The WNBA Rewind: Week ending June 17

Summary of select WNBA games for the week ending June 17, 2018.

Lots of ups and downs this week in the WNBA, and the loss of a legend. Let’s discuss.

DISCLAIMER: All stats are from the WNBA official site. Opinions and rankings are solely those of this writer. Don't @ me. 

Road Warriors

The Las Vegas Aces visited the Indiana Fever on June 12, in what was a match between the two worst teams in the league and the #1 (A'ja Wilson) and #2 (Kelsey Mitchell) overall picks in the 2018 draft. The Aces remained dominant for most of the game, at one point opening up a 13-point lead behind Wilson (career-high 35 points, 13 rebounds--the second rookie ever to achieve that scoring milestone) and Kayla McBride (18 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists). They also kept Kelsey Mitchell relatively quiet (17 points). But missed free throws, inattentiveness, and clutch play by Indy's Tiffany Mitchell (17 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists ), Candice Dupree (16 points, 2 rebounds) and Erica Wheeler (12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) allowed the Fever to storm back and send the game into overtime.  Natalie Achonwa dropped a career-high 26 points and 15 rebounds for the Fever but it wasn't enough as Aces won in OT, 101-92. 

Wing and a Prayer

Welp...so much for revenge. In this physical game, Dallas came out swinging and was up 40-37 at half; not bad, considering regular starter Karima Christmas-Kelly was out for the season due to knee surgery. The Mercury came back and (barely) took the lead in the 3rd quarter, but Griner (18 points, 5 rebounds)  and Sancho Lyttle (12 points, 10 rebounds) were in foul trouble for most of the game (6 for Griner, 5 for Lyttle).  Allisha Gray (13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), Kayla Thornton (12 points, 8 rebounds) and Glory Johnson (10 points, 4 rebounds) were key for Wings as they pulled ahead, but Phoenix tied in 4th. The Wings outrebounded Phoenix the entire game. Griner and Liz Cambage (10 points, 3 rebounds) both fouled out in the 4th quarter. Despite a quiet game from Briann January (2 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists) and 17 turnovers, the Mercury escaped with a very narrow win, 75-72. Dallas’. Diana Taurasi dropped 21 points for Phoenix, and DeWanna Bonner scored 13 points and 6 rebounds. 

Stewie Was Here

The matchup between the Chicago Sky and the Seattle Storm was yet another demonstration of both the experienced play of the Storm versus the upstart quality of the Sky.  The Storm’s Natasha Howard (15 points, 2 rebounds) battled Chicago’s Cheyenne Parker (10 points, 10 rebounds) in the post; from a quality standpoint, Parker won that contest as Howard ended up with 5 fouls. Seattle’s Jewell Loyd (19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) got hot early, as she tends to do, and had the Storm up by 4 at half 50-46. The Sky wrecked shop in the third quarter, thanks to Allie Quigley (20 points), Courtney Vandersloot (14 points, 5 assists), and Asta Ndour(10 points, 7 rebounds)   to go up 70-58 3rd quarter. Rookie sniper Jordin Canada injured her ankle and sat out the 4th quarter. Breanna Stewart, who continues her breakout season, put the Storm on her back and dropped a career-high thirty piece (30 points, 7 rebounds) as Seattle came back from a 14-point deficit to win, 94-85. 

Sparkle and Shine

The Atlanta Dream visited the Los Angeles Sparks on June 12. These are the top two teams in the league in steals, so it was bound to be interesting...and it started out that way. However, Atlanta’s Tiffany Hayes (16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) had 3 fouls by halftime. Despite Angel McCoughtry doing her usual, she had a quiet game--for her (12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists) and a big game for Jessica Breland (14 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists),  the Sparks pulled away 43-30 at halftime and outscored the Dream 22-11. It was mostly downhill from there for Atlanta as Candace Parker (18 points, 7 rebounds), Nneka Ogwumike (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Chelsea Gray (10 points, 3 rebounds) carried Las Angeles to a 72-64 win. 

