The WNBA Rewind: Week ending June 3

A highlight of select WNBA games and teams for the week ending June 3, 2018.

DISCLAIMER: Stats are taken from the official WNBA website. The WNBA usually doesn't schedule games on Mondays. The following rankings and opinions are solely those of this writer. Don't @ me.

This was a rather...interesting week in the WNBA. Let’s discuss.

Kingdom of the Blind   

One of the perks of being a referee is good health insurance. One assumes this means vision and dental coverage as well; if so, perhaps more of the refs need to take advantage of such amenities, as Ray Charles couldn’t have missed as many calls. Plus, the replays have been inordinately long thus far. To wit:  

  • Refs in the Washington Mystics/Seattle Storm game on May 29 took over 4 min to call a Flagrant 1 foul on the Mystic’s Tianna Hawkins for the inadvertent hit to the neck on Sue Bird with less than 5 min in the game. Four minutes. HOW, SWAY?

via GIPHY


Fans got restless, players stretched on the sidelines to stay loose. It was getting ugly before play finally resumed. I understand that referees want to keep controversial calls to a minimum, but come on! Do better, refs.

  • The referees refused to call fouls for the Atlanta Dream’s home game against the Minnesota Lynx on May 29. The finally--FINALLY--called a travel on the Lynx’s Sylvia Fowles in the 4th quarter, which the Dream had been pointing out all night (let’s keep it 100: Fowles was traveling so much, she earned passport stamps). So much for home cookin’.
  • In the Phoenix Mercury/Mystics game on May 30, the refs kept not calling folks; most went in favor of Washington, but they had some\e missed calls to that favored the Mercury. In this compressed WNBA season (due to the Women’s FIBA Basketball World Cup in September), every win is a must.
  • The referees missed a jump ball in the final 30 seconds of the Mercury/Dream game on June 3. This is the fourth game where the refs seemed to refuse to favor the home team. Takeout, anyone? However...

Angel of Mine

... revenge is sweet. The Dream FINALLY beat the Lynx for the first time ever, off a clutch corner 3 from Angel McCoughtry to put Atlanta up by 2 points with 1.5 sec left in the game.

Maya Moore barely got her shot off, but it clanged off the rim as time expired. The Dream went up to 2-2 and rode this quality win into their 5-game homestand, which they began with a loss to Phoenix 78-71.

Give Me Your Buckets, Your Wins...

The New York Liberty won handily at home against the Dallas Wings, 94-89, on May 29 for their second win of the season, bringing them to the .500 mark at 2-2. The Liberty’s Tina Charles balled out with  34 points and 10 rebounds, while Shantavious Zellous flirted with a triple-double: 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 9 assists.

New York visited the bottom-dwelling Indiana Fever on June 2, where the rookie Kia Nurse went unconscious for her own 34 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. Nurse’s fellow first-round rookie, Kelsey Mitchell of the Fever, dropped a team-high 26 points, but it wasn’t enough as Indiana fell 87-81.

Mama Said Knick You Out

The 2018-19 Connecticut Sun, y’all…

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They drop-kicked the Chicago Sky during a June 1 visit to the Windy City, 110-72, behind 20 points apiece from Jonquel Jones and Alexis Bentley. Chiney Ogwumike added 17 points, Courtney Williams had 15, and Alyssa Thomas had 10 points. Two days later, Connecticut traveled to the Elena Delle Donne-less Mystics and stomped them out, 88-64, to go 5-0. Jasmine Thomas dropped 25 points while Bentley (15 points), Ogwumike (11 points) and Alexis Thomas (10 points) chimed in with double digits. Granted, three of the Sun's five wins have been against the Chicago Sky (once) and the Indiana Fever (twice). The other two were quality wins against the Los Angeles Sparks and the Washington Mystics. As things stand now, the only piece left to figure out is who the Sun will be facing from the Western Conference in the WNBA Finals. Yes, they are that good.

Cult of Complacency

The Lynx (more on them later), Storm, and Mercury have been stunned so far this season with the quality of play from their opponents, especially the lower-ranked ones. While the Storm and Mercury have escaped with wins more often than not, some of the games were still close enough to have these teams paying a bit more attention. These teams are used to being so good for so long and have been resting on those laurels.  This season has brought upstarts behind a strong rookie class and solid offseason tweaks. Minnesota, Seattle, and Phoenix have not done themselves any favors by not taking care of the ball. In fact...

The Bakery is Open

...a key symptom of this complacency is in the number of turnovers each team has made so far. For this past week, Minnesota had 16 (!) turnovers in their loss to Atlanta, 13 in their loss to Phoenix; and *gasp* 18 in their loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on June 3. Meanwhile, Phoenix had 13 turnovers in their loss to the Mystics; 10 in their win over the Lynx; and 15 in their win over Atlanta. Seattle, which has the better overall record of the three, had 16 turnovers in their win over Washington; 14 in their win over the Las Vegas Aces; and 12 turnovers in their loss to Dallas. Crazy, right?

Can't Knock the Hustle

The Mystics, while attempting to compensate for the absence of Delle Donne due to illness, have basically outhustled every team they've played en route to a 5-3 record. Rookies are playing well overall, even given rookie mistakes. Tierra Hawkins has been solid, while Tierra Ruffin-Pratt has had some ups and downs. Monique Currie has struggled at times but came through with much-needed baskets. Kristi Toliver has warmed up and gotten back to her lethal shooting self. The rookies Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen have been diving for balls, taking charges, and doing whatever they can to help their team (including Atkins’ tendency to rain threes, and Hines-Allen’s rebounding). This team effort got the Mystics their first win in Phoenix since 2010, 103-95, on May 30. They have since fallen to 5-3, but even this is admirable without their key player.

