The WNBA Rewind: Week ending June 10

Select WNBA game highlights for the week ending June 10, 2018.

OooohWEE. This week in the WNBA required a cardiologist on standby. Let’s discuss. 

DISCLAIMER: All stats are from the WNBA’s official site. Rankings are solely the opinion of this writer. Don’t @ me.

The Os Have It

The Phoenix Mercury visited the New York Liberty on June 5. Phoenix didn’t play as well as they should have until the third quarter of the game, despite the tight contest (there were 13 total lead changes). The Liberty had a lot of offensive rebounds (19, to Phoenix’s 3) and second-chance points. Three more her-storical moments: New York’s Tina Charles (team-high 25 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) moved to 19th on the WNBA’s all-time scoring list; Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi (21 points, 3 rebounds, 8 assists) scored her 8,000th career point--the most in WNBA history;

And Mercury pillar (in more ways than one) Brittney Griner (team-high 26 points, 6 rebounds) rose to 7th in the league’s all-time blocks (she recorded three in the game, which netted the Phoenix Children’s Hospital $150, thanks to ABUS and its “Brittney Blocks” initiative). Phoenix held on and won, 80-74. DeWanna Bonner had 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists for Phoenix. Bria Hartley added 8 points and 5 rebounds for New York. 

Daywalkers

The Atlanta Dream, while hosting the Connecticut Sun on June 5, proved that they are for real. Their stringent defense kept them in the game despite turnovers (13), free throw problems (17 total), and early foul trouble for Atlanta’s franchise player Angel McCoughtry (11 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists). The Dream got help from the wonderful game by Tiffany Hayes (22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) and Damiris Dantas was key off the bench with 15 points and 5 rebounds.

Atlanta shot 6/12 from 3-pt range, held Connecticut to 37% shooting, and got the Sun’s starters Alyssa Thomas (19 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 fouls) and Jasmine Thomas (5 points, 5 assists, 6 fouls) in foul trouble; J. Thomas fouled out with 22 sec left in the game. The Dream handed the Sun their first loss of the season, 82-77, and climbed back to .500 (3-3), Connecticut dropped to 5-1.

Shot to the Heart

Connecticut traveled to New York two days later, on June 7 and put on a rather exciting contest. The Liberty got Connecticut starter Alyssa Thomas in early foul trouble, and she ended up playing with 4 fouls in the 4th quarter.  New York rookie Kia Nurse was excellent from 3-point range(made 3 of 5) and added 11 points. Tina Charles was dominant and led the team with 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists. The underrated Amanda Zahui B was very effective; a lot of what she does doesn’t show up on stat sheets but she can change the trajectory of a game.  Yet the Sun’s Shekinna Stricklen, Courtney Williams, and Chiney Ogwumike kept the game competitive. The game tied with 7:52 in the 4th quarter. Connecticut’s Jasmine Thomas tried to draw a charge, got injured & had to be carried off the floor on the back of Alyssa Thomas; she came back to tie the game again. With New York up by 2 points and with 13 seconds on the clock, Stricklen worked her way to beyond the arc and hurt the Liberty’s feelings with a 3-point dagger with 0.2 sec on the clock--AND got fouled.

That was the first time that happened in WNBA history. She made her free throws to give Connecticut a shocking win, 88-86.

Litter Change

The embattled Minnesota Lynx visited the Washington Mystics on June 7, hoping to get revenge on their earlier loss.  The Mystics, which saw the return of franchise player Elena Delle Donne (8 points, 2 rebounds), started off hot but the Lynx got into a rhythm, and both Maya Moore (19 points, 5 rebounds) and Seimone Augustus (16 points, 4 rebounds) got hot. The Washington rookies Ariel Atkins (10 points, 2 rebounds) and Myisha Hines-Allen (2 points) weren’t as effective in this game (though Atkins got to start);  Atkins was 0-3 from the 3-point arc and had 4 fouls. Speaking of 3-pointers: clutch threes from Augustus and five-time WNBA champion Rebekkah Brunson (3 points, 7 rebounds), plus superior defense, helped the Lynx win, 88-80.  Natasha Cloud scored a team-high 17 points for the Mystics and added 5 rebounds and 9 assists. Kristi Toliver chipped in 15 points and 3 assists. Minnesota had 34 (!) team rebounds and got 20 second-chance points.

