WNBA West Week 10 Recap
The Aces shine while Seattle stumbles, separating themselves as #1 in the West.
By Laura Fay
In a conference where every team still has a playoff shot, wins are valuable and losses are more costly than ever. While the Lynx and Wings struggled to prove themselves against top teams, Phoenix sent Sue Bird packing in an electric win for the history books. Meanwhile, Vegas makes it two straight to sit one game behind the league-leading Sky.
First Quarter Advantage Lifts Sparks over Dream
It’s a four-quarter game, but the Los Angeles Sparks did enough early to come away with a routine 85–78 win over the Atlanta Dream. The victory evens the two teams’ regular-season series record, with one final game in Georgia to decide who will come away with it.
LA enjoyed electric offense for most of the match, carving out a 10-point advantage at the first break on the back of a 7–1 run. Half of those points were courtesy of Chennedy Carter, who made the most of her minutes with two quick buckets to end the quarter. The deficit was just enough to hold Atlanta at bay while the Sparks’ game plan looked less reliable in the next quarters.
After an even 26–26 second term, Los Angeles suddenly went ice cold from the floor and recorded 12 points in the third—the lowest of their season. Thankfully, the defense kicked in where the offense faltered and limited the Dream to just 16 points. With the scoring drought broken by a Brittney Sykes jumper to start the final period, LA cruised home. They never let Atlanta get within two possessions again.
It was truly a team performance for the Sparks, who had four players in double digits and 20 points from the bench. As she has done so often this season, Nneka Ogwumike led LA’s scoring with 20 points. Her sister Chiney, starting over Liz Cambage who is on a minutes restriction, looked more than suited for the spot with a 15pt/7reb outing.
On the other side of the court, both Tiffany Hayes and Aari McDonald had 18 points for the Dream. Backing them up, Rhyne Howard and Cheyenne Parker had 10 points each and a combined 17 rebounds. Both teams have top-tier clashes ahead of them: the Sparks will face Las Vegas on Saturday night, while Atlanta has a road trip to Seattle on Monday’s agenda.
Aces Withstand Comeback to Outlast Fever
The Aces walk away with a win on Thursday, weathering a fourth-quarter comeback to silence a feisty Fever 90–77.
In a league where every team can rise to the occasion and knock off a titan, the only games that can be considered safe wins are those against the 5–24 Fever. An easy win is exactly what the Aces needed to snap a four-game home losing stretch, but Indiana wasn’t prepared to go quietly.
There’s no doubt that the Aces are a vastly better team than the Fever—the simple fact of their records and the scoreline through three-quarters makes that obvious. But with Vegas’s bench in to start the fourth, Indiana started to chip at the margin. The Fever went on a 10–2 run to open the final term, forcing Aces coach Becky Hammon to put starters back in.
Though the Aces’ A team weathered the storm and still pulled out a double-digit win, the bench continues to be a worry for Vegas. The starters appear to be managing alright so far, including throughout Jackie Young’s injury, but against deep teams like the Sky they could really struggle. We will get a preview of that potential finals match-up in the Commissioners Cup.
A’ja Wilson led Vegas’s scoring with 23 points, while double-digit hauls from three other players made up for a relatively quiet outing by Kelsey Plum. Indiana’s NaLyssa Smith had 24 points, while Victoria Vivians and Kelsey Mitchell had 14 and 10 points respectively. The Aces will continue their 2022 campaign against the Sparks on Saturday.
Lynx Falter, Fall Short Versus Sun
Since their dismal start to 2022, there is no doubt Minnesota has improved immensely. But, as proven over the last week and reinforced in tonight’s 94–84 loss to the Sun, they’re still miles off of the top teams.
Connecticut led wire to wire, and despite a valiant fourth-quarter effort to narrow the margin, were never seriously threatened. The Lynx’s defense was under pressure all night and, by and large, couldn’t live up to it. The Sun shot 55.2% from the floor, mostly by carving up Minnesota’s defense in the paint. They scored 31 points in the frame off 13/17 shooting.
While the Lynx also had a good offensive night, shooting 54.8%, defense let them down time and time again. Head coach Cheryl Reeve was critical of the group after the match, particularly the performance of her starting lineup. With Damaris Dantas out for personal reasons, Jessica Shepard was slotted in and performed poorly—recording just two points and one rebound. Moriah Jefferson had a serviceable 7 points, but looked clearly hampered with a knee injury throughout the match. Down 22 points at the last break, Reeve benched her starting squad for the entire fourth quarter.
“We’ll fix the starting lineup”, Reeve said to media members after the game. “That first group has not been a very good group together. So we’re now going to look to do something different.”
Now, the question for Minnesota will be whether their “something different” can work fast enough. It isn’t an easy road for the Lynx going forward. Seven of their last eight games are against top-eight teams, including two more matches against the Sun who are expected to regain reigning MVP Jonquel Jones (COVID) on Sunday. Two games back from a playoff berth, a win or go home mentality is absolutely vital going forward.
Aerial Powers led Minnesota’s scoring with 14 points, while Sylvia Fowles, Kayla McBride, and Nina Milic had 12 each. Connecticut was led by DeWanna Bonner’s 20 points, but the real star of the night was Alyssa Thomas. Thomas’s 15pt/12ast/10 reb triple-double was the first in franchise history, and the Sun celebrated accordingly.