Trust the Process?

The Las Vegas Aces finally found their first win in this much stronger league, after getting completely steamrolled by Seattle on May 31, 101-74. Head coach Bill Laimbeer’s constant emphasis on defense finally took root as the Aces beat the Mystics the next day in their second meeting of the season, 83-75, on the Aces' home court. Las Vegas rode that momentum into their June 3 road game with the Chicago Sky. The Aces were up by 12 points when Nia Coffey went down with a serious ankle sprain.  Rookie A’ja Wilson sat out most of the third quarter with four fouls. With both Coffey and Wilson out, things escalated quickly. The Aces blew a 15-point lead behind the hot hand of the Sky’s Jameirra Faulkner (from three-point range) and Courtney Vandersloot (from everywhere else), and the aggressive play of Cheyenne Parker. Las Vegas lost, 90-95, and dropped to 1-4. It took the Detroit Shock exactly one full season under Laimbeer’s helm to go from the bottom of the league to WNBA champion, so fans should keep hope alive.

Her-storical Block Party

The Phoenix Mercury visited the Minnesota Lynx on June 1, where star center Brittney Griner earned her 500th career block in her 153rd game, which is faster than any player in WNBA history. She joins the company of the NBA’s Manute Bol, Mark Eaton, David Robinson, and Alonzo Mourning (with whom she is tied at 153 games to 500 career blocks). 

The glow of the win over the Lynx dulled when the Mercury visited the Atlanta Dream:  Phoenix blew a 14-point lead behind 15 turnovers and foul trouble on Griner and Sancho Lyttle (to be fair, one of her fouls was due to a legitimate charge that was wrongly called a blocking foul). They still eked out a win, 78-71.  Griner ended the week with seven blocks, which netted the Phoenix Children's Hospital $350 (ABUS will donate $50 per recorded block this season as part of the "Brittney Blocks" initiative). 

Declawed?  

When the Lynx hosted the Mercury on June 1, it was the team’s first time under .500 (2-4) since 2011. They dropped to 2-5 when they blew a lead in the 4th quarter and allowed Phoenix to beat them for the first time in three years overall, 95-85. and their first win in Minnesota in four years. Two days later, the Lynx visited their archrival, the Los Angeles Sparks, on June 3.   By halftime, Minnesota was down 2 points with 13 turnovers. The Sparks went on to win, 77-69. The Lynx have not looked like the cohesive mind meld they were last season when they captured their fourth franchise championship. Whispers are abounding that the Lynx is too old as a team, but they are too skilled to fall back on such a lackluster excuse. And while they were on the wrong end of a four-games-in-five-nights scenario, thanks to this season’s compressed schedule, as champions they should hold themselves to a higher standard. That standard has been missing of late, and they may not have time to turn it around in time to earn a coveted bye or double-bye in the playoffs.

Storm Warning

The Seattle Storm made a WNBA league record for 3-pointers in a game (17) when they hosted the Las Vegas Aces on May 31 and trounced them 105-78. At that time, they posted a 4-1 record for the first time in six seasons and have since improved to 5-2.  The Storm can credit their deep bench (hi, Courtney Paris), talented first-round draft pick Jordin Canada, and the leap of Breanna Stewart. .Batten down the hatches, y'all. The Seattle Storm is out here snatching wigs and hurting feelings. Then again...

Don't Mess With Texas

Dallas had some rain gear for the visiting Storm on Saturday 6/2. The Wings started slow but quickly got hot (hi, Skylar Diggins-Smith). It probably helped Dallas that Sue Bird dressed but got some rest (rookie Jordin Canada started in her place). Dallas was up 53-36 at the half and held off a 4th quarter Seattle surge to win the game 94-90 and stay perfect at home. Liz Cambage went to the free throw line 14 (!) times & made most of them (she's a 60% free throw shooter). She ended the game with 25 points and seven rebounds. Skylar Diggins-Smith had 27 points and Kaela Davis provided a lot of defensive help with 9 rebounds. Kayla Thornton hustled a lot to keep Dallas in the hunt and should be at least on the fringes on the 6th Woman of the Year conversation.

Down in the Hole

At this rate, Indiana will have the no. 1 pick in the 2019 WNBA draft. They have TWO first -round picks (Kelsey Mitchell and Victoria Vivians) and veterans Candice Dupree and Tiffany Mitchell -- yet they can't seem to buy a win; they are currently ranked at the bottom of the league at 0-6. None of the losses have been very close, either (the closest was 7 points in a loss to the Mystics on May 20). Pokey Chatman has the dual role of head coach and GM this season, so it’ll be interesting to see if she’s going to make any roster moves by the June 23 trade deadline -- something’s gotta give, because this team as constituted is not working.

Rookie Watch

ROOK OF THE WEEK: Jordin Canada (SEA). She shoots. She steals. She draws fouls. She is a very nice backup to Sue Bird, who took the opportunity of Canada’s progress to get a rest in the game against Dallas.

ROOK OF THE WEAK: Monique Billings (ATL). Billings hasn’t gotten much playing time over the past two weeks and despite the Dream's public gushing over her skills, I wonder if Atlanta is the right fit for her.

League Award Watch

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

  1. Jordin Canada (SEA)
  2. A’Ja Wilson (LV)
  3. Diamond DeShields (CHI)
  4. Ariel Atkins (WAS)
  5. Kia Nurse (NY)

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

  1. Natasha Howard (SEA)
  2. Brittney Griner (PHX)
  3. Jonquel Jones (CON)
  4. Sylvia Fowles (MIN)
  5. Cheyenne Parker (CHI)

6th WOMAN OF THE YEAR

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