Seek and Ye Shall Find

The Las Vegas Aces made their third road stop of a 4-game trip in New York to visit the Liberty: The Aces hoped to find their third franchise win and second road win as they played the second game of a back-to-back, after beating the Indiana Fever in overtime not even 24 hours prior. This was also a matchup between the teacher (Las Vegas head coach Bill Laimbeer, who was the previous Coach of the Year for the Liberty) and the student (new head coach Katie Smith, who was an assistant coach under Laimbeer during his tenure in NY).

Tina Charles (19 points; the only New York player in double digits) did her best for the Liberty but strong defense and momentum from their previous win had the Aces playing very well, despite any physical fatigue, and holding the Liberty’s main scorers to low points. It was a surprising 15-point blowout by the Aces as they picked up road win #2 and overall win #3, 78-63. 

Spf 36

The contest between the Connecticut Sun and the visiting Washington Mystics on June 13 was a rather good one. The Mystics, who have been playing as expected since Elena Delle Donne (36 points) returned to the lineup, were up by 30 points but the Sun clawed back to tie the game. Delle Donne did what leaders do and carried the team to a tightly contested finish. When the game was down to the wire, Washington’s Kristi Toliver (25 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists) drilled a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left in the game to put Washington up by 2. A foul on Connecticut’s Chiney Ogwumike (19 points, 13 rebounds) put her on the line and she made both to tie the game again. Despite a career night from the Sun’s Courtney Williams (34 points, 5 rebounds), clutch free throws by the Mystics’ Monique Currie (13 points, 6 rebounds) and Toliver allowed Washington to squeak out a win, 95-91. Jasmine Thomas chipped in 13 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists for Connecticut.

Another Legend Gone

Old Dominion University and WNBA legend, Olympic gold medalist, and Hall of Famer Anne Donovan unexpectedly died on June 13 due to heart failure.

Her death cast a pall over the week’s games, as remembrances, accolades, and condolences about the former head coach of the Seattle Storm (who coached them to their first national championship in 2004) flooded the internet and social media. It was especially emotional for the Indiana Fever, as Donovan was the franchise’s first head coach. She had a special bond with Fever legend Tamika Catchings: 

Rest in power, Coach Donovan. You will be sorely missed.

It Was All a Dream  

The Indiana Fever visited the Atlanta Dream on June 14. The Dream came out, punched the Fever in the throat, and never looked back. The Fever had no answer for Tiffany Hayes, as she went to the free-throw line 10 times in 1st quarter to have 12 points.

The Fever came back to take a 4-point lead, but Hayes’  roll-in at the buzzer put Dream up by 1 at the half. Indy took lead again in 4th but Dream came back behind steady hand and timely buckets (incl. 3-ptr to tie game 55-55) of Layshia Clarendon. Angel McCoughtry took over in final 55 sec of game & Atlanta won 72-67, despite Erica Wheeler's 3-pt from half court at the final buzzer. Dupree 17 rebounds. 

Nightmare on S. Penn St.

The Dream hosted the Indiana Fever on June 14 and won handily, 72-67 due to excellent performances by All-Stars Tiffany Hayes, Angel McCoughtry, and Layshia Clarendon. They visited the Fever two days later...and the Fever won their first game. I repeat: the Indiana Fever won their first game.

via GIPHY

What had happened was...the Dream started off strong’ they went to the free-throw line five times in the 1st quarter. Indy’s Natalie Achonwa got into early foul trouble but the Fever hung in there thanks to the duet of rookie Kelsey Mitchell and veteran Candice Dupree, plus a solid performance by Natalie Mavunga off the bench. Still, Atlanta was up 38-35 at the half. The game was still close until almost midway through the third quarter, when Dupree went to the free-throw line off a Hayes foul. Then rookie Victoria Vivians sank the first of three-pointer and it started to unravel for Atlanta as Indy went on a 16-3 run to close out the quarter.  The Dream’s Tiffany Hayes went down with an ankle injury late in the third quarter (as did Indiana’s Stephanie Mavunga) and that was the beginning of the end for Atlanta. INDIANA WON, 61-96!

