WNBA West Week 11 Recap

Seattle falls further behind the Aces as Lynx look to capitalize on rivals’ losses.

By Laura Fay

Seattle split their weekend series while Las Vegas pounced on an undermanned Fever side to separate themselves on top of the West. Meanwhile, the Sparks, Wings, and Mercury all take losses, opening the door for a Lynx run to the finals. 

Storm Rue Mistakes in Sun Loss

Mistakes down the stretch will haunt Seattle, as they went down 88–83 to the Sun on Thursday evening. The loss sets the Storm even with the Mystics, making their two-game series later this weekend of even more vital importance. 

Seattle started extremely well, jumping out to a 10-point lead midway through the first quarter on the back of two early triples by Sue Bird. Connecticut fought back though, riding an 11–4 run to end the quarter and narrowing the margin to 3 points. The Sun kept the momentum in the second term and took a 44–40 lead into halftime, and weathered a Seattle comeback to keep the same margin at three-quarter time.

Seattle Storm center Ezi Magbegor (13) is defended by Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) during the second half of the WNBA basketball game Thursday, July 28, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

With the Storm’s reserves in to start the fourth, Connecticut went to town. Their seconds outscored Seattle’s 30–8 across the game, with Brionna Jones and Dijonai Carrington both hitting double-figures. When a clutch Natisha Heideman triple gave the Sun a three-point lead with two minutes to play, they successfully warded off six Storm chances to seal the win. 

Seattle played well for most of the game, making the loss a bitter pill to swallow. In fact, all Storm starters had 14+ points, with Breanna Stewart leading the squad with 17. Tina Charles recorded her third straight double-double, while Gabby Williams’s aggressiveness was rewarded with player of the match honors. Unfortunately for them, 16 turnovers (and three in the final six possessions) sealed their fate. 

The win clinches a playoff spot for the Sun, while also putting two games of distance between them and fourth-placed Seattle. The Storm now face two tough games against Washington to try and hold the fourth seed, and home court advantage, going into the playoffs. 

Lynx Withstand Dream Comeback in Important Win

Minnesota weathered a 40-point Dream fourth quarter to walk away with the win on Thursday, outscoring Atlanta 92–85. While the Lynx enjoyed significant production from all players, it was the trio of Sylvia Fowles, Aerial Powers, and Moriah Jefferson who stood up once again.

The first half was crucial to the Lynx’s chances. They shot a blistering 65.6% from the floor, including 4–6 from behind the arc to take a comfortable 20-point advantage into the main break. While Atlanta kept the margin even in the third and even pulled within 7 points in the last term, Minnesota continued to shoot well and never let them within two possessions. 

Lynx starters all had strong games, with Aerial Powers’ 25 points leading the squad, while Sylvia Fowles dominated the paint for a 12pt/14reb outing. Moriah Jefferson had just 11 but made the most of her minutes on 75% shooting. Bench contributions were also solid, as the reserves put up 26 points to Atlanta’s 14.

There’s still definitely room for improvement though. Minnesota managed just two offensive rebounds to Atlanta’s six, forgoing the opportunity for second chance points that could have more definitively closed out the game. The showing was uncharacteristic for Minnesota, who sit third in the league on second-chance points. While there is every indication they should be able to turn this stat around, they’ll have to do so quickly before meeting Los Angeles on Sunday. 

McCowan Breakout Performance Can’t Save Wings 

The Dallas Wings suffered a disappointing loss Thursday night, going down 87–77 to the Washington Mystics. Dallas is now 3–7 in their last ten games and desperately need to find another gear in the tight race for the final playoff berths. 

The game started bad and only got worse for the Wings, who were outscored by 10 points in both the first and second quarters. Defense certainly wasn’t clicking either, as Washington topped their season-high first half points with 54. 

Admittedly, the Wings did get it together a bit in the second half. They outscored the Mystics in the next two quarters, but the comeback fell well short and Washington never looked truly threatened. The main point of difference was three-point shooting, where Dallas shot an abysmal 22.7 to Washington’s 60%. The Mystics’ Alysha Clark went a perfect 3–3 from deep and was similarly effective all night, shooting an impressive 71% from the floor. 

