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.

No comments: