Sunday, July 23, 2017

July 22nd, 2017: All-Star Game

Just the Facts, Ma’am: All-Star MVP Maya Moore had 23 points, and the West created separation in the fourth quarter to win 130-121. Everyone scored in a high-scoring, free-wheeling shootout.

For fans, excitement, shooting threes, all the threes, and a lot of fun, join your intrepid and two-sport blogger after the jump.

Game day! It’s All-Star time, and it will be glorious.

We’re coming to you on tape delay- but not from KeyArena at Seattle Center. These notes are being typed at Seattle High School Memorial Stadium, where your intrepid blogger and two of her best friends (the one I married and the one who flew across the country for my wedding) are getting ready to watch the Seattle Reign take on Sky Blue FC. (Don’t tell my husband, but I’m rooting for Sky Blue. Go New York, even if you’re in New Jersey.) That being said, Seattle probably wins for having the best view in the league. Something about being able to look up at the Space Needle from the grandstand does that.

The Bite of Seattle is full of deliciousness, and right now so am I. So many delicious things. Would highly recommend the puffles.

Oh, yes, the basketball game. It was a lot of fun. My hips are still a little sore from the cupholders. The seats are a bit tight. I thought most of the players did a nice job of balancing the fun of the All-Star game with the competitiveness of actually playing to win. It was free-flowing, for the most part, and fun to watch.

I did get annoyed at Stefanie Dolson for blatantly backing off Breanna Stewart in the first half. I mean, really. Dolson had fun showing off her shooting range, though. She and the PA announcer were both thrown for a loop when she forgot to take off her warm-up shirt before checking in. (Um. Dolson. Not the announcer. The announcer was a dude.) Elizabeth Williams dropped a monster block that brought great joy to the crowd. She was the last off the bench in the first half, but part of the second line in the second half. Candice Dupree seemed to be getting fed the ball a lot in the first half; I’m not sure if there was some kind of proving herself thing going on. She seemed to take great pleasure in taking jumpers.

Sugar Rodgers landed a couple of jumpers that were very gratifying, and that doesn’t even go into her three-point shooting at halftime, which we’ll get into later. She had a nifty deflection. What can I say? That’s what Sugar does. I wouldn’t have picked her as an All-Star, but she made a good showing of herself. Allie Quigley also showed off her shot. She’s so smooth, and it's nice to be able to root for her to hit threes. It doesn’t happen very often. Layshia Clarendon had an awesome, awesome tip-in to end the fhird quarter, and then scored the next five for the East as well. I think she was really hyped to be there and wanted to take full advantage of it. Her energy was off the charts.

I can’t pull up the stats for this game right now, but I’m pretty sure Tiffany Hayes had the highest usage rate among East players. She seemed to be in the middle of every play. That’s not necessarily a good thing. For every lay-up or slick pass, you’d have a hurried shot or a turnover. It’s not all about you, Tip. Jasmine Thomas drove well and passed well, but I think that the big Wall Street Journal article on her improved three-point shooting got into her head or something. Her jumper was off.

Jonquel Jones had either family or friends at the game, with #35 shirts and a big old Bahamian flag in the stands, and she balled out. She finished down low with flair, flashed the three-point shot, and closed out the game by throwing it down (while it wasn’t the flashiest dunk, it was solid). She’s so much fun to watch, both because she’s so good and because she has so much fun out there- we could see her smiling from the upper deck. Tina Charles didn’t play a lot, and with the way Dupree and Williams were both playing, I can’t say I blame Miller. I really thought the East should have pounded it inside more. Alyssa Thomas slashed nicely to the basket, but again, I can understand why Miller didn’t play her too much. He’s got a season to think about.

I know Maya Moore had a very good game, and I can’t quibble with the leading scorer on the winning team getting MVP. On the other hand, I thought, and still think, Nneka Ogwumike should have been MVP. She got buckets whenever the East was making a run, and she boarded hard. Rebekkah Brunson seemed determined to prove that she could totally shoot from the outside. She’s still got surprising ups for a woman her age. (“Her age.” She’s two years older than I am and has way, way more vertical than I do.) Breanna Stewart got a lot of pop from the crowd, as is to be expected for the hometown team, and showed off some dipsy-do moves at the basket. It helped that she and Dolson seemed to be operating under a mutual non-aggression pact- as soon as one of them went to the basket, the one on defense backed off like she was on fire.

We actually didn’t see very much of Seimone Augustus, but she had the funniest play of the game, when she bounced it off Tiffany Hayes’s foot and the PA announcer promptly said, “There’s that veteran presence of mind.” Skylar Diggins-Smith mostly set up beyond the arc, moreso than most of the rest of her teammates. I’m not sure if she was looking for her shot or if she was in “just happy to be here” mode. She just didn’t seem to be trying to make herself a factor like most of her teammates were. Chelsea Gray showed off both her stroke and her slick, sweet passing. She had fun with behind the back passes and casual flips.

Candace Parker seemed to get more into the flow of the game in the second half, both going to the basket and shooting threes. A lot of people were shooting threes, but she seemed to be doing it more to have fun with it than shooting seriously. It’s like someone flipped a switch and told her it was okay to let people know she was enjoying herself. It's okay, Candace. We won’t tell anyone you’re having fun. Your secret is safe with us. Sylvia Fowles should not shoot threes, but she was very effective posting up down low. Makes sense. It's all kind of a blur at this point, and I do tend to focus more on my team than on the opposing team; since I’m from the East, “my” team is the one with Tina and Sugar. Maya Moore was her solid self, hitting the threes she couldn’t hit in the contest, and boarding with power. I think a lot of people would have given her MVP, and obviously that includes the people who made the official decisions.

Diana Taurasi was a bundle of energy, up and down the court at every opportunity. She launched without hesitation and without remorse from downtown. Ball went into her hands, there was a very good chance the ball was going up. She was having fun, and she did her best to make sure that everyone around her had fun. It’s fun to watch that. Sue Bird was showing off by the end, going behind the back and between the legs. Arguably her best pass was one that didn’t result in a basket, and Nneka not hitting that shot made me sad. She hit a very classic three- the “die bitches” play in action, even if it wasn’t in a “die bitches” situation.

If you took the WNBAAlien’s over/under bet, the over won. To be fair, it wasn’t an unwarranted review; it was the tip-in at the end of the third quarter, so it had to be reviewed. The refs let a fair amount of contact go before attempting to call it, and they started calling touch fouls instead of heavy contact. (Then the refs in the soccer game basically decided to make their colleagues look good, so that’s a thing. I mean, really, a player gets thrown into the boards, and y’all aren’t going to call it? Miss me with that nonsense.)

Shoutout to the old school jerseys- the Sonja Henning, the Betty Lennox, the Stacey Lovelace. Shoutout to the fully decked out Sacramento fan in her warmup jacket and cap. Shoutout to what I’m told was a Utah Starzz practice jersey. Shoutout to all y’all who were out there repping your teams: the Champion Leslie jersey, the Wings fans in the neon green behind the West bench, the bedazzled Dupree fan in the Indiana shirt, the Lynx and Merc and Sparks and Storm and Sky and Mystics and Liberty fans who rocked their colors and cheered their players.

The three-point shootout was fun! Admittedly, I’m biased because Sugar Rodgers kicked a whole lot of butt, but the crowd went wild when both she and Allie Quigley went on their runs. When Quigley all but ran the money ball rack... wow. I think next year they need to keep it to dedicated three-point shooters, even if they’re not All-Stars.

I love KeyArena, but I’m starting to understand why the NBA wouldn’t want to come back to it. It doesn’t have a lot of amenities, the upper concourses don’t really seem to be set up for a lot of people, there’s no wi-fi and probably no way to set up wi-fi, the seats are narrow, etc. It's a very nice arena, don’t get me wrong. But I recognize its flaws.

I’m definitely looking forward to next year! See you in... Minneapolis, maybe? All y’all better be there.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

July 21st, 2017: All-Star open practices

For shenanigans, players doing things right, throwback jerseyse, complex offenses, the Brigade in the house, and halfcourt shots shots shots, join your intrepid and satiated blogger after the jump.

Good afternoon! We’re coming to you on a three-hour time shift from Key Arena in the heart of Seattle Center, reporting on the All-Star open practices.

Jonquel Jones spent, like, ten minutes signing autographs, and she might still be in the tunnel.

There’s a tall blonde over there who looks like Jayne Appel-Marinelli.

Sugar! Hi, Sugar! Go get ‘em, Sugar!

So far we have Storm fans (of course), Sparks fans, Lynx fans, a pair of Mercury fans, a Chicago fan (hi, Eric, you are probably reading this over my shoulder), and possibly a DC fan. (And of course, the two of us repping the Liberty, but given that I’m wearing an Isabelle Fijalkowski jersey right now, it’s hard to claim us.)

Players are sort of gradually drifting out and gravitating towards the tunnel where people are getting autographs.

The tiny All-Star kid has emerged and gotten her round of applause. I have a distinct lack of sentiment, so I don’t particularly care about this bit.

More Mercury fans have arrived. Shoutout to the fan in the Swin Cash Shock jersey! Throwbacks are the best. There are also a lot of people in Yankee gear here, which makes sense, since the Yankees are playing the Mariners this weekend in Seattle. (We considered going to the game on Sunday, but the ASG-Reign double-header is more practical, and also, women’s sports are the best!)

Biggest hand so far has been for Taurasi, who played it off like she was surprised. Merc fans threw up the X-Factor X. (I mean, I’m assuming that’s what that means, and they’re not making obscene gestures at her or accusing her of a flagrant foul.)

I think I spotted SeƱor Fred across the way. And the crew for the game will be Lobo and Ruocco.

Mercury Brigade is here! Hi, caune, mb, Huskie, and mmaniac!

Those practice jerseys are hideous. They are all the things that Adidas has done wrong with WNBA jerseys during their deal. It's no wonder half the players don’t even seem to want to wear them. Tiffany Hayes, Tina Charles, and Sugar Rodgers all have them sticking out of their back pocket, or reasonable facsimile thereof.

It’s her hair and her choice, but I still miss Layshia Clarendon’s golden ‘hawk.

Curt Miller is so far running fairly straightforward drills, and as I type that, we have a shooting contest starting! After that, though, it was back to running actual plays. It looks like Miller wants to pound the inside against the West (which isn’t the worst plan without Griner)

Size war! Alyssa Thomas is a bit of an outlier among the guards, but they really don’t have any alternatives if they want the teams to be the same size.

There’s a woman sitting next to Appel-Marinelli who looks just enough like Shameka Christon to make me wonder.

Oh, come on, AT, you were so far over the line you were practically in the paint.

Halfcourt shot contest won on the second round by Stefanie Dolson, who brought out some celebratory dance moves in response. I liked Layshia Clarendon putting up a finger to test the wind before putting her shot up.

Alyssa Thomas is wearing her jersey like a cape, and it’s working for her.

Dolson’s smile is gorgeous.

Jonquel Jones just bombed a three from parallel to the second E in the KeyArena logo on the court.

We’ve reached intermission. The fans are gathering thick and fast around the other tunnel, where the West comes out.