For Dallas, the performance of Teaira McCowan will be the only bright spot in an otherwise disappointing showing. McCowan was hot coming into the match, having averaged 13 points on 66% shooting over the past fortnight, but had yet to have a breakout game. On Thursday, she shot lights out—81.8% from the floor—and scored 27 points to lead all scorers. She was the only Wings player with a positive +/- differential. 

Despite a bad last couple of weeks, Dallas still clings to the eighth playoff spot as the Liberty and Dream have been similarly inconsistent. However, with the weight of each game growing, the Wings will surely need to find form soon or risk being surpassed. 

Taurasi, Diggins-Smith Star as Mercury Overwhelm Sparks

In the battle of the teams who have recently lost star-acquisition centers, it was the Phoenix Mercury who came out on top with a 90–80 win at home. 

Phoenix came out firing in the first half, limiting the Sparks to just 32 points in the first half and taking a 22-point edge into halftime. Most of that offensive dominance can be credited to Skylar Diggins-Smith, who has blossomed into a bonafide MVP candidate this year. Diggins-Smith had 21 points in the first half alone and has been the most consistent part of a sometimes erratic Mercury offense this season. 

The Sparks rallied a bit in the second half, outscoring Phoenix in the third term and threatening to make it a real contest when Diggins-Smith got ejected after arguing a foul call with 7 minutes to play. Diggins-Smith wasn’t the only one dominating the game though. With her ejection, Diana Taurasi stepped up. The “White Mamba” had 30 points Thursday night, becoming the only WNBA player to do so after the age of 40, while also pulling down 6 rebounds. 

“Well, I mean, at this point… when you’re old, everything’s a record,” Taurasi joked to ESPN after the game. Nonetheless, it was a clutch performance when her team needed it most to leapfrog the Sparks into 6th place in the league. 

With the Mercury bench still struggling since Diamond DeShields’s injury, Phoenix’s offensive load has been squarely on Diggins-Smith and Taurasi, and both have lived up to the pressure. Since the All-Star break, Diggins-Smith has led the league in scoring (26.3 ppg) and assists (7.3 apg), while Taurasi is second in scoring (24.3 ppg) and first in three-pointers made per game (4.5). The only worry for the star backcourt is technical fouls—both have six, just one away from earning a one-game suspension.

With the absence of Brittney Griner and midseason departure of Tina Charles, nobody expected this much of a playoff push from Phoenix. Nonetheless, the chase is on, and they’ll look to separate themselves from the pack against Minnesota on Sunday. 

Aces Much Too Good For Fever

Las Vegas handed Indiana a record 13th-straight loss on Saturday, cruising to a 93–72 victory on the backs of A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum.

The Aces led from the get-go, jumping out to a 22–15 lead in the first quarter that stretched to a 17-point advantage at the main break. While the Fever were able to stem the bleeding a bit in the second half with Vegas reserves in, it wasn’t enough to make a run of it. 

Aces starters shot extremely efficiently, with Wilson going 10–15 and Plum 8–11, both in under 27 minutes on the floor. In their stead, reserves Iliana Rupert and Kierstan Bell got more runtime, continuing to improve as their minutes stretched out. Destanni Henderson was impressive for Indiana, scoring 12 points on 66% shooting from behind the arc, while fellow rookie Queen Egbo led the team with 13. The two teams will match up again on Sunday, but barring a miracle the result should stay the same. 

Storm Triumph in Back-and-Forth Battle

After a tight battle that saw Seattle squander a 15-point lead, the Storm were ultimately able to clinch a playoff berth in an 82–77 win over the Mystics. The victory also sealed a regular series season win over Washington, giving them home court advantage if the two were to meet in the postseason. 

It was a game of momentum shifts early, with the Mystics starting the game on a 5–0 run and holding as large as a 9-point advantage early in the second quarter. The Storm refused to be pushed out that early though, battling back each time with some clutch Jewell Loyd buckets. Their ability to hang around was rewarded, as they outscored Washington 21–17 in the second quarter to take a hard-fought tie into the main break. 

It was similarly tight throughout the third period, with Elena Delle Donne continuing to dominate on 7–8 shooting while Natasha Cloud clamped down Washington’s defense. With Seattle’s reserves in to start the fourth, it looked like a great opportunity for Washington to capitalize and build out a margin. Shockingly though, the reverse happened. 

