It was an exciting week in the WNBA, starting with five games on Sunday and bookended by all 12 teams playing on Friday. Milestones were reached, upsets were frequent and the playoff race became ever tighter in the competitive Eastern Conference. Welcome to the second installment of the WNBA Weekly Rundown!
Stuffing the Stat Sheet
Ever since she took the league by storm in 2008, Candace Parker has established herself as a player who can do it all. While the narrative of “she can play all five positions” never held much water factually, Parker’s numbers this past week are those of a superstar player who’s doing just about everything possible to get her team into the playoffs. In three games, Parker averaged 24 points on an efficient 51.7 percent shooting, along with just under 10 rebounds per contest.
This isn’t anything new for her, though, and it’s the other things that really make her week something special: against the Sky on Sunday, Parker nearly recorded a triple-double, dishing out 10 assists in a Sparks victory. If that isn’t impressive enough, she followed it up with a superb defensive effort against Indiana, recording eight steals and blocking three shots (along with a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds). Still not enough for you? Parker led all players in that game with six assists. No player in WNBA history has ever recorded a quadruple-double (the 40-minute game length makes it almost impossible), but the way Parker is playing right now, it wouldn’t be shocking if she became the first.
What’s downright scary is that Parker has been doing this for about a month now. In her 10 games back since the All-Star break (she took the first half of the season off to rest), Parker has seven double-doubles, while assisting on 37.7 percent of her teammates’ baskets. The latter number is one you’d usually see from a point guard, not a 6’4” forward. In fact, Parker is dishing at a higher rate than any player in the league. Only seven of the WNBA’s 12 teams have a player whose AST% is over 30 percent, and Parker is beating them all. Though her lack of minutes means that she doesn’t qualify to lead in that category, the message is still clear: the Sparks are one deadly team with Parker on the floor.
Just a week ago, the Tulsa Shock seemed on the verge of an improbable collapse. The team had lost 10 games in a row, and while it was unlikely that they’d miss the playoffs altogether, these Shock did not at all resemble the efficient and exciting squad that jumped out of the gates at 8-1.
The Shock seem to finally be getting their mojo back, however. While the absence of Skylar Diggins (torn ACL) will be a problem for them for the rest of the year, her backcourt mates have been stepping up to the challenge, leading the team to three straight victories. Odyssey Sims, who’s struggled since returning from a knee injury of her own, has turned the ball over just twice in her past 73 minutes of play. Meanwhile, Miami gunner Riquna Williams has remained a terror to defend, scoring in her usual double figures while getting to the free throw line at least eight times in each of the Shock’s latest three wins.
Not only has this nearly secured a playoff spot for the Shock (it would be the first and last for the franchise since moving to Tulsa), it also bodes well for the future. There’s no doubt that Sims and Williams are the most explosive backcourt pairing in the WNBA, but without Diggins to steady the ship, they’ve had trouble establishing chemistry with one another. The good news for the Shock is that the duo might just be putting it together, and if that continues, this team could still make some noise come playoff time.
What remains to be seen, though, is the health of Plenette Pierson. The veteran power forward went down with a knee injury late in the Shock’s upset road victory against the Liberty. In typical WNBA fashion, updates have been scarce (aside from a vague “day-to-day” diagnosis from the team’s Twitter account), so it’s anyone’s guess whether or not she’ll be back in time for the playoffs. This is significant, as Pierson gives the Shock a ton of versatility defensively with her ability to switch on dribble handoffs and screens. She can also stretch the floor on offense and provides that steadying leadership, which will be crucial for a young roster that’s short on playoff experience.
In what might have been an Eastern Conference playoff preview, the Mystics and Sky dueled on Friday night, and the result was one of the most exciting games of the year. Having dropped their previous two games against Chicago, the Mystics looked to even the season series at two apiece, but the Sky were every bit their equal for 40 minutes. The raucous Allstate Arena crowd got its money’s worth in this one, especially during the closing seconds.
The two teams were evenly matched throughout the entire contest, with 18 ties and 18 lead changes. The excitement reached its peak with 17 seconds remaining: the Mystics were up by one and had possession, but a botched inbound pass gave it right back to the Sky. Cappie Pondexter dribbled out most of the remaining clock as the Washington defense was stifling, but DePaul sharpshooter Allie Quigley was able to get free, nailing a three-pointer with just two seconds left. A last-ditch effort by Washington fell short, sealing what Pokey Chatman called the biggest game of the year for the Sky.