Someone’s being brought down to the VIP level and hugged gingerly by many players. I think that might be Swin Cash.

The fans are, perhaps not without reason, more excited about the Western Conference All-Stars. Nneka Ogwumike came out popping the West jersey, so I think this might be more free-wheeling than the East.

We have a Wings fan sighting! I thought I saw an Indiana shirt too, but it turned out to be a Los Angeles shirt.

Brave, brave Cougs fan.

Holly Rowe just got a cheer from the audience, and that’s cool.

“Fans, please welcome to the court your 2017 Western Conference All-Stars!” And the crowd goes wild.

What the WNBA is all about: Stefanie Dolson, Layshia Clarendon, and Jonquel Jones went into the seats to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

Someone gave Stewart what appeared to be her own custom Phillippines jersey. No, I don’t get it either.

Yeah, the West is going to be a lot more free-wheeling. We’re starting with a dance-off, with just a little tiny bit of awkward as people chant for Stewie, who wants to dance about as much as I do. She NOPE’d her way right out of that plan.

Breanna Stewart is wearing a body camera. This should be dizzying.

Reeve’s shooting contests are starters versus reserves, going from spot to spot, and they have to make a certain number of baskets to skip spots or at least not go backwards. From the way Seimone is leading the reserves from spot to spot, I think this is a common drill for the Lynx. It’s interesting to see how they consider their shots depending on the makes and misses.

Reserves won, and one of the starters took it badly. The second ball ended up in about the twentieth row. Unfortunately, the fan had to give it back.

I think Ace really wanted that lob for the dunk attempt. Stewart got rim, but nothing else. She was the only one who seriously tried. (Diana Taurasi attempting to dunk is not a serious thing.) I liked the dipsy-do lay-ups more than the dunk nonsense, to be honest.

Well, there’s free-wheeling, and then there’s Cheryl Reeve actually trying to install offenses. I think the players are listening as little as they have to in order to do this. Parker especially looks like she left her damns to give in Los Angeles.

Ticha Penicheiro in the house! Cute jacket.

Coach, your offense might be too complicated for an All-Star game if you can’t keep it straight yourself.

Now it’s quiz time.

Diana. Switch to decaf.

Diggins-Smith looks weirdly out of place and uncomfortable here. She looks like she doesn’t want to be doing this, for whatever reason. At least Parker more looks distracted than unhappy.

The starters beat the crap out of the second shooting contest, after the reserves won the first. I think the reserves were still on the first round of shots when the starters won. Coach Reeve: “Congrats. You get to start tomorrow.” By the end, when they only needed one made shot from each position to win, they were adding degrees of difficulty, whether it was distance (Maya went into the courtside seats), style (soccer throw-in), or just ridiculous (Big Syl, you may have gone to LSU, but you are not Pistol Pete).

Breanna Stewart won the halfcourt shot contest, after everyone took many attempts. I am constantly amazed at how close so many of the shots were.

It was a lot of fun. Come on, East Coast people, where are you at? Rep with us!

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

July 19th, 2017: Connecticut at New York

See you in Seattle, loyal readers! (I’ll be the one in the Cleveland jersey at the open practice and the Sophia Witherspoon jersey at the game! I swear on my honor as a former Girl Scout, I don’t bite except on request, and I’m not nearly as much a jerk as you might think I am.)

Oh, yeah, Camp Day. Tina is awesome. But you knew that already, right?

It’s too early for this. I mean, for a night owl like me, it’s pretty much always too early for this, but it’s Camp Day, which means it’s twenty to eleven and I’m waiting for basketball to start. The Liberty have their equilibrium back after a monster win over the short-handed Mystics, while the Connecticut Sun are one of the best stories of the season. This should be fun, and I’m sorry more regular fans don’t get to see it.

I have game notes of non-doom, thanks to a colleague. (Hi, Ray!)

Tina’s dad is wearing a very snappy hat. (He always dresses snazzy- Clyde’s got nothing on him. But this hat is especially sharp.)

The groups in the upper deck are probably salty at the swathes of empty seats in the lower bowl, but it takes a loooooong time to check groups in through security, plus kids usually need to be fed and watered.

Who sold Connecticut fans seats four rows behind the Liberty bench? This is a bad plan, and you should be ashamed of it.

Just to let you know, there will probably not be a halftime report. There’s a level 3 raid set to go off at 11:24, so I will probably be spending halftime going after that. Shavonte is a good unisex name for a Jolteon, right?

Uh. Someone tell the Sun that the flags moved! They did. They got turned around in time.

Shavonte would have been a fabulous unisex name for a Jolteon, but MSG screws up GPS so badly that I kept getting kicked out of the gym, and I now have a Swiss Pikachu.

I have no idea why Lynetta Kizer didn’t play until the second half, but she certainly made up for lost time once she did. She drew fouls and took full advantage at the line, finishing through contact. She’s one of the most underrated players in this league. Danielle Adams was very short on many of her threes, and seemed determined to foul out of the game as quickly as possible. Gravity is a harsh mistress. Brionna Jones threw her weight around, but she was outclassed by the Liberty posts. Kayla Pedersen saw brief time in the first half, set a screen, and did nothing else of note.

I think having Alex Bentley come off the bench is good for the Sun, but I don’t know if it's better for her. She didn’t seem to be in the rhythm of the game, and was extremely happy to the point of overcompensation when she put in the baskets that she did get. There seemed to be a chip on her shoulder, and I don’t know if it was a playing-New-York thing or a being-relegated-to reserve thing. Morgan Tuck seems to give the Sun more lineup flexibility, but she looked like she was trying to figure out what she should be doing most of the time. Lost is too strong a word- disoriented, maybe? Rachel Banham was brought in to shoot, and didn’t shy away from that responsibility. Near the end of the game, I thought she took the intentional foul to get Amanda Zahui B to the line so she could get some points. Turned out to be a Danielle Adams foul.

I love watching Jonquel Jones play. (I also like saying her name. It has such a ring to it.) I think I would enjoy it more if she played for my team, but I can live with that. She’s developed in leaps and bounds from the raw, foul-prone player she was at George Washington. Her athleticism, her flexibility, her sheer drive, are all amazing. She tore rebounds away from players who had better position and should have had a handle on the ball. Her battle with Kia Vaughn was intense every time one of them had the ball (and a few times they didn’t). Shekinna Stricklen surprised me with the start, and put up a quick three that seemed to justify it, but after that her shot went cold. She had a nasty block on Rebecca Allen, though. Alyssa Thomas is fierce and fearless, and deserves that All-Star bid. She had one shot that she powered through the defense like it was nothing. There is so much power and force in her frame that it’s a little scary sometimes.

I don’t know how Jasmine Thomas put that left-handed shot in. I still don’t. She ran a good game and was pesky defensively. She overcommits on stupid reaches, but she’s going to keep doing that. Courtney Williams cuts to the basket so well. She’s quick and she’s got ups. She doesn’t always take the smartest shots, but she finds ways to make even the most ridiculous shots work.

Connecticut got too many good looks in the fourth quarter, mostly from Lynetta Kizer. But our defense was solid for most of the game, and it threw the Sun off balance.

I think everyone wanted Amanda Zahui B to get minutes and buckets, and even if she didn’t get a field goal, at least she got a nice under-the-basket rebound and a couple of free throws to take home. I hope the break gives her back a chance to heal up. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe was aggressive on the offensive glass- I love her motor. Kiah Stokes had another solid game in the middle defensively and on the glass- I’m worried about the easy look she missed at the end of the first quarter, though, because that was a gimme and she blew it. In general, I’d like to see better touch from our posts around the rim.

Sugar Rodgers needs to save some of those threes for the contest on Saturday! And I have no idea how she threw that one shot into the basket, only that I think Bill’s going to do something drastic to her the next time she tries it. But you can’t have your hands down on Alex Bentley and you can’t have your hands down on Courtney Williams, and given how much emphasis she’s put on defense this year, that’s a disappointing lapse. We got good offense out of Rebecca Allen, especially in the fourth quarter against the Sun reserves. I liked the one she finished through contact in the paint. Lindsay Allen is starting to slow down too much for my liking- I’d like to see her push tempo more and be more assertive in her decision-making. I love her on defense, though- she hadgot the y nifty steal on Morgan Tuck. I’d just like to see her keep that edge on offense.

Kia Vaughn needs to stop bringing the ball down. You’re 6-4, Kia. You know that, right? Be stronger. Be bolder. (Not use the ice tub as a beer cooler bolder, but go up with the rebound bolder.) We need her to be picking up the garbage rebounds. Tina can’t do it alone. Tina Charles took that passive game she had on Sunday and used it as fuel to be more assertive in the paint and on the glass in this one. She snatched the ball away from Connecticut rebounders. She went hard in the paint. On the other hand, she threw up a last-second outside shot that made Bill’s eyes bug out of his head and had him gesticulating angrily at the court; I get the feeling that if she ever tries it again, she’s getting benched, whether it goes in or not. Shavonte Zellous’s passing was good, and she was looking for her shot. I like when she looks for her shot. Also, this is important to remember: happy Shavonte is best Shavonte.

Decent game from Bria Hartley. Nothing really terrible, nothing really noteworthy except for a nifty steal in the third quarter. I’ll take decent over some of the games we were getting from her earlier in the season. Epiphanny Prince was way too hesitant to shoot and way too tentative when running offense. If she’s not going to bring anything that vaguely resembles pace, she needs to lose minutes. I can’t be having with her passing up open shots.

I shouldn’t complain about the officiating, since it was pretty bad both ways and we got most of the dubious calls. I missed why Curt Miller got the technical, though.

Not as many kids in my section as I expected. It was refreshing.

Seriously, MSG, what is with your GPS scrambling?

Lil Torches were awesome today. Some of the body control is incredibly tricky, and I salute them.

I wish Bill had taken Tina and Sugar out of the game sooner (and kept Sugar out when he did pull her the first time in the fourth quarter). Miller pulled his All-Stars fairly early.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

July 16th, 2017: Washington at New York

We won. This is a thing I like.

For anything resembling details, join your intrepid and lazy blogger after the jump.

Here we go again, back at the Garden as the Liberty take on what’s left of the Washington Mystics.

Mel Greenberg over by the Mystics bench, getting his dose of Philadelphia from Marianne Stanley.

I kind of want that seafoam green jacket Brittany Boyd is wearing as she dribbles in the courtside seats, but it’s a little tight and form-fitting for my style. She’s been discovered by one of the group sales groups. She still looks kinda lonely, though. Don’t worry, Boyd. This too shall pass.

They moved the flags, which is very confusing during anthems.

At halftime, the Liberty are up 45-29, and Washington looks demoralized. Someone lit a fire under the Liberty, and it shows. Almost all the loose balls are going New York’s way. The hustle has been fantastic. We questioned the change in the Liberty’s starting lineup, but it seems to be working.

I’m really not sure what these refs are smoking, but I don’t think it's legal in the state of New York in the present time. I think during one review, Bill and Mike were going to buy each other commiseration beers.