Washington only went to the free-throw line 10 times, versus 19 for the Lynx. Sylvia Fowles had a team-high  21 points and 20 rebounds for the Lynx. Real talk: Fowles must have had someone's hand on her from the Other Side, because she somehow avoided a technical foul after blatantly throwing the ball in the air when called for a common foul in the 3rd quarter (She’s getting away with a lot this season, so far. Being the reigning league MVP has its privileges.).

Fizzled

The Seattle Storm visited the Los Angeles Sparks on 6/7, and this contest did not go as expected. Former league MVP Nneka Ogwumike got into in early foul trouble for the Sparks (two in the 1st quarter, three by halftime), but still managed a team-high 19 points and 6 rebounds.  The team ended with 17 turnovers. In an uncharacteristic showing, the Sparks had no march for the superior defense of the Storm; Seattle’s Natasha Howard had 9 rebounds and 3 blocks, shot 50%, and dropped 16 points. The entire team had 36 rebounds to Los Angeles’ 26 and made 19 of 22 free throws (LA was 11/12 from the charity stripe). Candace Parker was quiet for the Sparks and only had 6 points and 3 rebounds. The result was a Storm blowout, 88-63.

Taking the House

The Atlanta Dream played their first game in Las Vegas on June 8.  The Las Vegas Aces were without starter Nia Coffey, who was injured in the previous game against the Chicago Sky. The Aces were careless with the ball (12 turnovers total) and while their defense was adequate, they were no match for the physicality of the Dream. Also, there is still a question of intensity: Las Vegas had a couple of runs in the second quarter but didn't really turn it up until the final 10 seconds of the game, when they were down 10 points. They managed to close the lead to 4 but Atlanta still won 87-83. Aces rookie A’Ja Wilson scored a team-high 20 points and 9 rebounds, with Kayla McBride chipping in 13 points. Dearica Hamby came off the bench to add 11 points; veteran Tamera Young and rookie Jaime Nared added 10 points each. Tiffany Hayes scored a team-high 24 points for Atlanta, and All-Star Angel McCoughtry flirted with a triple-double (23 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists). Renee Montgomery added 11 points. This was the Dream’s third win in their past four games.

Ball Till You Fall

Despite the outcome, there was plenst (yeah, I said it) to like about the Dallas Wings visiting the eventual upstart Indiana Fever.  Glory Johnson returned to the Wings after sitting out the past two weeks with an injury, which gave the defense an automatic boost. Indiana got a small lead in the 1st quarter on a Dallas team plagued by turnovers (6 in 1st quarter;  the Wings average 16 turnovers per game, the league’s highest), but that was negated by the Fever picking up fouls. Still, they were up by 4 pts on 50% shooting by halftime, after leading by as many as 13 pts. Skylar Diggins-Smith ended the game with a career-high 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists in an 87-83 Dallas win.

The (un)holy rookie trinity of Kelsey Mitchell (26 points)/Stephanie Mavunga (10 points)/Victoria Vivians (7 points) spearheaded the Indy juggernaut. This was Mitchell’s 99th game making at least three 3-pointers, dating back to high school (she made four of them, and currently leads the league in 3-pointers made this season). Dallas tied the game in the 4th quarter and after an ill-advised foul by Mitchell,  Center Liz Cambage dropped 23 points and 7 rebounds for the Wings and Allisha Gray added 15 points. Tiffany Mitchell added 12 points for Indiana;  Natalie Achonwa had 11, and Stephanie Mavunga had 10 points. Erica McCall had a career-high 10 rebounds for the Fever.

Cloudy Skies

The Chicago Sky visited the Phoenix Mercury on June 8. The Mercury built a comfortable lead of 17 points, but quality performances from Chicago rookie Gabby Williams (team-high 26 points, 10/13  free throws, 3 steals) and veterans Cheyenne Parker (11 points, 4 rebounds) and Courtney Vandersloot (10 pts) cut the lead to 9 in the 4th quarter. The Sky got into foul trouble: rookie Diamond DeShields sat with fouls for last two quarters and Parker played with 5 fouls in the 4th quarter. Asta Ndou, who started this game in place of the injured Stefanie Colson, and Alaina Coates each had 2 fouls and starter Allie Quigley, who returned from a hip injury, had 3 fouls. Chicago missed 7 of its 14 free-throw attempts. Phoenix pushed the lead back up to 18 with 3:20 left in the game and won handily 96-79. Brittney Griner had a team-high 24 points and 8 rebounds for the Mercury. The rest of the starting five all scored in double digits (Diana Taurasi, 18 points, and 7 assists; DeWanna Bonner, 13 points, 4  rebounds, 5 assists; Sancho Lyttle, 12 points, and 5 rebounds; Brianne January, 11 points).

