Teams split results and upsets reign supreme in a tumultuous week 7.
By Laura Fay
There were upsets all across the Western division this weekend, from the Sparks outplaying the Storm to the Mystics snatching a win away from the #1 Aces. But the biggest moves were off the floor, headlined by Tina Charles parting ways from the Mercury for greener pastures (namely, Seattle). As rosters are finalized and records take shape, each game from here on out matters more.
Lynx Regain Fowles, Form, in Mercury Sweep
Watch out, folks: the Minnesota Lynx are starting to click. The Lynx got a second-straight win Thursday evening, with a convincing 100–88 performance against Phoenix bringing life back to their season.
Reinvigorated by the return of retiring legend Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota played their best basketball of the season to cruise over a disappointing Mercury. The game’s tone was set early, with Rachel Banham sinking a buzzer-beater three over two defenders, capping off a strong 33–25 first quarter. The Lynx rode that momentum into the second, which started with Moriah Jefferson stealing an inbound and laying it in to extend Minnesota’s lead. They never let Phoenix get close again.
Though the Mercury put up a better offensive performance than last game, the Lynx limited Skylar Diggins-Smith’s influence, which proved crucial. Minnesota also dialed up their offense, hitting the 100-point threshold for the first time this season. If they can continue at this pace, it will certainly not be the last time.
thereeeee ya go 😉 pic.twitter.com/nyRIxgsHxg— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) June 24, 2022
Jefferson led the Lynx with 21 points and was backed up by the entire starting lineup, who all hit double-figures. Fowles enjoyed a triumphant return, putting up a 14pt/10reb double-double and proving that she hasn’t lost a gear over injury layoff. Tina Charles was the Mercury’s leader, putting up 26 points, and Diana Taurasi had 23. Overall though, it was a disappointing performance from a team that looked to have found their footing over the past fortnight. Now, bearing results from the rest of the weekend, Phoenix could be headed back to the bottom of the standings. The Mercury will try to turn things around against the Wings on Saturday night, while the Lynx face a stiff test of form as they go on the road to face Chicago on Sunday.
Wings Silence Rookie Fever with Convincing Win
The Dallas Wings enjoyed a blowout Thursday evening, crushing Indiana’s momentum in a 94–68 win that the Fever were never really competitive in.
Dallas outscored Indiana in all four quarters, but solidified their lead in the first, scoring a whopping 34 points to 19. All they had to do the rest of the game was be consistent, which they were more than able to do. Arike Ogunbowale was brilliant yet again, contributing 24 points to outscore her opponent Kelsey Mitchell, who had 22. The Fever failed to adjust around Ogunbowale, getting drawn away and allowing her easy shots, including 6–9 from downtown. They also didn’t do themselves any favors with 19 turnovers to the Wings’ 14. As a rookie-led team, the loss was unsurprising but nonetheless disappointing to a team that had upset the Sky just a few days prior. Still, a first career double-double (12pt/12reb) for rapidly improving rookie Queen Egbo is always a positive.
The Wings improve to 9–8 on the backs of Ogunbowale and Teaira McCowan (12pt/10ast) and will meet the Mercury next. While Phoenix is coming off a disappointing two-game losing streak against the Lynx, they are perennially dangerous and should be an intriguing match-up for Dallas.
Seattle’s Big Four Shine in Mystics Victory
The Seattle Storm notched an important victory Thursday night, with four key starters coming up big as they cruised to a 85–71 win over the Mystics. Since 2016, the Storm have been defined by the trifecta of veteran Sue Bird and #1 picks Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart—the Big Three. Now, Ezi Magbegor is making a roaring case for it to be the Big Four.
Magbegor always had star potential but has broken out this season, nearly doubling her points per game to 12.4 and almost tripling her blocks per game to lead the league with 2.6. She hit important layups to put the Storm up early and stepped up again to cut off a Washington run in the fourth. Seattle was good at stifling the Mystics’ momentum all game. When Washington got a slim 37–36 lead midway through the second, the Storm went on a 10–0 run to end the half. When they pulled it within 2 in the fourth, the Storm starters came in and cruised. The only concern for Seattle will be allowing the Mystics back into the game at all. The Storm’s bench, which started the season well, have now been outscored in their last 11 games. The lack of Mercedes Russell, out injured, looms large. For now though, the Storm will be content to build on what’s working.