EDD first sighted at halftime, still in the boot. Yeah, I think we’re going to have a couple of replacement All-Stars...

We needed a game like that. I don’t know how much of an indicator it is for the rest of the season, since Washington looked pretty shaken up, but we needed to get out and run, and we needed to have players other than Tina prove they could step up.

Thibault went all the way down to the end of his bench and gave extended run in the second half to Jennie Simms and in both halves to Asia Taylor. I was unimpressed with Simms, and only slightly less unimpressed with Taylor, though Taylor at least had a good look at the basket (she missed it, though). Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had the green light from beyond the arc. Something about the way she handles herself on the court reminds me of a poor man’s Kahleah Copper, which is funny, because they’re so different stylistically.

I don’t know if I would have given Tianna Hawkins the green light to shoot quite as much as she did. I get that she was a mismatch, and she was hitting early from the outside, but I don’t think she was the best option. She missed too many shots on the inside- contested, but she should have had the power to put them in. Natasha Cloud brings an interesting, different dimension at the point, and I wonder if she’ll get the start next game. Might make more sense. She had a nice block on Rebecca Allen.

I’m really glad Kristi Toliver couldn’t hit water falling out of a boat in this one, because she had reasonably good looks. She really seemed out of it. I don’t know if it was her playing out of position, or if she just wasn’t taking the slow start well, but she really didn’t seem to have her head in the game, especially on defense. Ivory Latta was busting her ass, especially in the second half when the Mystics tried to string together a comeback, but time is starting to catch up with her- she looked a step slower than her brain.

I can’t say enough about Tierra Ruffin-Pratt’s hustle in this game. She was one of the few Mystics whose head was in the game- she wasn’t great shooting, but that’s never been her strength. She hit the floor hard and often for loose balls. Krystal Thomas was solid in the middle, picking up rebounds and blocking shots. She’s not a superstar, but she’s a brilliant example of the right person in the right place in the right time in the right system. Emma Meesseman lit us up from outside, and drove the lane with beautiful changes of pace. She reached a lot on rebounds and defense, and that didn’t help Washington; when your most effective player picks up her fourth foul early in the third quarter, you’re not going to have a good day.

I think everyone in the arena who wasn’t wearing red was rooting for Amanda Zahui B to finally get one of those shots to fall. She was coming up short consistently enough that I think her back was really bothering her. I’m also assuming that was the reason she didn’t hit the floor for the loose ball that she so awkwardly bent over. I’m thrilled about the resurgence of Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe- she still relies too heavily on throwing her shot off the glass, with all the crazy bounces that result, but not only is it good to see her on the floor again, it's good to see her fighting for rebounds and getting putbacks. Kiah Stokes was an anchor in the middle (though her best block was out on the perimeter), cleaning up rebounds. I’d still like to see her be more aggressive offensively, but I’ll take double-digit rebounds any day of the week (and twice on Sunday).

Lindsay Allen seemed to get stronger as the game went on, though that might also have been a statement about the quality of her opposition. She stepped her game up on defense, deflecting and stealing passes, and generally disrupting whatever excuse for flow the Mystics had. She’s going to need time to develop, and I don’t know if New York will ever give anyone that kind of time. We’re not a patient city. I think she’ll make something of herself, and I’m afraid it's going to be somewhere else. Rebecca Allen showed flashes of offense in the fourth quarter, and hustled on the boards, even if she had very little effect in that respect. Sugar Rodgers seemed to respond well to leading the second unit- it opened up more opportunities for her, and she was able to get good looks.

Bria Hartley had a great game offensively, and wasn’t half-bad defensively. She had open looks and hit them, and she made some fantastic passes to set up her teammates. She flourished in this lineup. So did Epiphanny Prince, even if the numbers don’t reflect it. She was able to make plays on defense, disrupting the ballhandler and going for loose balls. Taking her off the point also sped up the game- we were way more of a transition team, and it was glorious. Shavonte Zellous brought the fire, and some slick passing as well. She looked good.

Kia Vaughn was solid, finishing on the inside and either grabbing rebounds straight up, grabbing rebounds off her teammates’ deflections, or deflecting the ball to her teammates. I think I’d still rather have Kiah starting, but I’ll take whatever Kia provides. (Including confusion, between Kia, Kiah, and Bria.) This was actually one of the most passive games I’ve seen out of Tina Charles- again, she’s relying too much on the outside jumper, and she’s not reacting well to being doubled and tripled defensively. I’m glad we didn’t need her to be Superstar Tina in this one, but I’m worried about her at the same time.

Officiating was very hands-off. I’m surprised no one got seriously hurt.

Two busloads of Mystics fans showed up and cheered their team during intros; their team gave them little to cheer about during the game. I still want a variation of the “if lost, please return to Verizon Center” shirts for us, though I suppose you’d have a checklist of places you could leave me, personally.

We needed a breather game, a get-out-and-run game, a light-the-tree game. Now the tricky part is bottling that energy to go up against a stronger, deeper, talented Connecticut team.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

July 14th, 2017: Chicago at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: Another slow start for the Liberty led to another spirited comeback led to another late loss, this time 78-68 to the Chicago Sky. Tina Charles had 23 points and 19 rebounds to lead New York, with Shavonte Zellous adding 14 points and 11 rebounds. Stefanie Dolson had 23 points to lead four Chicago players in double figures.

For long jumpers, forgotten height, not having had nearly enough to drink, and mismatches, join your intrepid and confused blogger after the jump.

Good evening, fellow travelers! It's been a long, strange road trip for the Libs (interspersed with a Sun game I should have hiked up to, but nooooo, I had to be all budget-conscious), but the squad is home and ready to rumble against the Chicago Sky.

Normally I would be doing autographs right now, but I looked through my clipboard and I have everyone who’s out there except Amber Harris, and I’m too tired for this. So I’m working on notes and arguing with the wi-fi. It would be in the wi-fi’s best interest to work.

Y’all did not see Sugar Rodgers looking at her name and number Garden of Dreams tee like she was embarrassed to be seen with it.

Jessica Breland’s been having fun with one-handed shots. I wonder if that explains the extra-deep followthrough on her jumper.

Someone with a WNBA nedia pass appears to have buttonholed Imani Boyette. I don’t know how much shootaround time she’s actually gotten. She appears to have spent a lot of time talking to people and being talked at.

This is a torch night. (It’s also a Timeless Torch night.) I miss Cierra Burdick checking to see if her hair was on fire.

All right, we’ve got a biddy game! Would a Princeton basketball camp call its participants Tiger cubs?

Look, kid, I’m going to need you to stop kicking my seat. Like, now. (Update: kid has stopped kicking seat, but loud video games behind me are also no bueno.)

At halftime, Chicago is up 38-34 in a game that has not exactly been a sterling display of professional basketball by either team. Tina Charles has 12 and 9 to lead the Liberty, but it’s on some dumb shots. Stefanie Dolson has 10 and 5 for Chicago.

Shoutout to the dance troupe at halftime, who not only did a Prince medley, but did so in awesome purple costumes with the big white ruffle in the front. The older ballroom dancers who followed them were good, but not great.

Am pleased to report that the no-fun league has skipped this game; the family in their seats is much better behaved and is at least a little into the game. (Update: my least Yankee fan arrived midway through the third quarter, was quite insistent on taking her seat, talked through almost the entire game, and left early. Seriously, lady, why do you even bother?)

I think I’m starting to see part of the problem with the Liberty: we don’t have a proper point guard. Not one that fits our needs, in any case. Epiphanny Prince is not a natural distributor, and when she does play point, it's slow-down-my-eyes-are-bleeding Rutgers offense. Lindsay Allen is a rookie, who’s still making college mistakes and isn’t ready to take the reins of a WNBA offense. Bria Hartley has been hot trash on a platter and makes worse defensive mistakes than the aforementioned rookie. Brittany Boyd is behind the bench with long hair and a pensive look. We are in trouble.

So let’s talk about Chicago, the team that can’t even tank right. (And maybe shouldn’t be.)

I don’t like Keisha Hampton much, and I have this really strong feeling Shavonte Zellous might not be fond of her right now either. She went in gooning (please don’t step on the back of someone’s knee) and next possession Shavonte got her wiped out by a screen and called for a foul for it. And of course she hit a three on us, because she went to DePaul and that’s what Doug Bruno players do. Imani Boyette shows flashes of such great potential with the way she can create offense, but so much of the time she seems to forget that she’s 6-7 and she makes stupid reaching plays that she doesn’t need to make. You just get the feeling that her head isn’t completely in the game (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing- she’s one of the most globally-minded people in the league). Cheyenne Parker was physical defensively, and her bodying up on the boards was part of why our offensive rebounding opportunities mostly just turned into more rebounds.

I did not know copper had that kind of tensile strength! Kahleah Copper is very bendy- hit one shot at what appeared to be at a very painful obtuse angle. She made a lot of good things happen for Chicago with her slashing and her occasional jumper. Makayla Epps saw brief time at the end of the first quarter to relieve Vandersloot and was unremarkable.

Seeing Courtney Vandersloot on the floor, finding open looks for her teammates on offense and directing her teammates into position on defense, made it abundantly clear that we don’t currently have that kind of a guard, and it makes me sad. It seemed like she couldn’t hit water falling out of a boat, but she did better from the floor than I realized. I think it was the misses that went in and out, or didn’t get the bounces off the backboards, that colored my view of her shooting. Allie Quigley was open more times than she shot, and certainly made herself available for her teammates. She and Vandersloot keep that backcourt running and keep the pace up. Makes it funnier when they miscommunicate (the pass that flew into the endcourt seats, bounced off the top edge of a chair, and ended up about fourteen rows back was especially funny).

I would very much appreciate if Stefanie Dolson would not lead her screens with elbows. (Though when it backfires and she absolutely wipes out a teammate like she did with Copper... funny is the wrong word, satisfying might be closer.) I would also appreciate if she would stop hitting jumpers against my team. She’s a match-up problem in that way. Tamera Young hit two threes, so I think the world might actually be coming to an end, which means I should really hurry up posting these notes before it does. Her interior shots tended to be hilariously off, though. I think she hit every part of the rim but the inside. Jessica Breland kept her motor running, and took full advantage of Kia Vaughn’s inability to dribble.

Bria Hartley came in, committed two stupid fouls, got burned on defense, and was exiled to Coventry. It was particularly noticeable because she came in right after Sugar got pulled for committing a stupid foul. Bria. Bria, you’re not helping. We got better minutes from Lindsay Allen, who is shaping up into a moderately acceptable backup point guard. She’s still thinking like a college player, not yet adjusted to the speed of pro players and some of the quirks in the rules that change from college to the W. Her decision-making is getting faster, though. I like that. Rebecca Allen provided a little offense and a little effort on defense, but not enough for her to be relevant for most of the game.

Amanda Zahui B provided decent minutes, albeit limited ones. She’s still got the back pad whenever she’s on the bench (except when she’s demonstrating dance moves during official reviews) so I don’t know how much more she can be doing. She and Shavonte had a weird moment near the end of the third quarter after Amanda missed a three- it was the right shot and not the wrong player, so I don’t know what Shavonte’s problem was with that. Kiah Stokes was okay defensively, but I expect a lot more out of her than we got in this one. She seems much more passive than she had been in the past, and that makes me sad.