Chicago also lost to the Los Angeles Sparks on June 10; the Sparks kept Chicago off the free-throw line by mainly making jump shots (the Sky only had one trip to the charity stripe in the first half). Los Angeles spanked the Sky, 77-59. Cheyenne Parker was the only Chicago player in double digits (team-high 17 points and 12 rebounds). Williams pulled down 10 rebounds. Once again, DeShields was quiet with 4 points and  4 rebounds., as was Allie Quigley (7 points) and Vandersloot (5 points). Candace Parker had a team-high 24 points and 6 rebounds for the Sparks, followed by Nneka Ogwumike (16 points, 8 rebounds) and Chelsea Gray (15 points,4 rebounds, 3 assists).

Clash of the Titans

Instead of this being a matchup between two powerhouse teams--one rising, one established--the Connecticut Sun hosted the limping Lynx on June 9 in what was a lovely chess match between two former Coaches of the Year (the Lynx’s Cheryl Reeve in 2016--her second COY--and the Sun’s Scott Miller in 2017).  At first, the game did not disappoint: there were six-game ties by the end of the 1st quarter. More ties followed in the 2nd quarter before the Lynx missed four straight free throws after the Sun’s Chiney Ogwumike got a technical foul with 30 seconds left in the 2nd quarter. Connecticut led 44-38 at halftime

The Sun leaped to a 13-point lead to end the 3rd quarter on an Ogwumike 3-point play and Strickland 4-pt play, in addition to lots of Minnesota miscommunication and turnovers (12 total; Connecticut scored 17 points off those turnovers). Major runs in the 4th quarter earned the Sun a 15-point lead with 4 minutes left in the game, which the Lynx cut to 8 points with 3 minutes left. The Sun finished with an 89-75 win behind Connecticut’s Courtney Williams’ big game (22 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds ) to go with Jasmine Thomas’s 18 pts and the team shooting 17/23 from the free-throw line. Shekinna Stricklen and Ogwumike added 11 pts each (Ogwumike also had 11 rebounds), Jonquel Jones had 10 points and Alyssa Thomas added 7 points and 11 rebounds.  For Minnesota, Sylvia Fowles double-doubled with a team-high 20 points and 14 rebounds; Maya Moore added 17 points and 5 rebounds.

Sweetly Over-Zellous

This June 10 contest between the New York Liberty and the moral victory-enhanced Indiana Fever was way better than expected: 13 game ties in the first half alone. Thanks to the Fever’s great defense and Shevonte Zellous (10 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal) putting the Liberty on her back early, New York never led by more than 4 points. Unfortunately for them, Indiana was hampered by turnovers (15 total) and foul-plagued Natalie Achonwa (10 points). Sugar Rodgers (team-high 16 points) went slightly unconscious for the Liberty from behind the arc and hit five 3-pointers in the game.

A well-timed steal from rookie Victoria Vivians--she missed the layup, but got fouled--allowed her to make both free throws and tie the game with 2:20 left. But getting served on your home court by the current top-ranked team in the league is one thing; getting it from the worst team in the league is something else. The Liberty stepped up and a key 3-pointer from Bria Hartley put New York up by 2 with 1:11 on the clock. Fever rookie Kelsey Mitchell was fouled, but only made one free throw and kept Indy down by 1. Vivians (11 points)  hit a timely 3-point shot to tie the game with 31.8 seconds left. Marissa Coleman’s 3-point answer put the Liberty up by 3 points with 16.1 on the clock. Mitchell missed an off-balance 3-pointer, thanks to excellent Liberty defense, and New York won 78-75. Mitchell ended with 19 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists to add to Tiffany Mitchell’s 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists. Tina Charles added 13 points for the Liberty and Bria Hartley and rookie Kia Nurse had 10 points each.

