlanta’s Tiffany Hayes (13 points, 3 assists, 1 steal) tweaked her left ankle (which was not the ankle that she hurt earlier this season) but returned to the game later in the quarter. A technical foul was called on the Dream’s Alex Bentley (2 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists) early in the 4th quarter. Atlanta managed to keep Washington’s Kristi Toliver (12 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, two 3-pointers) relatively quiet the entire game. Mystics rookie Ariel Atkins (7points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist) fouled out with 3:24 left in the game. Washington closed the scoring gap to within three points with 1:32 left in the game; Delle Donne free throws made it a 1-point game in favor of Atlanta. Currie fouled out of the game with 5.8 seconds left; Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry (11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists) drew the foul and made both free throws to make it a 3-point game, 78-75 for Atlanta. A foul on the Mystics’  LaToya Sanders (16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block) put McCoughtry back on the free throw line and it was again a 1-point game, 78-77 with 4.3 seconds left. Hayes got fouled with 3.0 seconds left in the game and made both crucial free throws to give Atlanta another win, 80-77. Jessica Breland (11 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 blocks) and rookie Monique Billings (10 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist) were also in double digits for Atlanta.

Burning Down the House

There was no Alana Beard (the reigning Defensive Player of the Year) for the visiting Los Angeles Sparks due to a groin injury; Essence Carson (11 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals, three 3-pointers) started instead. The Aces came out aggressive but so did the Sparks, who were not looking to be embarrassed in Sin City again. Los Angeles was up 27-24 at the end of the 1st quarter. There were 13 lead changes in the first half. Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer was assessed a technical foul with 2:50 left in the 2nd quarter over a call. The Sparks led by one point, 48-47, at halftime. Los Angeles’ Odyssey Sims (9 points,3 rebounds, 3 assists ) went out with a shoulder injury early in the 3rd quarter but returned to the game later in the quarter. Las Vegas’ Kelsey Plum (5 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal) was assessed a technical foul for an inadvertent face hit to the Sparks’ Chelsea Gray (22 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists,1 steal, two 3-pointers), and Gray was assessed a common foul. Gray shot one (for the technical foul), Plum shot two. The Aces went on a 9-2 run late in the 3rd quarter to regain the lead, 63-62, behind a floater from Dearica Hamby (10 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal). The Sparks regained a slim 1-point lead, 64-63, to begin the 4th quarter. Los Angeles opened up an 11-point lead behind a 14-2 run halfway through the last quarter of the game and took a much-needed win, 99-78. Candace Parker had a season-high 34 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 blocks, and five 3-pointers. Nneka Ogwumike chipped in 12 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Kayla McBride (18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, two 3-pointers) and rookie A’Ja Wilson (15 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks) were also in double digits for Las Vegas.

In Other News

  • The Los Angeles Sparks visited the Seattle Storm and squeaked out a 77-75 win in a tight game with a nail-biting 4th quarter.
  • Sylvia Fowles (MIN) had a career-high seven assists in the Lynx’s 87-65 win over the Indiana Fever.
  • Brittney Griner (PHX) tied with Candice Dupree (IND) for the Mercury’s all-time career double-doubles (32) in Phoenix’s 101-82 win over the Indiana Fever.

Rookie Watch

Rook of the Week

Azurá Stevens (DAL). Stevens has been very impressive this week, stepping up in a big way for Dallas due to Liz Cambage’s foul trouble. While she had been contributing in smaller doses over the previous month, she seemed to take a significant leap forward this week in her professional career. Hopefully, she can carry this development into the playoffs so that Dallas can make a deep run this year.

Rook of the Weak

A’Ja Wilson (LV). Wilson, the front-runner for Rookie of the Year,  has been putting up spectacular numbers and work to keep the upstart Aces on an upswing. She is the Rook of the Weak for one reason only: early in the fourth quarter against the visiting Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday evening, there was a crucial turnover by the Aces. Wilson walked -- yes, you read that correctly -- to the other end of the court with her head down and shoulders slumped. Granted, she was exhausted (it was clear on her face), but her body language said that she’d given up on herself and on her team and wasn’t willing to fight -- so much that she sat on the bench for the last few minutes of the game while the Sparks had their way with the Aces en route to a win. Giving up is never acceptable, especially for a team that takes their lead from Wilson.

Rookie of the Year

Diamond DeShields (CHI)

A’Ja Wilson (LV)

Gabby Williams (CHI)

Kelsey Mitchell (IND)

Victoria Vivians (IND)

Defensive Player of the Year

Brittney Griner (PHX)

Natasha Howard (SEA)

Sylvia Fowles (MIN)

Tina Charles (NY)

Liz Cambage (DAL)

6th Woman of the Year

Brittney Sykes (ATL)

Courtney Paris (SEA)

Danielle Robinson (MIN)

Aerial Powers (DAL)

**Kayla Thornton (DAL) was removed from 6WOY ranking because she has moved into the starting lineup for the past few games.

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