Tina, what are you doing? I know, I’m being rough on someone who was one board away from 20-20. But so many of her failed shots were long jumpers taken with no one in rebounding position, and so many of her successful shots happened when she went hard in the paint. I mean, I’m not a championship-winning coach, but this seems like a fairly simple pattern to discern. Tina Charles plays like a post, she crushes innocents under her heel and makes opponents cry. Tina Charles takes hurried perimeter shots, we lose. I also have this horrible feeling that her teammates were backing off rebounds to make sure she got the record as quickly as possible. That is a stupid plan, people. Kia Vaughn needs to stop bringing the ball down where tiny people can get at it. Go up strong, Kia! You’re really good at it when you just do it and you don’t overthink it! Sometimes I think she forgets how tall she is. (Kia is a sweetheart, don’t get me wrong, and there are times when she’s utterly adorable... but I also think she might be scatterbrained enough to forget how tall she is sometimes.)

I would like to see the more offensively aggressive Shavonte Zellous more often. I really enjoyed watching her and Tina throw double-teams at hapless Chicago ballhandlers, and she never, ever let up on the boards, especially the offensive glass. But she’s got to keep her head in the game and not lose her temper. I love the passion she brings, but sometimes she needs to rein it in before she gets a technical. Epiphanny Prince is the best option we have at the point right now, and this is not a good thing. She’s capable, but it doesn’t play to her strengths, it doesn’t play to her teammates’ strengths, and it bogs the team down. When she’s a point guard, she’s not thinking about shooting, and we need her to shoot. I’m not sure what’s going on with Sugar Rodgers, either. The effort is there, but it seems to be coming to naught. I don’t know if she needs to have her confidence put back together, or to spend more time in the gym, or what.

Why do we act like we’ve never met each other before? Honest question. Paradoxically, I wonder if part of the team’s problem is a fixation on fit, not on who can help the team win basketball games. I’m happy when our players get along, and I’m happy when they get involved with the community (the team got their community assist award before the game), but ultimately they are rather paid to play basketball, and hopefully win games.

Y’all. They’re t-shirts. Like, seriously. Buy them in bulk and they cost maybe four dollars, and that’s including a multi-color screen imprint. I know this because I am a trained professional and Gildan tees are kind of my jam. Y’all do not have to climb on seats, over seats, over each other, and generally act like ants discovering a glass of sugar water for one.

I have met many Sky fans who are lovely people. That doesn’t keep me from side-eyeing the pair of blondes two rows in front of me who got all excited whenever Dolson or Vandersloot or Quigley scored, but couldn’t summon up the same enthusiasm for Breland or Copper. First of all, y’all are on the wrong side of the court, and second of all... do I actually have to spell out “second of all”?

It’s a quick turnaround back in the saddle again; by the time you get to read these notes, we’ll probably be playing the Mystics, or whatever’s left of them. Everything seems so simple from the stands. What am I missing?

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

June 23rd, 2017: Connecticut at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: Strong perimeter shooting powered the Connecticut Sun to as much as a 20-point lead in their 94-89 win over the New York Liberty. Jasmine Thomas had 23 points to lead five Sun players in double figures. Tina Charles had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Liberty, who mounted a furious comeback in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

For pride, passion, perimeter shooting, and other things that start with P, join your intrepid and easily distracted blogger after the jump.

Good evening! It’s been a long time coming, but the Liberty are back at home. They’re taking on the Connecticut Sun, with a score to settle.

It’s one of the best nights of the year- Pride Night. Rainbows will be everywhere. Pride will be everywhere. NOH8 is set up in the lobby, taking pictures and selling swag. We have rainbow sunglasses, though the striping is a bit off- the blue is so dark I missed it the first time.

Skipped autographs. Don’t care that much about the Sun and I forgot my Liberty hat. Besides, I had to get my gym badge. (The only Team Mystic I root for.)

It’s halftime, and Connecticut is up 46-32. Our perimeter defense has been slightly leakier than a colander in a monsoon. Shekinna Stricklen already has four treys. Tina Charles is not dealing well with the triple-team, and our wandering “Euros” look like they actually speak Czech and Russian.

We’re enjoying Crystal Waters as our halftime show. I approve. (I never actually heard “Gypsy Woman” before, so.)

Doing a lip-reading contest with a Swede who tends to mumble and an Australian who may not be the sharpest knife in the knifey-spooney game was probably not wise, Libs.

In the continuing cultural clash of us versus the women in front of us, one of them actually said something along the lines of, “We’re both looking at our phones; why are we here?” to the other one. I don’t know, why are you paying almost $40 a game to not watch the game, kvetch about people who are cheering, and complain about how crowded it is? They ended up leaving when the Liberty went down 20, which means they missed the big comeback.

D’awww, Amanda Zahui B playing keepaway with Rachel Banham during warmups for old time’s sake.

I don’t know what’s going on, but Shavonte Zellous has been jawjacking Katie Smith both during timeouts and at the end of halftime. Someone is pissed at someone.

As I end up saying about a lot of games: that could have gone better, but it could have gone a whole lot worse. We let them shoot holes through us, we gave up huge shots, and we made some of the most boneheaded plays I’ve ever seen a professional basketball team make. Connecticut outworked us for most of the game, and I give them all the credit in the world for that.

Brionna Jones got a little run, and applied her physicality to the game, but she was outclassed. Kayla Pedersen played pretty smart defense and boxed out well- there was one play where she positioned herself so that Nayo had to foul her. Her shot hasn’t come back yet, but she brings a useful dimension off the bench (though I don’t know if that’ll stunt the young Terp’s development). Alex Bentley was on point from the midrange. I think Connecticut is better with her coming off the bench- their lineup is more versatile that way.

Shekinna Stricklen shoots threes real good- the last one she hit, she was so far out I think her heels were actually over the sideline (but in the air- the balls of her feet were on the ground). She doesn’t bring a whole lot else to the floor, but when you’re shooting lights out and the defense is all shrug-emoji about it, that’s almost all you need to do. Jonquel Jones is something special, and Sun fans should know her and love her and cherish her. She has great hands, and fantastic body control (she’s so bendy!), and range, and a mean right hand, and she damn near dunked it on one fast break, and I would really love her for my team, kplzthxbai. Alyssa Thomas is a one-woman wrecking crew, physical on both ends of the floor and loving it. She was a big part of why Tina Charles was a non-factor for much of the game. She runs the floor so well, and she plays so well with her point guard you’d think they were related or something.

Okay, I know Jasmine Thomas isn’t related to Alyssa Thomas, but you have to admit it makes for a good joke, right? She was hot from three, and had some ridiculous shots in the lane go in the basket. There was a break with her and AThomas that was brilliant, and a play where she had a pretty sweet three off a Thomas screen. Sun announcers must have a field day with the two of them. My first instinct is to call Courtney Williams a waterbug, but that’s kind of insulting. She’s quick, and she’s annoying, but dang, she’s good. That shot release is remarkable. She had a monster block on Kia Vaughn that probably got the Sun fans on their feet even watching on LiveAccess or NBA-TV.

Great ball movement by Connecticut, and great shooting. They know how to create mismatches. And certainly having a Swiss Army knife like Jonquel Jones helps. (Also, Jonquel is a fun name to say.)

I thought part of the reason we kept Lindsay Allen on the roster was to have a point guard when the players being forced to play point guard started failing at it. Bill didn’t go to her at all in the first half, went to her early in the second half, and then proceeded to ignore her until the very end of the game. I didn’t think she was bad. She wasn’t great- there was a pass she made that was a bit too strong for its recipient- but she seemed to have a better grasp of the team dynamic than some of her more veteran teammates. Rebecca Allen came in as a shooter, took one shot, missed one shot, and proceeded to do absolutely nothing else of any use on the floor. I like Australians, and I like my fellow Rebeccas, but she’s got to get her act together. At least rebound! Epiphanny Prince was solid in the fourth quarter, and I like her ball-hawking on defense. She showed a lot of hustle late.

Kia Vaughn, bless her heart. She looked tentative, and she looked like she wasn’t sure whether she’d actually seen any of these people before in her life. I know it’s her first game back, and the coaching staff doesn’t speak Czech as far as I know, but still. There was a possession that ended in a shot clock violation where she had a shot with five seconds to go that she’s taken before that she passed off. Sometimes being unselfish is the wrong move! Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe brought hustle, but seemed a step slow against the relentless work of the Sun. Also, I do not think she should be taking three-pointers. She’s welcome to prove me wrong at some point.

I don’t know what was going on with Shavonte Zellous, but she spent most of the game hot under the collar. Yelling at coaches and gesturing at teammates while yelling at coaches normally doesn’t end well for people. It’s nice to see that she’s still being aggressive on offense (we were worried she might take a step back in that regard with Piph coming back), but she’s got to be smarter on defense. Kiah Stokes kept getting beat by Jonquel Jones on the strong side, and it was not pretty. She did some pretty good rumbling down low on the boards, but I don’t think she took enough of the pressure off Tina. Tina Charles was way too tentative in the first three quarters. Yes, she was being doubled and tripled, but she let that drive her to the perimeter (or the game plan was to have her on the perimeter, which is worse) until the fourth quarter. Then she went nuts. I can’t help but wonder if this game would have been different if she’d asserted her Olympian will earlier- maybe she’d have been able to draw an extra foul on Jones or Thomas (the tall ones), maybe she’d have gotten one or two extra baskets. Maybe it might have been enough.

Maybe that’s a lot to put on Tina, but she’s a superstar; it's intrinsic to the role.

I don’t know what’s up with Bria Hartley, but I don’t know if I like it. Her offensive numbers were good, but her passing was a mess (there was a sequence where I don’t know if it was her or Kiah, but the ball ended up in Jonquel Jones’s hands, and that was the almost-dunk). When she was out of position on defense, it was especially obvious. I’m not going to downplay her role in the comeback, but I’m not going to let her off the hook for us being in the hole in the first place. Sugar Rodgers had her stroke going early, and her defensive intensity was ferocious. We lost her for the second half- I’m not completely sure what her injuries were, but her back was wrapped up pretty tightly, and by the end of the game she wasn’t even on the bench. This is worrisome.

Perimeter defense. Y’all. I don’t know if this is by design or if the entire team is messing up the scheme, but if Connecticut is shooting lights out from beyond the arc, perhaps concentrating on the perimeter might be a good idea? I know it was the first game back for two major players, but we looked really discombobulated. We do know each other, right? It might be time for another round of introductions.

The fourth quarter comeback- without Sugar available- says a lot about our makeup. The crowd really got behind the team- it was one of the most enthusiastic crowds of the year. Pride Night always brings out a really good crowd.

Honestly, if there were officiating issues, we got the benefit of them, so I can’t really complain too much. This crew really let the players play.

Sorry for the delay on these, by the way- for some reason I’ve been exhausted, and it took a while to get back to this. I’ll try to be better in the future.

