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.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I was at the Sun-Liberty game at MSG Friday. Then Sunday I was in Chicago watching Mystics dismantle the Sky. Tomorrow I'll be back in the casino to see the Sun take on the Sparks. WNBA week for me! Love seeing different W arenas. The other time I was at a Sky home game they were playing in the UIC Pavillion. That was a dump.
At the Sun - Liberty game - yes, we think Jonquel is an all star. What a find she was. I have seen her averaging a double double. and a threat to have a 20-10 game at any time. Jazz had her best game of the year.
Bria Hartley had her shot working late and did some critical defense to get the Lib back in the game. I liked her steal, but her turnovers were a problem. I was saying to fans near me - I sat in back of the Sun bench - after the Sun launched yet another uncontested 3 that we were shooting 56% outside the Arc near the end of the half and that Bill better send his defense out to the perimeter soon. He did that in the second half and the Sun could not take advantage of openings in the lane so things got close.
Your guards took turns hitting jumpers. First Shavonte, then Sugar, then Bria and Piph. That was almost enough. And the crowd turned it up. As always - whenever I see a game at MSG, it reminds me what a great place it is to watch a game. Even Staples Center is not close to as good. My sister lives in LA and she goes to Sparks games. Allstate Arena has a minor league feel. And getting there from the subway requires a bus that doesn't run on Sundays. I shared a cab with Stephanie Dolson's aunt and uncle. They do have a free shuttle bus - but there is no sign for it and no one at the subway station knew anything about it.
Good luck against the Mystics.