Seattle enjoyed even production from their starters, with triple player of the game honors going to Magbegor (20pts), Stewart (19pts/9reb/7ast), and Loyd (22pts) collectively. Bird made her own case for inclusion, dishing out half of her 8 assists in the closing minutes and having an impact on nearly all fourth-quarter scoring. Elena Delle Donne led the Mystics with 20 points, while former-Storm player Alysha Clark reached 2,000 career points with 11 in the game. Seattle will try to keep up their run of form when they host the Sparks on Sunday.
Sparks Demolished by Championship-Caliber Sky
After a statement win against the Aces, the Sky stamped their names at the top of the Eastern conference Thursday night, unseating the Connecticut Sun in an 82–59 demolition of the Los Angeles Sparks.
The Sparks had hope going in, having just won their first game under new coach Fred Williams, but that hope was quickly snuffed out. Chicago outplayed them at every turn, with double-digit contributors from five players to go up 54–25 after two quarters. The Sky took their foot off the gas a bit in the second half, allowing LA to do some damage control on the scoreline, but the outcome was already sealed.
Candace Parker, on her return to the city where she played for 12 years, was the undisputed star. She broke countless records with her third ever triple-double—the first WNBA player to record three, and the second to do so in just three quarters. And she wasn’t the only Sky showing out. Azurá Stevens backed up her performance against the Aces with 15 points off the bench, and Courtney Vandersloot had 15 of her own. The Sparks were no match for the onslaught.
LA was once again led by Nneka Ogwumike, far and away their best player, who had 15 points. Brittney Sykes elevated to the starting lineup, was solid with 13. They were the only Sparks players to hit double-digits, a concerning statistic that demands more from center Liz Cambage. The Sparks will try to regroup before traveling north to face the Storm, another championship contender, on Sunday.
Down but Never Out: Phoenix Rallies in Statement Win Over Dallas
The Mercury toughed out a gritty 83–72 win over Dallas last night, displaying the “never say die” mentality that got them to the finals last year, even in the face of immeasurable odds.
To say that nobody expected Phoenix to win this game would be an understatement. While the Wings aren’t necessarily in great form, the Mercury looked terrible in two straight losses to the last-ranked Lynx. Furthermore, star acquisition Tina Charles left the team through contract buyout just five hours before tip-off, putting a definitive nail in the coffin of a Phoenix “super team”. And when the Wings jumped out to a 12-point lead, it seemed we were right to have drafted the Mercury’s obituary. Spoiler alert, we were wrong.
BIG EIGHT. pic.twitter.com/pD8gSvuvzT— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) June 26, 2022
Skylar Diggins-Smith put Phoenix on her back, spearheading the comeback with seemingly unstoppable drives to the rim that not even Arike Ogunbowale could stop. Down 10 with two minutes left in the half, Phoenix rallied around her and cut the margin to just one point at the main break. The Mercury didn’t take their foot off the gas for the entire rest of the game, outscoring Dallas in the second half to end with an 11-point win that looked more comfortable than the game felt. For a Mercury team crushed by intra-team drama, injuries, the loss of Brittney Griner, and a first-year coach, the win was crucial.
As Vanessa Nygaard said to media members after the game, “reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.” There’s no guarantee that this win can turn their season around, but on the day it was everything.
Diggins-Smith had her fingerprints all over the game, scoring 26 points to lead all scorers, while three other Mercurys were also in double figures. Diamond DeShields made a convincing argument to get back into the starting lineup, with a 16pt/10reb double-double. Dallas was led by Ogunbowale’s 25 points, while Isabelle Harrison had a 15pt/10reb double-double of her own. The Mercury has a two-game series against the Indiana Fever next, while the Wings will meet the Lynx on Tuesday.
Sparks Rout Storm in Road Upset
The Los Angeles Sparks showed out in a huge upset over home-favorites Seattle, coming from behind for an 85–77 win.