I’m cautiously optimistic still. The line between caution and optimism will depend a lot on Sugar’s health and whether she’s able to join the road trip. We just need a little more time for the returned wanderers to reacquaint themselves with their teammates.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

June 11th, 2017: Seattle at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: The New York Liberty had the final run in a back and forth game with the Seattle Storm, coming away 94-86 victors. Tina Charles and Sugar Rodgers each had 21 points to pace the Liberty, with Charles adding 14 rebounds and Rodgers adding four steals and three blocks. Breanna Stewart notched 23 points and 10 rebounds for Seattle before fouling out; Sue Bird added 21 points and 10 assists.

For cupcakes, monster blocks, hideous jerseys, crowd noise, and big wins, join your intrepid and sick blogger after the jump.

Good afternoon, folks, and welcome to Madison Square Garden, the World’s Most Famous Arena, as the Liberty take on the visiting Seattle Storm.

At halftime, the Liberty are up 43-40, in a game that’s been very exciting. Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart are basically playing “anything you can do, I can do better”. Tina has 13 points and nine rebounds, while Steowart has 14 and seven. Jewell Loyd got going a bit in the second quarter, and we all know how lethal Sue Bird can be.

There are an awful lot of Storm fans here, but Seattle’s roster is overloaded for that kind of thing. Bird and Stewart are both from New York, and there’s even a family of Syracuse fans here (I’m guessing for Peterson, or why would they have worn Syracuse gear? Because there’s no reason to wear that orange otherwise. Ever.)

But special mention must go out to Breanna Stewart’s Mini-Me, with her UConn #30 jersey and shorts. Stewie seemed quite taken with the kid.

Lots of dance groups here today. Not sure how I feel about the group in pink that was shaking their tushies. Quoting the kids next to me on that one.

One of the Reb’s posters made a crack about loving Big East basketball, and with UConn, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Georgetown, and Boston College represented on these rosters, I see his point.

I’m okay with cute little kid DJs, but not when they’re obvious fakes. Pro tip: it’s rather obvious when you’re not wearing headphones.

Someone has no idea of what they’ve done to their child. There’s a kid wearing the infamous #11 Schumacher jersey that existed ever so briefly before someone told Schuey that wearing Spoon’s number would be a terribad idea.

It’s the celebration of Maddie’s birthday today. The mascot’s age has conspicuously not been mentioned, perhaps because savvy fans will decide that it’s time for shots (shots shots shotsshotsshots). (Honestly, though, the team is missing a golden opportunity to market this to adult fans. We’re in the 21st season, after all...)

To the performance artist on the A train: yes, announcing that the train is only stopping at the last stop will get you the attention of everyone on board. It will also make sure that no one gives you money when you start hitting them up, even when they agree with your political beliefs and the points you’re making about police brutality, black-on-black crime, and the orange thing in the White House.

Woo! What a game! And I’m not just saying that because we won. It was a tight, hard-fought game all the way through, and I would not have expected Seattle to be the team that lost their composure in the waning minutes. But the crowd was fired up, and the defense was on point.

Carolyn Swords got a warm welcome back at the Garden (she actually squeed in warmups when a fan welcomed her back), but she was highly ineffective in her brief time. Kiah showed her why we kept Kiah instead of her. Sami Whitcomb got her shot off in a hurry, and was pesky defending along the sideline (one might even say she harried the ballhandler). She fills the need left by KML’s absence, but I think KML might be better at it.

Seattle has got to be looking to move Crystal Langhorne, or something. Ramu Tokashiki is too good and too versatile to be stuck on that bench forever. Her propensity for fouling, or at least for being the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time, keeps her minutes down, and she’s got to work on that. But she got buckets at the basket with strong moves and good cuts, and she screened well for her teammates. Noelle Quinn can still occasionally hit open shots when her teammates set her up, but her value to Seattle is more in her size and her ballhandling ability- she can play 1 through 3 in their lineups, allowing both Loyd and Bird to move off the ball as necessary.

I don’t know if Alysha Clark was off tonight, or if the defense on her was that good, or if her shot has just abandoned her for good, but her shot was AWOL today. It was consistently short and a bit flat; she got her points in the paint. Crystal Langhorne was pesky defensively, bodying up Tina Charles when she was in. She’s a hustler and a scrapper, but whatever looks Seattle was thinking of finding for her never panned out. Breanna Stewart balled out in the first half- she and Tina looked like they were trying to one-up each other for a while. She ran Tina ragged on defense, too, and no one else was really capable of checking her (except when Sugar put the cape on). She’s so phenomenally well-rounded that it would be fun to watch her if she didn’t play for the other team. Fouling her out in the fourth quarter (on a play she should have backed off on) was a game-changer.

Sue Bird still has it- the passing eye, the killer instinct, the beautiful jumper. She might be a step slow, but only a step. She played more off the ball than I was used to, but she still did a beautiful job setting up her teammates. Jewell Loyd is capable of startling speed and ups, and I think one of the biggest things we did in this game was keep her grounded and control the pace so she couldn’t get off and running. There were moments when the defense sagged, and she cut through the paint like a hot knife through butter for lay-ups. But those moments were fewer and further between than Seattle might have liked.

Great ball movement from the Storm. They whipped the ball around the perimeter and created looks for three, something we have trouble defending. But they fell apart at the end of the game; if you had told me one of the turning points of the game would be Sue Bird fumbling the ball, I would have looked at you like you had multiple heads.

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe has gotten better with every game this season. She cleaned up on the offensive glass and had some sweet putbacks. She’s been a crucial part of this big run, and I’m not sure where we’re going to find minutes for her when Kia Vaughn comes back (or where we’re going to find minutes for Kia, for that matter). Amanda Zahui B continues her role of mopping up minutes for players who need rest near the ends of quarter. I’d like her for her to be able to do more, and there are signs she’s learning how not to commit stupid unnecessary fouls.

Lindsay Allen did a decent job defensively on Sue Bird (you can argue she was more effective on her than Bria Hartley). There are ways in which she’s still working off the rookie jitters, but she’s coming along nicely- better than I thought when I saw her in the preseason. Rebecca Allen brings offense- but her defense has been abysmal. When she’s not shooting- let alone not hitting- she’s a liability on the floor. She hustled on the glass, but at the same time, she probably could have been dinged for a couple of fouls on reaches and over-the-back calls.

Bria Hartley seems to get hot in stretches- she’ll hit a couple of baskets in a row, then go quiet again. She couldn’t keep up with Bird on defense. But we needed her points. On the other hand, Sugar Rodgers had one of the best defensive games I’ve ever seen out of her. She had a magnificent stuff on Loyd, a great stop on Stewart, and hard on-ball work on Bird, which seems like it should be some kind of formalized trifecta. Her shot fell enough, and at the right time, and she hit her free throws down the stretch. Probably the best game of the year from her, and a game we needed- not just offensively, but defensively. I am still in awe and squee at the defensive plays she made in this game.

Shavonte Zellous continues to be a solid scoring option, and she mostly toned down the yapping at the officials. Her three was part of the final run that sealed the game for the Liberty, and the roof pretty much came off when she hit it. She’s really come on during the Eurobasket stretch. Kiah Stokes brought the physicality, which helped free up Tina. It’s a bit of a step back from the breakout performances she had the last couple of games, but that wasn’t what we needed from her, and she did drop a massive block on Breanna Stewart late in the game (plus she drew the sixth foul on Stewie). I’d like to see her stop babying the baby hook quite so much- she had a couple of short misses with it. Tina Charles started off hot and came on for a couple of big baskets in the fourth quarter, but she was laboring. She had her hands full with Stewart (as she was the only one of our forwards who could handle Stewie inside and out) and got regularly doubled and tripled by the Seattle defense. You could see how hard she was sweating.

(Related to that angle, I may be a little bit in love with Kiah’s shoulders. Not Loree Moore level, but very nice to look at.)

Still can’t believe they didn’t hit Stewart with a tech for elbowing Bec in the face. Yes, they called it an offensive foul after the review, but still.

Great crowd atmosphere, and I think that played a part in Seattle losing their cool at the end. The noise was amped up, which is unusual for the Sunday games; usually those are the days when parents bring their kids and look at you funny if you start yelling. But the kids and their parents around us were really into the game (even if the one girl wasn’t sure whether Shavonte and Tokashiki were girls or not- mom made it clear they both were in a hurry).

Maddie got cupcakes. I have no idea where they ended up. (Also, I am rocking with the headcanon that Hudson is Maddie’s super annoying little brother, and going with it until/unless we end up with a litter of mascot puppies.)

The fan cam is creepy and I wish it would go away.

Do you think players like Bird and Stewart get tired of coming off the court during warmups and immediately being swallowed by the media piranhas? Obviously they’re too well trained to show it, but I always wonder what’s going on in their minds as they go through another round of questions.

Brittany Boyd sighting! She was rocking the jeans (though shimmying in a full walking boot while leaning on a crutch is perhaps not a wise life decision). More relevantly, she was rocking the big black nerd glasses, as befits a Cal alumna.

That was one of the best games I’ve seen all year, both as a Liberty fan and as a WNBA fan. The team looks like it’s starting to gel, and we faced a most worthy opponent. Now it’s on the road- see you all next week or so!

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

June 7th, 2017: Atlanta at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: The New York Liberty kept on rolling in their 76-61 win over the Atlanta Dream. Tina Charles had 18 points and 15 rebounds to lead New York, with Kiah Stokes adding a game-high 17 rebounds. Tiffany Hayes and Brittney Sykes each had 14 points to pace the Dream.

For truce, buffer room, unexpected flashbacks, impressive youth, and guarded optimism, join your intrepid and comfortable blogger after the jump.

School Day.

Teams love it. The league loves it. There are even misguided fan souls who love it.

I? Am not one of those. I don’t like children. I don’t like large groups of children. I don’t like directionless screaming. I don’t like having to schedule vacation days, or else waste a $46 ticket, to be surrounded by thousands of screaming children. If I had my way, there would be no School Days, or Camp Days, or Kids Days. You want to do stuff for the kids? Fine. Why should season subscribers have to pay for it? Do an event that is exclusively for schools, not accessible to season ticket holders, no matter their VIP level.

To the three cops at Fulton Street: sorry, you missed the train, the doors are closed, y’all have to wait for the next train like everyone else. (Given that one of them was carrying a folding table, either they were returning from a shift as random search checkpoint personnel or on their way to a wrestling match.)

I am not comforted by the chaperones of the group next door using their thundersticks to mete out discipline. Y’all claim to be a leadership academy?

Well, this is going swimmingly so far. At halftime, the Liberty are up 47-29. Tina Charles is doing Tina Charles things, the bench has been productive, the kids around me are either engaged with the game or being quiet about their disinterest, and no one’s hit me with a thunderstick.

I could do without the anti-bullying slam poetry at the half, but this is what makes it E/I programming.

I’m starting to get the feeling that Layshia Clarendon is not a morning person.

Brittney Sykes is kind of adorable, in a refreshing honesty sort of way: as the half ended, she was smacking herself in the forehead for whatever mistake she made that led to the foul by Williams and the free throws for Shavonte.

