The Connecticut Sun sealed tonight's 78-76 win over the Tulsa Shock with a driving layup by Renee Montgomery, but it was their performance in the first 36 minutes that really allowed them to snap a four-game losing streak.
Oh, give it up for Renee Montgomery. A little shake&bake v Tulsa Skylar Diggins, drive to hoop for gm-winning layup. Connecticut 78-76 #wnba
— Jayda Evans (@JaydaEvans) July 6, 2014
Hooper inbounds to Paris, she back down her defender and her hook shot rims out. Hooper with the rebound and misses the shot just short
— Tulsa Shock (@TulsaShock) July 6, 2014
The Shock turned it on late in the game to go on a 12-1 run over the final four minutes of the game to tie it up at 76 with just 24 seconds on a Skylar Diggins layup and three-point play opportunity. But the missed opportunity to take a one point lead didn't end up mattering as Montgomery's game-winning drive past Skylar Diggins gave the Sun a two point lead that would hold up through a failed final play to Courtney Paris by the Shock.
With a few more minutes on the clock, the Shock's momentum might have carried them to a win. Ultimately, it was just too little too late.
The Sun mounted an 11-point lead with four minutes left in the game primarily on the strength of their rebounding. Connecticut dominated the boards to that point, grabbing 11 offensive rebounds to Tulsa's 5 (36% to 16.15%). The Sun capitalized on those second chance scoring opportunities, outscoring the Shock 18-4 in second chance points through the first 36 minutes.
Leading the way for the Sun on the boards was rookie Alyssa Thomas with a team-high 9 rebounds in a well-rounded effort that included 8 points and 4 assists as well - after a shaky start to her WNBA career, she's starting to look more comfortable in the flow of the WNBA game and her efforts were particularly valuable in a game in which neither team shot over 40% in the first half. But smaller players like Alex Bentley and Katie Douglas hit the boards hard as well with 5 and 6 rebounds, respectively.
That alone goes a long way to beating the Shock.
If you took a look at the midseason statistics post published earlier today, you might have noticed that rebounding is a significant strength for the Shock: they had the highest offensive rebounding percentage in the WNBA at midseason and the highest differential in the Western Conference. Take that major strength away and suddenly they're a team with only limited advantages over opponents.
And in a game in which neither team was shooting particularly well, that became even more significant.
Skylar Diggins led the scoring attack for the Shock with a game-high 30 points on 10-for-19 (52.6%) shooting, but she didn't get much help on the offensive end: the rest of the team shot just 35.5% from the field. As usual, Diggins and rookie Odyssey Sims did their share of damage off the dribble to earn opportunities for a combined 13-for-14 shooting from the free throw line, but the Shock seemed to otherwise lack energy.
Defensively, the Shock struggled to contain the balanced inside-outside combination of Douglas, Montgomery and rookie Chiney Ogwumike. Douglas led the Sun's scoring attack with a team-high 18 points including 4-for-8 shooting from the 3-point line as young Shock defenders struggled to stay with the veteran shooter on the move. Ogwumike probably best embodied how the Sun out-hustled the Shock for most of the game with 16 points off a combination of second chance opportunities, points in transition, and a driving layup. And of course, Montgomery's quickness of the dribble caused problems for the Shock beyond that final play as she had 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting off the bench.
Both teams have a stake in the final game of the day in which the Seattle Storm host the Chicago Sky. The win is big for the Sun (8-9) as they have an opportunity to earn a surprising .5 game advantage for second place in the Eastern Conference if the Sky lose tonight. Similarly, if the Storm lose tonight, the Shock (7-11) get a little breathing room in fifth place in the Western Conference.