From the end of the third quarter to midway through the fourth, the Storm rode a 16–0 bench run punctuated with two Epiphanny Prince steals-to-layups and a couple of moments of Ezi Magbegor brilliance. In fact, it was when Storm starters came back in that Washington regained momentum, going on a run of their own to cut a 15-point lead to just 1 with a minute to play. Magebegor’s defense was crucial in tipping a potential game-winner by Delle Donne, while Breanna Stewart went 5–5 on from the free throw line in the closing minutes to seal the win. 

It was truly a team performance from Seattle, with Stewart, Loyd, and Tina Charles earning joint player of the match honors for their even performance. Magbegor and Stephanie Talbot also impressed with increased minutes off the bench, holding down the fort and making key defensive plays while starters rested. In particular, their neutralization of Delle Donne was key, as the forward ended the game 7–14 after a 7–8 start. All in all, it was an impressive team performance from the Storm, who will look for a series sweep against the Mystics on Sunday. 

Thornton Stars as Dallas Avoids Season Sweep

Dallas kept their playoff hopes alive Saturday night, recording an impressive 81–68 win over Atlanta at home. The win puts them in third place in the West, though with six teams fighting for the last three playoff spots, any momentum could be temporary. 

The Wings separated themselves in a 26–19 first quarter and didn’t look back, tying or outsourcing Atlanta in the last three periods to walk away worthy winners. While Dallas shot about average—47.1% from the field, bolstered by Kayla Thornton going 9–11—the Dream were poor. The team shot 37.7%, with leading scorer Rhyne Howard connecting on just a third of her shots. Howard has had a stellar rookie season, but her inconsistency in finishing has hurt her production. Last week against Seattle, she attempted a league-high 30 shots and finished just 9 of them. While more finesse will likely come with time and experience, her inaccuracy is certainly the least of Atlanta’s worries. 

Tiffany Hayes went down with an ankle injury in the third quarter, a devastating blow to an already thin Atlanta side, and one that sorely needed Hayes’s 17 ppg. Hayes missed the first 19 games of the season with overseas commitments and injury recovery. With AD Durr out for the season and Monique Billings and Nia Coffey also injured, Atlanta’s going to have to get creative in their fight for a playoff spot. 

Kayla Thornton’s 21 points were a career-high for her, while Arike Ogunbowale also recorded 21 points, 8 assists, and 5 steals. Teaira McCowan continued to impress with increased minutes, laying down a 14pt/14reb double-double. Howard’s 22 points led the Dream, though none of them came in the fourth quarter. Aari McDonald had 13 off the bench. Dallas will need everyone fit and firing for a date with the Sky on Tuesday, while Atlanta looks to get one back versus the Fever. 

Stagnant Mercury Overrun by Feisty Liberty

Phoenix’s playoff hopes suffered a blow Sunday evening, as the team fell 89–69 to the New York Liberty. 

While the Mercury may boast one of the best backcourts in the league, Sunday was a show of just how mediocre they can be when Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi aren’t firing. The pair combined for just 25 points on Sunday, on 22.2% and 33.3% shooting respectively. The pair have been #1 and #2 in points per game since the All-Star break, but Sunday brought the stars back to earth. Without their brilliance, Sophie Cunningham’s 21 points and increased production from other starters couldn’t get Phoenix over the line. 

The Mercury’s complete lack of a bench certainly doesn’t help. With the detainment of Brittney Griner and departure of Tina Charles, Phoenix is much thinner at the center position than they ever expected to be. While Brianna Turner has stood up well, there’s really no other bench player who can stand in for her. The bench didn’t record a point on Sunday. 

The Liberty certainly didn’t do Phoenix any favors. Natasha Howard recorded a 23pt/12reb/6ast outing and Sabrina Ionescu flirted with another triple-double to end with 10pt/16ast/8reb. Cunningham’s 21 points led Phoenix, while Diggins-Smith and Shey Peddy each recorded double-doubles of 13pts/11ast and 13pts/12reb respectively. The Mercury will need Diggins-Smith and Taurasi to be shooting well this week, with a difficult test from Connecticut coming up on Tuesday. 

Vegas Routs Indiana Twice in a Row

To nobody’s surprise, the Aces ran away with a 94–69 win over the Fever on Sunday night. The victory puts them three games clear on top of the West, though still one back of the Sky. 