I am totally here for Kyle O’Quinn’s mom kicking butt on the dance-cam.

There’s something bizarrely ironic or hipster or something about one of the “oversized” jerseys for Dress and Dribble being a Schimmel jersey. (And the other one was a Maddie jersey. I mean, really.)

Someone needs to get Mike W. a pronunciation guide. This is a recording. I think he had three different pronunciations for Damiris Dantas’s last name so far. We ended at four, and maybe the first one was correct.

I don’t think Atlanta are morning people. They rely very heavily on youth, and when that youth does not serve them, it’s going to be a long day.

Matee Ajavon was already working the ref before she even checked into the game. She was a sparkplug for the Dream in the second half, taking the rotation spot that had belonged to Meighan Simmons in the first half. She was aggressive at both ends of the floor. Meighan Simmons still likes to shoot, but to be honest, I missed about half her second stint on the floor because I was tweeting about the game (which will show me not to tweet during games, but it was picking up on something I started during a timeout). Brianna Kiesel is slight, and fast, and gritty. I admire that kind of player.

So are we sure that Brittney Sykes isn’t actually Deanna Nolan with a little plastic surgery and a fake ID? Because holy crap on a stick, she has the same two skinny braids behind the thick headband, the same build, the same ridiculous vertical, the same drive in the lane, the same fallaway jumper. I am genuinely weirded out by this. She doesn’t have the consistent athleticism that Tweety had, but she’s also torn her ACL multiple times, I can forgive that. I managed to miss her when Syracuse played at St. John’s, so I had no idea what I was getting into. Damiris Dantas, in addition to the indignity of having her name mispronounced all night (source: I went and asked a Brazilian), could not get her shots to fall, either in the lane or from the midrange. She had looks, and they simply would not fall. It was a bad day for her; it happens.

I know I joked about Layshia Clarendon not being a morning person, but I swear there’s something to it. She didn’t play great at all, but she was more out of it in the first half than the second half. In the second half, she was at least able to create a little bit, both for herself and her teammates. Overall, she didn’t seem to have the control and command over the game that she’s shown in Atlanta’s televised games this season. I really don’t like Tiffany Hayes. I respect her shooting, and her willingness to perform full-body sacrifice at all times. She’s a heck of a player. But at the same time, I could do without the flopping, and the milking of every time she hits the floor, and the dramatic overreaction every time there’s a call or non-call that she disagrees with, whether she was involved on the play or not. Tip, sometimes your teammates need to fight their own battles.

Bria Holmes managed to make a fantastic impression without hitting the broad side of a barn, which is pretty impressive when you think about it. She showed a lot of grit and hustle going after loose balls and tipping away rebounds. I love what she brings to the floor, and when she hits more shots she’ll be even more dangerous. Sancho Lyttle doesn’t have that spring in her step anymore, and her jumper is not the weapon she thinks it is, but it is still a very bad idea to attempt to pass over the top of her. Elizabeth Williams got bodied up all night, and it showed. She took a lot of contact inside, knocking her shots off balance. She was just as physical defensively, and she’s a solid defensive player. I like watching hard-nosed post players at work.

I originally thought this was going to be a game where we found out what Atlanta was made of, and if that was the case, then they’re not made out of very much except smoke and mirrors. But I think it’s more likely that this game was the aberration: they ran headlong into a defensive post tandem that was in the mood to prove themselves and a bench that was able to rise to the challenge.

I would very much like for Lindsay Allen to stop committing stupid fouls, but she’s a rookie; that kind of thing is to be expected. She had some nifty passes in this one. I think she’s more comfortable with the starters than she is with the other reserves; I think she has a better sense of what her role is when she’s subbing for Sugar or Bria. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe seems to have a knack for drawing trouble, or something, because this is the second game in a row where someone’s done their best to put a forearm in her throat. Lyttle was all up in her business, and I don’t know why. I mean, she’s stubborn, and she’s a little grabby, but not to the point of wanting to kick her ass that badly. Love her hustle. Love Rebecca Allen’s offense, but she’s got to play better defense. I’m not asking her to turn into DPOY or anything, but as the saying goes, defense is played with the feet, not the hands; she’s not doing enough to get herself in position to make the plays she needs to make, so she ends up reaching, and fouling, and causing Coach Laimbeer to throw out his arms and toss back his head in dismay. You know the pose. We all know the pose.

I’d also really like for Amanda Zahui B to stop making stupid mistakes on the floor so that she can be more than just a soaker-up of stray minutes at the ends of quarters to keep Tina from picking up cheap fouls and falling over (not necessarily in that order). I also want to know what’s up with Cierra Burdick, because she’s barely playing and her hustle seems to have disappeared in those precious seconds she does get.

Is it safe to say that Kiah Stokes might be back? She wasn’t the offensive threat today she was the last couple of games, but she was ferocious on the boards (Tina had to throw up the “aieee, don’t hit me in the face!” forearms under the basket a couple of times). The away-from-the-ball offensive fouls are starting to become a problem, especially since I don’t know what she’s doing (since they’re away from the ball and all that). But, most importantly, she’s being the physical bruiser we need next to Tina. Tina Charles got off to a hot start- she slowed down later on as the defense started to wear her down with doubles and triples, just draping themselves on her like so much laundry. I think the burden is starting to wear her down a bit- even though everyone else has been stepping up around her, she’s still expected to be the star, and needs to be if everyone else is going to have space to operate. Shavonte Zellous continues to be exceptionally passionate about all calls and non-calls that she believes should have gone in the Liberty’s favor. I keep thinking about the Barenaked Ladies line about wearing your heart on your sleeve and having a habit of taking off your shirt. (I’m paraphrasing.) She’s been handling a lot of the point guard duties- bringing the ball up the floor, initiating the offense, that kind of thing, and she’s surprisingly good at it. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting that.

As awesome as the three Sugar Rodgers hit from somewhere in the vicinity of Newport News was, it was the result of a broken play, and you could see Coach Laimbeer’s “no, no, no, YES!” reaction as she shot it and it went in. I think she’s starting to find a little of her confidence again, though. She’s taking shots in the flow of the offense- they might be quick ones, but most of them have been good quick ones. I’m okay with quick shots if they aren’t just panic heaves with no one in position to rebound. Bria Hartley is definitely better off the ball. This was not her day, but we survived.

On one hand, I appreciate the clarity of Janetta Graham’s communication on the floor- she was crisp on her calls and signals. On the other hand, it looked like she was trying too hard to ensure that the coaches respected her authoritah. I wonder if that has to do with being a fairly young female ref dealing with two NBA alumni coaches. I’m really, really not sure what was up with all the offensive fouls.

T-shirts are serious business, man. I don’t get it. People attack those shirts like piranhas.

Kids weren’t digging the Timeless Torches. Their School Day routine isn’t one of the strongest they have, though. (I do think it’s weird we don’t have a regular dance team- we have kids and we have older dancers, but we don’t have the usual complement of svelte, toned, twenty-and-thirty somethings.)

The difficulty level goes up from here. But I think we’re starting to rise to the challenge. I do love this team.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

June 4th, 2017: Phoenix at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: The New York Liberty tightened up the defense in the fourth quarter to win down the stretch, 88-72, against the Phoenix Mercury. Kiah Stokes had a career-high 23 points to go with a game-high 14 rebounds. Shavonte Zellous added 21. Brittney Griner had 26 points to lead all scorers.

For repeated flexing in a no-flex zone, a missed moment of awesome, too much purple, career highs, rocking the rim, and bringing the noise, join your intrepid and pleasantly surprised blogger after the jump.

Good afternoon, everyone! We just dodged the rain; let’s hope we can dodge the desert heat, too! It's gameday at the Garden, as the Liberty host the Phoenix Mercury. (I almost wrote ‘hose’ there, which is rather more wishful thinking.)

No real pregame notes; most of the Mercury never made it out to the court or were already off before the fans got there.

Way too many stargazers for this game. Too much purple. I like purple in most contexts, but this is not one of them. On the plus side, the Yankee fan in front of me didn’t show up, and the family behind us is really enthusiastic about the game.

Youth chorus anthem. Not bad, but a little shaky.

Way too many dance groups. Staaaaaahp.

At halftime, the Liberty are up 47-41. Kiah Stokes is having herself a day already, with 15 and 10 at the break. Brittney Griner has been the star of the show for the Mercury, with 19 points. She’s even leading them in assists!

Liberty are getting a lot of good looks behind the defense, along the baseline. Mercury are getting three-point looks.

Cierra’s hair is still not on fire.

I wasn’t expecting to win this game late. I didn’t think we were the team that was going to make the big run in the fourth quarter to put the game away, because that’s not the team we’ve been. I’ll happily take it, don’t get me wrong!

Sandy, Y U NO PUT BRUNNER IN GAME? Would it really have made a difference in the final minute?

Alexis Prince saw a short bit of run in the second quarter (early, I think). She committed a not-smart foul, and that was pretty much the last we saw of her. Shay Murphy blew a fast break chance that she should have had (and almost led to an enormous play for the Liberty) but showed a lot of hustle on the offensive glass. Late in the game, she was one of the few Mercury players still fighting for loose balls. I have a lot of respect for that kind of hustle. Emma Cannon was very physical, and didn’t understand why she kept getting called for fouls. To be fair to her, a lot of people didn’t understand why they were being called for fouls, on both teams. I’m not sure what differentiates her from the myriad of physical post players out there that are mostly around to pick up fouls and instill fear in the opponent.

Yvonne Turner was not afraid to shoot, and there were times that she should have been. She needs to work on knowing where the three-point line is. Leilani Mitchell was fast, and efficient. She’s ruthless on defense (she’s just too tiny). Sometimes she needs to understand that “Hey! Pick on someone your own size!” can be a caution to smaller players, not just a challenge to taller players (perhaps having her try to guard Kiah Stokes was not a good plan). Cayla George’s shot reminds me of Stacy Frese’s shot- her body arches, so that that everything is over the arc except her feet. I’m not sure where she fits, positionally. She’s stuck in the front court, but I don’t know if she’s effective there.

I’m starting to think of Weeping Angels when I see Danielle Robinson play. You can’t look away from her. You can’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. Blink and she’s off down the floor, on the fast break, and that’s two points. Look away from her and she’s going to take the ball away from you. She looks like she’s been extending the range on her jumper; maybe someday she’ll hit a three. Diana Taurasi had a hot stretch in the second quarter that I thought was going to turn the game around. She was deadly beyond the arc. You always know when she’s on the floor, and not just because of her mouth. There’s something about the way she moves on the floor that’s electric, like she still has another gear even after all these years.

Brittney Griner got off to a sort of slow start, being nudged out of her comfort zone by the Liberty defense, but started to pick up when the fouls started to mount up on the defense. She got down low and hit shots, and when she didn’t have angles she threw passes that no Liberty player could reach (though I’m not sure any 6’9” player needs to leave her feet to pass). She almost had a phenomenal tip-in off a loose ball early in the game, the kind of play even opposing fans have to admire. I don’t know if she can set a legal screen, though. Stephanie Talbot did a lot of holding inside. She was astonishingly unremarkable for a starter. Nobody is ever going to outwork Camille Little, but she’s started to reach that point in her career where she’s drifting to the perimeter offensively, and unlike many players, it doesn’t seem to be coming naturally to her. She didn’t look like she was being used to her full potential in the lineup.