Snake Eyes

The Phoenix Mercury should throw palms at Brittney Griner’s feet because if it wasn’t for her, the visiting Las Vegas Aces could have staged an upset on June 10. Griner put Aces rookie Ji-Su Park in the spin cycle in the first 3 minutes of the game with a sweet under-the-basket move. Diana Taurasi reminded Las Vegas’ Kelsey Plum who ran the house. Yes, it started out as THAT kind of game for the Aces, yet the game was tighter than anyone expected (especially the Mercury, who have developed a nasty habit of playing down to lower-ranked teams). Las Vegas rookie  A'ja Wilson (17 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists)  was a priority on Phoenix’s scouting reports: they made it a point to limit her touches and keep her from driving to the basket. Ji-Su Park (4 points, 11 rebounds) showed a nice range, especially from the long-2-point area. The Mercury got into foul trouble early (3 in the first quarter). Even with this boon, the Aces still had no answer for Griner; you can't teach 6'9" or veteran savvy, and her timely blocks saved the Mercury's bacon (7 in this game, which netted $350 for the Phoenix Children's Hospital). Phoenix outrebounded and out-assisted Las Vegas, and earned 5 points off second-chance points in the first quarter. The Aces stormed back from a 15-point deficit to come within 4 pts during the 4th quarter, but experience beat youth:  it was another moral victory for the Aces as Phoenix won the game, 72-66. They improve to 7-3 while Las Vegas drops to 1-7.

Tenacious D 

The Atlanta Dream visited the Seattle Storm on June 10 and left Emerald City shook. The Dream came out swinging and was up 39-31 at halftime. They played superior, stubborn defense and got Seattle’s Breanna Stewart (12 points, 3 rebounds) in early foul trouble with 3 fouls; she ended up sitting for most of the second and third quarters after picking up 2 additional fouls in the early in the 3rd quarter. Atlanta held the Storm to 30% shooting in the first half. Stewart had her hair pulled by Tiffany Hayes (team-high 23 points; the hair-pulling really happened ??) in the 3rd quarter to keep her getting the ball. But Karma is a bitch, and she came in the form of a nasty block by Seattle’s Natasha Howard (15 points, 15 rebounds) to keep the Dream from making that basket. The Storm’s Courtney Paris ] (4 points, 4 rebounds) got lucky and was only called for an offensive foul due to hitting Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry (15 points, 10 rebounds) in the face while trying to shake off McCoughtry's arm hold--the rule book classifies any hit to the face as a flagrant 1 foul, but alas...home-court advantage. Noelle Quinn lost her hairband as the Dream were literally snatching wigs to keep the ball away from Seattle. The Storm, once down by 13, rallied late in the 4th quarter to cut the lead to 2. A key 3-pointer at the 2:25 mark gave Seattle a 2-point lead. Atlanta pulled ahead and despite the lead-giving basket plus foul by Stewart, free throws by the Dream’s Damiris Dantas (12 points) got their lead back up to 3. After a jump ball w/ 3.7 sec left (and questionable time off the clock after the jump), the Dream prevailed, 67-64. Jewell Loyd had 14 points for Seattle.

Rookie Watch

Rook of the Week

Kelsey Mitchell (IND). Good Lord...she averages THREE three-pointers per game. She’s quick off the dribble. And, with franchise staple Candice Dupree out with a knee bone bruise, she has put this team on her back as best she can. With the exception of rookie mistakes like ill-advised fouls with a few seconds left on the clock, head coach Pokey Chatman may be ready to hand her the keys to the franchise by next season.

Rook of the Weak

Alaina Coates (CHI). Yeah, she’s back. I want her to succeed, but she plays like she’s afraid of messing up her hair and nails (and yes, she flips her hair a lot during a game--when she’s playing). I’ve been informed that her father died a couple of months ago, which could account for her lackluster play. Still, and while I sympathize and empathize, any veteran will tell her that she’ll have to play through it and grieve when she’s off the floor (callous, but true). Bless her heart.

Rookie of the Year

  1. A’Ja Wilson (LV)
  2. Kelsey Mitchell (IND)
  3. Jordin Canada (SEA)
  4. Kia Nurse (NY)
  5. Diamond DeShields (CHI)

Defensive Player of the Year

  1. Brittney Griner (PHX)
  2. Natasha Howard (SEA)
  3. Jonquel Jones (CON)
  4. Amanda Zahui B (NY)
  5. Sylvia Fowles (MIN)

6th Woman of the Year

  1. Brittney Sykes (ATL)
  2. Courtney Paris (SEA)
  3. Danielle Robinson (MIN)
  4. Damiris Dantas (ATL)
  5. Kayla Thornton (DAL)
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