Las Vegas’s Kelsey Plum brings the ball up in the Aces’ 94–69 win over the Indiana Fever. (Photo Courtesy of the Las Vegas Aces)

Las Vegas ran away with it from the beginning, outsourcing the Fever 21–13 in the first quarter, and didn’t look back from there. Kelsey Plum dominated up and down the court, dropping 26 points in just 25 minutes to lead all scorers. Up comfortably, Vegas reserves also got some more run time and impressed with it. Theresa Plaisance knocked down 13 points, while Kiah Stokes had 10 rebounds. Together, the reserves’ 32 points accounted for a third of the Aces scoring—an impressive number, given concerns about their depth throughout the year. Though Indiana isn’t a tough test, it is nonetheless encouraging to see the bench producing. 

Indiana certainly felt the loss of Kelsey Mitchell on Sunday, with the guard out with a foot injury for the rest of the season. In her stead, NaLyssa Smith stepped up with an impressive 18pt/13reb double-double, and Destanni Henderson had another good game off the bench for 16 points. Plum’s 26 points led the Aces, while Jackie Young, A’ja Wilson, and Theresa Plaisance all had 13. They will travel to face the Mystics on Tuesday.

Seattle Can’t Sweep Against Washington

Seattle couldn’t complete the series sweep against the Mystics on Sunday, falling 78–75 to a persistent Washington side. The loss levels the two teams’ records at 19–11, though Seattle stays in fourth place as they won the series.

Much like their matchup a day earlier, it was a game of momentum shifts for both sides. But unlike Saturday, the Storm couldn’t answer when it mattered most. The game was close all the way through, with no team reaching a double-digit lead. Seattle went on an impressive second-quarter run to claw back a 7-point first-quarter deficit, but the lead only got as high as 5 points before Washington’s defense stood up. From there, the Mystics led all the way through. 

The Storm made another charge for the lead midway through the fourth, as Washington’s game-high 9-point lead evaporated with a clutch Sue Bird three on the two-minute mark. From there, Shakira Austin hit a free throw and Elena Delle Donne banked in a layup, while Breanna Stewart’s tying three fell short. 

Seattle will be frustrated at their inability to score off points in the paint, something they were so adept at on Saturday. It was evident from the box score—Tina Charles had just 9 points after a nine-game double-digit stretch. With games against the Sky and Aces coming up to close out the season, the Storm need to start peaking at the right time. 

Breanna Stewart led Seattle with 23 points, while Jewell Loyd had 15. Sue Bird had a nice game to close out her D.C. career, ending with 12pts/7ast. Ariel Atkins had 23 points for the Mystics, while Elena Delle Donne recorded 17, including the game-winner. Seattle faces the playoff-hungry Lynx next, while Washington has a date with the Aces. 

Lynx Snatch Hard-Fought Win from Sparks

Minnesota’s strong three quarters held off a Sparks comeback, as the visitors triumphed 84–77 in Los Angeles. Two straight wins put Minnesota squarely in playoff contention, an unfathomable possibility after a torrid start to the season. 

After a fast start from Los Angeles, Sylvia Fowles’s bucket put the Lynx up 9–7 and they led all the way through. Though the Sparks clawed back the margin to end the first quarter and pulled a game-high 20-point lead back to four, star performances from Fowles and Moriah Jefferson left them short. 

Moriah Jefferson takes a shot over Sparks defender Olivia Nelson-Ododa. (Photo Courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx)

Moriah Jefferson’s clutch gene was out in full force on Sunday, with the guard knocking down a team-high 22 points on 64.3% shooting. It’s hard to believe she was waived by Dallas earlier this year, but something about the Lynx’s formula must have suited her. Jefferson is averaging 11.3 ppg this year, more than double her production over the last three years. 

Fowles was similarly superb, going 8–9 from the floor and adding 10 rebounds to boot. Her steady hand and offensive consistency will sorely be missed next year. Nneka Ogwumike had another standout performance for LA, knocking down 23 points, but her contributions alone couldn’t keep the Sparks above water. Los Angeles is now 0–2 since the departure of Liz Cambage. 

The Sparks have a two-game series against the Liberty next, while Minnesota will need to notch a big upset to keep their playoff hopes alive against Seattle. 

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