I thought Phoenix gave up in the last couple of minutes. If you’re in a scenario where you really need threes, or at least consistent scoring, I would think you would want Taurasi on the floor, not Robinson. But what do I know?

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe is rapidly making herself very popular among Liberty fans for her endless motor and hustle. She never gives up on a rebound. She’s always looking for a way to make a play on a loose ball. Her offense still needs polishing, but she gives us a lift right when we need it. Amanda Zahui B had all the chances in the world to get a bucket, but she just couldn’t get the shot to go down. (And I think her grandma was here, so now I’m really bummed that she didn’t have a good game.) We still need to find Rebecca Allen’s confidence, but it’s getting there. Defense still needs work, though.

Shoot the damn ball, Lindsay! Lindsay Allen is being called upon in a big way for the next couple of weeks, and she needs to find her footing in a hurry. I like her court vision, and I definitely see why people had been excited about her in the first place. She had some nifty ballhandling that made me wonder how she managed to avoid being called for a travel. I’m thinking she might develop nicely in a couple of years now. Chelsea Hopkins finished the first half as a speed counter to Phoenix’s guards. If what we did hadn’t worked, I might have gone to her more in the second half. (But since it did, I shouldn’t complain.)

Tina Charles had Brittney Griner on her most of the night, which limited what she could do at the basket, and even in the midrange. (Those long arms, man. Freakin’ crazy.) When Griner had to go out of the game in the third quarter, Tina had more opportunities at the line when Talbot and George tried (and failed) to guard her legally. Fortunately, having Griner on Tina meant that Kiah Stokes was available, and she took full advantage. The defense kept doubling and tripling Tina, or whoever had the ball, and Kiah just sneaked along the baseline for good looks. The scary part was that the looks she missed were also good looks right at the rim. Her rebounding was on point. Her defense was on point. She laid a couple of shutdown blocks, one on Cannon, one on Taurasi. What a night for her! Shavonte Zellous also seems to have found her offensive groove as well. She and Kiah had some really good passing action going on. I’m really glad Shavonte’s jumper has arrived; I guess it was held up at customs for some reason. I’m still worried her mouth is going to get her in trouble, but she can probably handle it. And who knows, maybe it’ll get someone else in trouble first.

I’m still also worried about Sugar Rodgers’s shot. Maybe that halfcourt buzzer-not-quite-beater will boost her confidence going forward, but she had open shots in this game and could not get them to go down. She’s doing a phenomenal job defensively, shaking loose balls and proceeding to make plays on them- her hands have been great. Her passing to the interior has also been pretty solid. Honestly, she seems to be doing better as the point guard in our jury-rigged lineup. Meanwhile, Bria Hartley seems more comfortable off the ball, with Sugar or Shavonte handling more of the playmaking. She’s finding shots, and she’s finding a place in the lineup. I get the feeling that if we still had Brittany Boyd, Bria would have made these strides maybe a week or so sooner, instead of having her head ripped off for not being a point guard. (And yes. Guilty as charged.)

We aren’t always going to win shootouts. As long as we consistently bring defensive intensity, we should be all right. And the Liberty’s calling card has pretty much always been defense, from day one. That’s what keeps me in love with this team.

We got the benefit of the doubt on the officiating (except for Griner swinging a forearm at Nayo, a play that didn’t even get reviewed because Cannon and {I think} Shavonte got tangled up on a potential double foul). There were plays that should have been fouls on Kiah and Shavonte. I’m not going to lie about that. The play by Rebecca Allen that led to Sugar’s halfcourt heave should probably have been a foul. I’ll take it as the balancing act it is, and I hope Coach Laimbeer has reminded them to be more careful about fouling on defense in the future.

I honestly didn’t expect to start 2-0 without Kia and Piph. I don’t know if we can keep this up. But I’m taking bets on who’s next to have a career high!

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

June 2nd, 2017: Dallas at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: The New York Liberty roared back in the third quarter and hung on late to beat the Dallas Wings 93-89. Tina Charles had a game- and career-high 36 points to go with 10 rebounds; Shavonte Zellous added 27 points, and Kiah Stokes had 13 points and 15 rebounds. Skylar Diggins-Smith had 19 points to lead four Wings in double figures.

For fashion disasters, the judgment of Mama Taj, worrisome guards, trials by fire, and getting off my lawn, join your intrepid blogger after the jump.

Why do the four-day weeks always seem longer? You’d think they wouldn’t be, right? And yet here we are. At least it's Friday. We can make it. I believe in you. I don’t know if I believe in me, but I believe in you.

Let’s take a moment to offer up prayers for the recovery and/or soul of my beloved Jocelyn, who may be dead or dying. She wouldn’t start up this morning, but I’m hoping I can fix that with a system restore. She’s been a good computer, sleek and beautiful and fast. As useful and lightweight as Kim (my Samsung tablet) and Manuel (the Lenovo laptop I’m typing these notes on) have been, things just won’t be the same without Jocelyn.

The difference between a 7:00 start and a 7:30 start is so stark it's not even funny. Even if Dallas did pretty much blow everyone off. That includes the two girls in Dallas green. Y’all. People are willingly wearing that putrid color you claim as your primary, and you ignore them? You deserve your bad karma. (Except for Chong, Christmas-Kelly, and Davis.)

It’s going to be a torch night. I didn’t think that this was that big a matchup, but you do you.

Hello to the Irish fans down in the front row of our section. I hope you and the rest of our visitors enjoy their visit!

No Timeless Torches, but we get Lil’ Torches instead. This is an acceptable exchange.

At halftime, it’s 50-45 Dallas, and I feel like it could have been worse.

Cierra Burdick is utterly adorable, between her dance moves with Amanda Zahui B and her patting the back of her hair as if to make sure it was still there when the torch flared off.

Shavonte. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. I know you’re frustrated. But stop talking. Just. Stop talking. Certainly stop talking to the Dallas bench.

I feel like the picture-perfect crossover followed by the airball 3 is as succinct a synopsis of Bria Hartley’s season as we’ll find this year.

Stupid Dallas fan frat boys.

Stupid jerks doing the Bleacher Creature roll call for the Wings.

Stupid ugly Dallas uniforms.

Not for nothing, but seats in our area are $46 per game. I have issues with people who pay $46 to go to a Liberty game and watch a Yankee statcast during a one-possession game.

(Peripherally related, I think I have my new sig line over at Reb’s.)

This was entirely too close for comfort, and I can’t shake the feeling that we got out of it as much by the Wings’ issues as we did by Tina Charles Being Awesome And Doing Everything So Well She Deserves All The Capital Letters. There were recoveries. But there’s a problem. There’s a big problem. But we’ll get to that.

Seriously, Dallas, is that red accent supposed to represent the bleeding your eyes do if they have to stare at those green uniforms for any length of time? I’m normally all about getting away from blue uniforms, but Dallas has a really nice and somewhat unique blue I’d like to see them use more.

Saniya Chong still has a lot of work to do, but I like her instincts on the floor. She got outplayed by her Liberty rookie counterpart, or at least outhustled. She got a surprisingly big hand from the crowd; either there are more UConn fans among the Liberty crowd than I thought or the population of Ossining was temporarily transported to Manhattan. I see why they kept her, though. She’s technically sound. Kayla Thornton sort of came off as the poor man’s Glory Johnson; there were a couple of sequences where I had to double-check the number to see who made the play. She’s not quite as a lot of things as Johnson is: not quite as tall, not quite as athletic, not quite as quick. She got into foul trouble in a hurry in the third quarter. Kaela Davis is a very nice shooter, and there’s no reason we should be leaving her open.

I don’t have an Internet connection right now, so I can’t go back in time and look at my notes from the times I’ve seen LSU play. But I’m pretty sure at some point I saw Theresa Plaisance in college, and I’m pretty sure I commented on her soft touch and long range ability back then. If an untrained fan sitting in the stands can spot it, I would think trained professionals would have it on the scouting report. And yet we kept leaving her open for threes (and we’re lucky one of them wasn’t a four-point play; the ref must have decided that Tina was giving her a high five for the basket). Glory Johnson brought a lot of speed and athleticism to the floor; there were several sequences where she was the one bringing the ball up with long, loping strides, and she wasn’t half bad at it. She kept moving, especially on defense, tipping away passes. Karima Christmas-Kelly appears to have misplaced her jumper, and attempted to make up for the loss with reaching and grabbing. As much talking as was coming from the Liberty end (and there was plenty) she was doing more than her fair share to the refs. She took a couple of hits, though I only saw the aftermath of them and thus cannot pass judgment on who did what and why would they do such a thing. She was very physical. She’s a Bad Girl, but without the Detroit part of the pedigree.

I don’t like Skylar Diggins-Smith, but she does have moves. (I actually dislike the cult of personality around her more than her personally, but I also dislike players who cultivate said cults. Anyway.) As pretty as she is on offense- the long jumper, the floater in the lane, the drop passes- I think I like watching her more on defense. There’s something about the quick movement of her feet and the way she holds her hands out that just works. But also, I am a sucker for defense and have been since jump. Allisha Gray wasn’t afraid to shoot, which is a good sign for Dallas’s future. No, really! You know she’s going to be a big part of it, and given the trouble the Liberty have had with getting players to shoot, it’s sort of refreshing to see a rookie who isn’t.

I might have had the successful three-point shooter out on the floor in the final minute or two instead of the hothead with five fouls, but I’m not chill enough to be Fred Williams.

Rebecca Allen got some brief run in the first half, hardly worth mentioning, and Bill didn’t go back to her. She’s playing like someone who’s lost confidence in herself, and while I can’t say I’m surprised, I hope she finds her footing. Cierra Burdick does exist! She played briefly in the second half, and they were unmemorable minutes. But I’m glad she’s okay. Amanda Zahui B got first half run, but in the second half she was sort of balancing on a board on the sideline between dance numbers, so I think she might be dealing with some kind of nagging foot injury. Foot injuries are not to be messed with, especially for posts.

Welcome back, Lindsay Allen, and we’re just going to throw you straight into the fire, no pressure whatsoever. She was first off the bench (though that was partially out of necessity, not out of rotation) and she acquitted herself about as well as could be expected with a rookie in her first game back. She’s got to be more careful with her hands, and we could use a little more offensive aggression from her, but she’s shown me more in one game than she did in three preseason games. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe got the bulk of the minutes at all the forward positions, and I love the activity she brings to the floor. She tips balls and she makes plays happen.