Perhaps more than anything, this match displayed how just one sequence can result in such a critical swing. Washington was the probable victor, owning possession and drawing up an inbounds play to get Kara Lawson the basketball. Lawson is a 93 percent free throw shooter, so this is far from a bad tactic. Chicago would likely have to make the ever-difficult decision to go for the three and tie, or two and play the foul game with precious time ticking off the clock.
But Washington’s inbound pass went careening across the court and into a jump ball situation (won by Elena Delle Donne), giving Chicago the chance to take the lead and much more time to operate. Making matters worse for Washington, the sideline official missed what seemed like an obvious foul, as Courtney Vandersloot’s contact caused Lawson to slip to the floor. The Sky were able to cash in, and in a matter of seconds, the Mystics went from stealing one on the road to flying back to Washington with a loss.
The Sky now lead the season series 3-1, but it isn’t over yet. The Mystics will get another shot at them on Sunday, this time in DC, where Mike Thibault’s squad will hope that the final seconds will be kinder to them.
No. 1 overall pick Jewell Loyd had a slow start to the season, but the guard out of Notre Dame has shown some serious promise lately. Loyd has always been a unique prospect; her unflappable mentality combined with a level of athleticism rarely seen at her position meant that it wasn’t a question of whether or not Loyd would flourish, but when.
We’re starting to see the answer. Loyd put together consecutive solid efforts this week, scoring 18 points against San Antonio and then 15 a few nights later versus Indiana. What should encourage Storm fans the most is that both were efficient outings: Loyd shot 7-11 in both games, finally raising her FG% on the season to above 40 percent.
While Loyd is still struggling from distance (her first three-pointer of the month came in that game against Indiana), she’s shooting fewer of them and looking to take it to the rim more, which is a sharp adjustment from a fast-maturing youngster who’s only beginning to scratch the surface of her potential. If she keeps this up, Loyd will likely land herself a spot on the All-Rookie team, and certainly be in the conversation for 2015 Rookie of the Year as well.
Loyd’s fellow rookie Ramu Tokashiki will be missing four games for the Storm to participate in the FIBA Asia Championship. Tokashiki joined the Japanese national team on the 23rd of August, and is expected to be back with Seattle in time for their Sept. 8 game against the Minnesota Lynx.
Several milestones were also reached this past week. The Shock had a pair of them, with forward Karima Christmas surpassing 1,000 career points and center Courtney Paris 1,000 rebounds. Maya Moore continued her rapid ascent among the WNBA scoring ladder, scoring her 3,000th point. Finally, Tamika Catchings passed Tina Thompson for second on the all-time WNBA rebounding list, grabbing her 3,079th board last Sunday against Phoenix.
Candace Parker: 21 points (10-21 FG), 8 rebounds, 10 assists vs Chicago Sky
Jewell Loyd: 18 points (7-11 FG), 6 rebounds, 4 assists vs San Antonio Stars
Candace Parker: 25 points (8-14 FG, 9-12 FT), 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 8 steals vs Indiana Fever
Tamika Catchings: 20 points (6-14 FG, 7-7 FT), 7 rebounds, 3 steals vs Los Angeles Sparks
Candice Dupree: 18 points (9-13 FG), 4 rebounds vs Tulsa Shock
Tina Charles: 18 points (9-12 FG), 5 rebounds, 4 assists (23 minutes) vs San Antonio Stars
Kara Lawson: 20 points (6-11 FG, 2-2 3P, 6-6 FT), 3 rebounds, 3 assists vs Minnesota Lynx
Jennifer Lacy: 20 points (7-12 FG, 4-7 3P), 5 rebounds, 2 blocks vs Tulsa Shock
Sylvia Fowles: 16 points (8-13 FG), 12 rebounds vs San Antonio Stars
Emma Meesseman: 20 points (9-15 FG), 6 rebounds, 3 assists vs Chicago Sky
Elena Delle Donne: 22 points (10-22 FG), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks vs Washington Mystics
Candace Parker: 26 points (12-23 FG), 10 rebounds, 3 assists vs Phoenix Mercury
Jantel Lavender: 15 points (7-10 FG), 11 rebounds, 3 assists vs Phoenix Mercury