As the sounds of Connecticut cheering sounded through the walls of Cheryl Reeve’s press conference, she voiced what everyone was thinking. “Not a good night for the Lynx, was it?”
Wings Can’t Complete Comeback Against Sky
Dallas fought back, but were ultimately unable to seal an upset over the #1 ranked Chicago Sky. The 89–83 loss keeps the Wings just clinging to the last playoff slot, while the Sky improve to six straight wins—three of which have been without Courtney Vandersloot.
Chicago looked ready to run away with it in the first half, taking an impressive 11-point lead into halftime on the back of an Emma Meesseman masterclass. Meesseman stuffed the stat sheet in the first half, dominating all across the court for 10pt/5reb/5ast. With Meesseman threatening to tear the game apart, the Wings locked things down to start the second half. Allisha Gray and Marina Mabrey stepped up with 7 rebounds, while Arike Ogunbowale lit up the stadium offensively.
With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, an Allisha Gray steal turned into an Ogunbowale steal, cutting the margin to just one point. However, a couple of clutch Julie Allemand buckets later, the Sky were comfortably in front and wouldn’t let Dallas get so close again.
While the Wings were able to limit Emma Meesseman to just 3pt/4ast in the second half, her teammates stepped up. All five starters hit double-digits, and everyone who played scored. Kahleah Copper’s 19 points led the team, while Candace Parker was once again dominant off the glass with 10 rebounds.
The Wings were led by a stellar 28 points from Ogunbowale, but quiet offensive nights from Gray and Mabrey left the team falling short. While Teaira McCowan impressed with 15 points in 20 minutes, Dallas will also have injury concerns moving forward. Awak Kuier turned her ankle early in the game, while Allisha Gray had to literally hop off court after a collision with just two minutes left to play. With Satou Sabally already out, more injuries could prove fatal to Dallas’s playoff hopes.
The Sky will have a quick turnaround before facing the Liberty on the road tomorrow night, while the Wings will hope to get an easy win over the 5–24 Fever on Sunday.
Taurasi, Diggins-Smith Get Last Laugh Versus Seattle
It was Sue Bird’s Phoenix sendoff, but Diana Taurasi got the last laugh Friday night, riding a fourth-quarter demolition to beat the Storm 94–78.
There was a finals-esque atmosphere in the Footprint Center all night, and the game lived up to it. Both teams fought for an elusive edge throughout the first half, but neither could fully pull away. Even with Breanna Stewart’s incredible double-double in just thirteen minutes, her teammates couldn’t keep pace in the first half. Jewell Loyd had just three points in the first half, while Bird had two. While Loyd came alive in the third quarter to finish with 15 points, Stewart’s pace slowed and the Storm bench provided little in the way of reinforcements.
Meanwhile, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Taurasi were putting on a show. As the atmosphere grew more frenzied to start the fourth, they leaned in and embraced it. Two quick threes erased a five-point deficit, and from there Phoenix was off to the races. They steamrolled Seattle’s bench to start the fourth, and by the time coach Noelle Quinn put starters back in, momentum had fully slipped away from them. While Diggins-Smith and Taurasi rained threes, it seemed all the Storm could do was sit back and watch.
Diggins-Smith recorded a career high 35pt/6ast/6reb night, while Taurasi had 28pts/7ast/7reb of her own. The two combined for more than two-thirds of Phoenix’s offense. On the other side of the court, Breanna Stewart had a 22pt/14reb night, while Tina Charles had a 14pt/11reb double-double of her own.
Charles, who left Phoenix for Seattle halfway through the season, controversially got her first start this evening at Ezi Magbegor’s expense. While there’s no doubt that Charles is a starter-caliber player, she had been carrying Seattle’s bench for the past month. As Magbegor undoubtedly is more effective when surrounded by other starters, it should be interesting to see how coach Quinn chooses to manage her players going forward.
Having leapfrogged Dallas with the win, Phoenix now cling to the eighth and final playoff berth by the skin of their teeth. They’ll meet fellow playoff hopefuls Los Angeles next Friday. Seattle needs to right the ship but will have to play their best against Atlanta, who upset them last week, this Sunday.
Aces Too Good For Shorthanded Sparks
Down to just eight active players, Los Angeles put up a valiant fight to ultimately fall short to the Aces, 84–66. Vegas clinches a playoff spot with the win, while the Sparks are tied with Atlanta and Phoenix on 12 wins.
Given the lengthy injury report, the Sparks kept it close much longer than they were expected to. In fact, they threatened all throughout the game, with a Jordin Canada steal and layup cutting the margin to just two points with eight minutes left to play. From there though, Vegas turned it up.
Kelsey Plum went to town, knocking down four threes on her way to 29 points, while A’ja Wilson bullied defenders in the paint to finish with 24. LA’s only consistent source of points in the fourth was Liz Cambage off the glass, but her minutes restriction proved costly with Chiney Ogwumike out.
While the Sparks bench was a whopping three players deep, both Chennedy Carter and Olivia Nelson-Ododa showed promise with their increased runtime. Carter’s 15 points led LA, while Nelson-Ododa had 7. Ultimately, the failure of any starter to break 11 points, combined with costly outs on the bench, left LA without the scoring power needed to really challenge the highest-scoring offense in the league.
The Aces have a real test of form next, facing off with the Chicago Sky for the Commissioners Cup title Tuesday evening. The Sparks have time off to rest and hopefully regain players before going on the road to meet the red-hot Mercury on Thursday.