The Storm started stellar, with impressive ball movement opening up key players, and hit three straight triples to lead 16–7 midway through the first. From there though, it was all LA. Brittney Sykes hit a buzzer-beater three to end the first, and the momentum shift had started. The Sparks outscored Seattle in the second and weathered a Breanna Stewart-led comeback in the third to emerge the victors. Seattle’s bench was outscored for a 12th straight game, but the starters didn’t exactly help matters—Sue Bird was off, and Jewell Loyd had her worst game of the season with just three points. Gabby Williams had an efficient 11 points, but only really started shooting in the second half. All in all, it was a disappointing performance that the Storm will desperately need to put behind them before facing Las Vegas on Wednesday.
While the Storm gave away chances, the Sparks capitalized on them well. Nneka Ogwumike was consistent as ever, putting up 24 points in her 10th straight double-digit performance. Katie Lou Samuelson, traded to LA from Seattle in the offseason, came up big with 17pts/6reb/6ast. Rookie Olivia Nelson-Ododa also showed promise, pulling down 8 rebounds after having her minutes upped. Los Angeles should feel emboldened by this performance, a confidence they’ll need to bring against the Aces on Monday night.
Aces Achilles Heel? Delle Donne Leads Mystics to Regular Season Series Win
There were clutch performances on both sides of the court, but the Mystics came away with a statement 1-point win Saturday night, becoming the only team this season to beat the Aces twice.
The game was close throughout, with both teams trading leads early before Washington snatched the advantage midway through the second and never trailed again. They came close though—a 6-point lead with just a few minutes left to play dissipated with a stone cold Jackie Young three to force overtime. It was ultimately the Mystics’ accuracy that won the match, with Natasha Cloud sinking three free throws to give DC a 4-point advantage in the waning seconds of overtime. Washington was harmonious all game, shooting 47% from the field compared to the Aces’ 38%. For a rotation that has been consistently interrupted as Elena Delle Donne must rest some games, such offensive harmony has been hard to come by this season. Finding some rhythm now is certainly a good sign.
The Aces, meanwhile, have now lost two straight for the first time this season—with half of their losses now coming at the Mystics’ hands. They once again struggled to score off the bench, though the addition of Iliana Rupert has somewhat alleviated the problem. Still, it doesn’t look like time to panic yet. Crucially, Jackie Young also looks to be fully back after injury, scoring 20 points on the night. Vegas also set a new franchise record in steals, finishing with 17. While it’s always difficult to lose a heartbreaker, the Aces have a chance to right the ship against the Lynx on Sunday.
Heartbreak Once Again for Struggling Lynx
It’s been another agonizing stretch for Minnesota, with an 88–85 loss to the Chicago Sky bookending a week that started with a 1-point loss against the Aces. While the Lynx showed incredible promise, sloppy turnovers and bad luck sealed their fate.
The game was tight throughout, with a 2-point Lynx lead at the first break flipping to a 2-point Chicago advantage at the half. From there, it was a game of runs and momentum. The Sky came out shooting in the third quarter and thoroughly outscored the Lynx 26–18, looking to finally run away with a win at home. Minnesota wasn’t done yet though—they held Chicago to just three points for a five-minute stretch in the fourth and wrestled the game back to 85 all with three Kayla McBride free throws. It was then that Courtney Vandersloot stepped up, working her way out of a double team and drilling a gorgeous buzzer-beater three to win the game. It was an incredible shot, but as the Sky celebrated the Lynx could only stand and watch another winnable game slip away.
SLOOT CALLS GAME 🚨🚨🚨 pic.twitter.com/e4DJSkDDSv— WNBA (@WNBA) June 27, 2022
Turnovers were the story of the game with 18 giveaways resulting in a whopping 27 Sky points. They played well in every other area, shooting a remarkably accurate 59% and clearly benefiting from the leadership and offensive presence of Sylvia Fowles. While it wasn’t the fairytale return to Chicago for Fowles, who played seven seasons with the Sky, Minnesota will walk away in a much better position than last week and know what they need to do to improve.
With her three in the final seconds, Courtney Vandersloot finished with 18 points to lead all scorers, while the Sky had five other players hit double figures. Kayla McBride and Jessica Shepard both had 15 for the Lynx, who also enjoyed even scoring on the night. Minnesota will receive a respite from playing top teams when they meet Dallas on Tuesday.