Don’t Call It a Comeback

The defending champion Minnesota Lynx, after a week off and a mini-training camp, sought to right the ship after a disappointing 2-8 beginning to this season as they hosted the New York Liberty (who hoped to do some course correction of their own). The Lynx were without the longest-tenured Lynx, Seimone Augustus, who sat out with a hamstring injury, Tanisha Wright started in her place. Minnesota looked like their usual selves as they came out hot, with Sylvia Fowles (25 points, 9 rebounds), Maya Moore (20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), and Rebekkah Brunson (6 rebounds) keeping New York off balance. 

Cecilia Zandalasini (13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, four 3-pointers) and Alexis Jones each hit buzzer-beaters to out the Lynx up 28-16 at end of the 1st. Zandalasini continued what would be a breakout game as she hit another buzzer beater from the corner to give Lynx 54-38 lead at half; New York’s Tina Charles (12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists) and Minnesota’s Alexis Jones both got into foul trouble. The Lynx were up 74-53 at the end of the 3rd quarter..Once again, Charles tried to put the Liberty on her back but her foul trouble hampered her as she was forced to sit on the bench for long stretches of time (she ended the game with 5 fouls). Minnesota won at home, 85-71.

Baby Steps

The Phoenix Mercury, fresh off a 72-89  blowout win against a depleted Connecticut Sun (both Chiney Ogwumike and Jasmine Thomas were out with injuries), visited Sin City on June 17 to take on the Las Vegas Aces, who ended their road trip with a 2-2 record. Again, the outcome was expected as Diana Taurasi (28 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 3-pointers) led her more experienced Mercury against the youngest team in the league. To their credit, the Aces managed to stay with Phoenix until the third quarter, when the Mercury mind meld kicked in and the veterans schooled the youngsters. As usual, Las Vegas had no answer for Brittney Griner (24 points, 8 rebounds, 6 blocks);  3-point snipers Briann January (13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 3-pointers), DeWanna Bonner (13 points, 9 rebounds, 2 3-pointers), and Taurasi; and the disruptive defense of Sancho Lyttle. Rookie A’ja Wilson (21 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists) and veterans Kayla McBride (20 points, 5 rebounds) and Tamera Young (9 rebounds, 3 assists) were excellent for the Aces, especially after Kelsey Plum sat with foul trouble. But as the singer Brandy once said, “Almost doesn’t count”; the Mercury won their eighth straight game in a row, 92-80.

Rookie Watch

ROOK OF THE WEEK

A’Ja Wilson (LV). Wilson is starting to blossom under Bill Laimbeer’s tutelage; she’s being more aggressive and is the league’s top visitor to the free-throw line so far. She has consistently averaged double digits each game this season and has more than one veteran and head coach exclaiming that she plays well beyond her rookie year.

ROOK OF THE WEAK

Diamond DeShields (CHI). DeShields started the season off hot, earning a place in the starting rotation. She has since gone quiet and is no longer starting; she’s still solid off the bench but is not the force that she was. I want the old Diamond back. 

Rookie of the Year

  1. A’Ja Wilson (LV)
  2. Kelsey Mitchell (IND)
  3. Kia Nurse (NY)
  4. Gabby Williams (CHI)
  5. Victoria Vivians (IND)

Defensive Player of the Year

  1. Brittney Griner (PHX)
  2. Natasha Howard (SEA)
  3. Sylvia Fowles (MIN)
  4. Liz Cambage (DAL)
  5. Amanda Zahui B (NY) 

6th Woman of the Year

  1. Kayla Thornton (DAL)
  2. Courtney Paris (SEA)
  3. Damiris Dantas (ATL)
  4. Danielle Robinson (MIN)
  5. Amanda Zahui B (NY)

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