Tina Charles, my goodness. She knows she has to be the center of attention, and she knows she’s going to be getting doubled and tripled pretty much every time she even thinks too hard about the ball, and she still put up a reasonably efficient career-high with a double-double to boot. We’re so lucky to have her. The only quibble I have is that she needs to be more careful with her fouls- we need her too much for her to have to be off the floor or backing off on defense. Kiah Stokes brought strong interior defense and rebounding. It was the kind of game we needed out of her; it was the kind of game we’re going to keep needing out of her. Shavonte Zellous had a fantastic offensive game, both shooting and driving. She had some defensive lapses that I found disturbing- you can’t have your hands down on Diggins-Smith. Also, Z, it is bad form to yell swear words so loudly that people ten rows up can hear them... especially if you did, in fact, commit a blatant reach-in foul on Christmas-Kelly.

Bria Hartley did better as a shooting guard than as a point guard, which is reassuring in one sense (that she’s not a complete walking disaster) and distressing in another (well, we did kind of bring her in with the expectation that she was going to be able to run point for at least a few minutes). Playing her as the shooting guard makes her more effective, but someone still has to do the ballhandling. And her shot has been inconsistent. And then there’s the other issue in the backcourt, the elephant in the room we’ve all been too distracted to discuss because there are too many other issues to count. I love what Sugar Rodgers has done for the Libs, but this year, she’s been too inconsistent, taking steps back to the volume shooter she was at Georgetown instead of the more measured player she’s been for the last year or so. I’ll give her credit for her defense and passing, but we’re not going to survive many games where Sugar’s first points are the game’s last points. She has to make better decisions on the floor.

Refs somehow managed to call a boatload of fouls and still let a ridiculous amount of contact by both teams go uncalled. It got physical frequently and often. I’m surprised no one got hurt.

Survive and advance. Three rotation players down, that’s all you can ask. It’s unrealistic to expect Shavonte to shoot like that again, or for Kiah to drop another double-double with such emphasis.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May 30th, 2017: Los Angeles at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: A strong start by Tina Charles and the Liberty gave way to a Sparks rally and a 90-75 Los Angeles win. Candace Parker had a team-high 22 points, with Nneka Ogwumike adding 20 points and 11 rebounds. Tina Charles had a game-high 25 points for the Liberty, with Epiphanny Prince adding 21.

For reflection, delayed reaction, sandwiches, panicking, patriotic spirit, and the possible presence of an unwanted smell, join your intrepid and concerned blogger after the jump.

I’m devoutly hoping that I got any bad karma I might have out of my system before gametime. The Liberty have enough problems- Brittany’s injury, Kia and Piph whoring themselves out overseas going to Eurobasket, Kiah and Amanda’s struggles- without any other bad juju affecting the team.

The Sparks aren’t going to be easy, that’s for sure. Loaded frontcourt crashing into a strong defensive frontcourt- but I think the guards will be key. We need Bria Hartley to be... better. Let’s just leave it there.

Seriously. If the Liberty have a day like I just had, it’s going to be a very long night, and WNBA policy forbids the sale of alcoholic beverages after the end of the third quarter.

At halftime, it’s 38-36 Liberty, mostly through the very hard work of Tina Charles, no thanks to the refs. (Seriously. Tiffany Bird needs to never work in this league again.)

Beautiful anthem tonight, in honor of Military Appreciation Night. Well done timeout presentations, too.

To the three people in front of us, respectively tracking the Yankee game, reading his news feed, and playing Words with Friends: sorry our passion for our team is interrupting your phone activity. You paid ~$50 for these seats each why?

Mike W is having a rough day. I know he knows how to pronounce Ogwumike, but he’s been botching it badly. (On the positive side of the ledger, he’s gotten to say Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, and relished every syllable of it. He likes long names, hyphenated names, vaguely exotic names, and long vowels; Nayo’s name is like the jackpot.)

It’s a bad sign when the three attempt Tina all but airballed and got real sheepish about is only the third stupidest thing the Liberty have done in the first half (highlighted by Kiah Stokes and Shavonte Zellous knocking each other out under their own basket).

This was not good, and not just because we lost, and not just because we ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. This was not good because the stars did what they had to do and the people behind them did sweet Fanny Adams to help. Players we were expecting to be more than they are have not been. Players we already had expectations for have been disastrous. It’s barely June and we already have to rethink the makeup of the roster. Losing Brittany Boyd didn’t help; losing Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn to Eurobasket definitely won’t help.

Short bench for the Sparks, because we’ve all met Brian Agler and we know how he rolls. Sydney Wiese got some good open looks in the first half and showed off that pretty left-handed jumper, but once the defense started to close more on her, she was less effective. I think that might have been why Agler didn’t go back to her in the second half. Jantel Lavender stretched the offense to the high post with long jumpers, and brought physicality down low on defense. Riquna Williams does love to shoot, and her speed caused absolute chaos on defense. But when she was off, it gave the Liberty long rebound opportunities and took Los Angeles out of their groove.

Alana Beard picked pockets like a professional perusing the tourists of Times Square. Having her on Tina Charles wasn’t gong to end well for the Liberty if Tina had to do any amount of ballhandling. She took advantage of opportunities on the fast break, but is historically enough of an offensive threat that we couldn’t sag off her very often. Essence Carson was soid on defense, and of course now she can figure out where the three-point line is. Of course. She got a pretty good hand from the crowd (and I think there were a fair few folks from Paterson there). Chelsea Gray showed the passing eye she’s so well known for; by the end of the game, she and her teammates were really starting to show off with behind the back flips. More importantly, she kept the pressure on. I don’t know if I would have had her taking quite so many shots to open the game if I were Los Angeles.

I really would like to know what is with Candace Parker’s on-court attitude. Is she trying to mean-mug her way through and just doesn’t have the face for it? (Some people just can’t pull off certain expressions. It happens.) She looks like she’s perpetually smelling something bad. Her ballhandling is exceptionally graceful, and when her jumper is falling, it’s beautiful. She cuts fluidly- not to the level of Chamique Holdsclaw in her heyday, not quite T-1000 liquidity, but gracefully. She’s a stark contrast to the under-the-basket grit of Nneka Ogwumike. Ogwumike knows where to be and isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to get there. I admire her toughness. I don’t know if I admire the dramatics both she and Parker put into their reactions. Parker is more demonstrative, so it comes off worse (there was a play that inspired me to ask if Tennessee had a diving team).

It still takes a lot for me to get used to Los Angeles- the team of glitz, glamour, and cover girls- as a defensive-minded team that will rough you up in ways other than elbows. I still think they’d be far easier to like without Parker.

Oh, dear. I have to talk about the Liberty bench, don’t I? And I have to do it without swearing. This should be a challenge. Okay, let’s start with the posts, they’re less swear-inducing. Kia Vaughn was very active, and I still think one of the fouls she got called for should have been given to Bria Hartley. She was tough on the inside, but as always, once the double or the triple comes she has no idea what to do. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe got extended minutes. She’s very quick and light on her feet- extremely mobile. She’s got a great motor. Unfortunately, her idea of shooting the ball is rather akin to throwing it at the glass and hoping it goes in. Putting it on goal is a noble idea, but perhaps in another sport. (We have a Canadian. It’s the Stanley Cup Finals. ALL THE HOCKEY JOKES.) Amanda Zahui B came in at the very end of the game, after repeated chants from the stands had no prior effect. (People, we are talking about Bill Laimbeer; y’all are making it less likely he’ll put your favorite in.) She didn’t do anything other than almost commit a foul.

Rebecca Allen had the chance to really get a rocking crowd rolling at the end of the third quarter, but she missed the three. She, like many of her teammates, seemed scared to shoot, which is more of a problem for her since she’s primarily in for offense. And then there was the nightmare that was Bria Hartley. I’m starting to think we might have been sold a bill of goods on Bria. She looked like she was in shape, and maybe she is. But her brain, her reflexes, her skills, and her basketball acumen have not caught up to her physical condition. Her passing was bad. Her shooting was bad. Her defense was bad. We cringed whenever she was ready to check in, and you can’t tell me we were wrong for it. She doesn’t seem to have figured out the schemes on either end of the floor, especially on defense. We’re lucky Riquna Williams missed as many of the looks that Bria gave her as she did, otherwise this would have been an even uglier margin.

Whatever is wrong with Kiah Stokes, she needs to get it together in a hurry. She was getting outmuscled, outworked, and out-timed (if that last is a word). Granted, Lavender, Ogwumike, and Parker are an adventure for any post, but Kiah shone as one of the league’s top interior defenders last year. Did the officiating help? No. But she’s got to work through that, and in her third year the excuses start to run thin. There’s no excuse for her to be out of shape, playing heavy minutes in one of the more competitive leagues. She was actually benched for a couple of minutes to start the second half, with Bill going to Kia instead. Tina Charles played her heart out. I’ll assume the stupid fouls (especially her fifth) were from exhaustion. She started the game on fire; for the first five minutes she was the offense. We were calling on her to do everything, and she answered; there were a couple of sequences where she was the one bringing the ball up. She has such a phenomenally well-rounded game. But she can’t do it alone, especially in the frontcourt. Someone needs to step up next to her.

I use the phrase “next to her” deliberately, because Epiphanny Prince certainly stepped up behind her. Piph went hard to the basket, and in the second half she turned up the on-ball defense hard. She showed heart and hustle. She tried to drag the team across the finish line when Tina had to play back because of the five fouls. Sugar Rodgers was solid- I question some of her shot selection, but this is a Sugar thing. She went to the floor for loose balls and made plays that way. If I’m going to question her on defense, the question is going to be how the rotations managed to leave her on Candace Parker. Shavonte Zellous’s jumper appears to have abandoned her (honestly, this is the version of Shavonte who literally couldn’t beat me in a Pop-a-Shot contest). She made up for it pulling down boards and making passes out of the paint to open shooters. She brought her lunch bucket for this game.

Our team was scared to shoot. This is a problem. There was one possession where Shavonte had a good look at a three-pointer with ten seconds to go on the shot clock. Three passes later, the ball was back to her and she had to rush a shot. The supporting cast needs to step up, especially with Piph and Kia- two of the better performers in this game- heading off to Europe for the next three weeks.

We need a guard. Bria’s not doing the job, and we are paper-thin in the backcourt. Either that, or we need a small forward to swing Shavonte over to two. This is still not ideal, but it is what it is. Cierra Burdick was a DNP, and I’m wondering if she’s hurt or if there’s a transaction in the works involving her. I know about Lindsay Allen coming in, but I don’t think she can be the only answer.

Officiating. Let me tell you. Highlights of the absurdity included a Spark tripping over Essence Carson and the foul promptly being called on Kia Vaughn, Alana Beard hitting Piph in the head with the ball and Piph getting called for the foul, and (in the interest of fair play) a block by Kiah being called a travel on Parker (though that one got overturned). Lots of late whistles, to the point where the refs looked like they were watching the game on tape delay. I can’t even.

So, clear-path fouls. Would I be correct in comparing the clear-path rule to the offside rules in hockey and soccer? If another offensive player is ahead of the ballhandler, it is not a clear-path foul (but it would be offside) and vice versa?

We’ve got a long homestand coming up, and it’s adventure time with a short roster. These are the times that try women’s souls, or at least the advertising skills of ticket reps and the patience of coaches. We have to show heart. We have to show hustle. We have to be a team that people can believe in, even if we’re not necessarily a good team during that time.

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