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Hoops Happening: Today in women’s basketball — Monday May 21, 2018

#WNBAAllDay roundup: Game recaps! Sleepy in Seattle Storm fan base! Lynx-Sparks rivalry drama! NBA: A “bad product” trash league!

Los Angeles Sparks v Phoenix Mercury - Game Three
Brittney Griner
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The opening weekend of the 2018 WNBA season is behind us, with all 12 teams having competed on Sunday. Although the day was free of surprises in terms of team performances, it was not free of drama. The Lynx-Sparks rivalry — the flames of which had been fanned by the league, in Candace Parker’s view — took a nasty turn on Sunday.

In other news, the Seattle fan base does not deserve its championship Storm team and the NBA is a trash league. But, first, here recaps of yesterday’s games!

Game results

Fever (75) vs. Mystics (82)

The Indiana Fever had a much better showing in its second game of the season after an 18-point loss the Chicago Sky in the team’s season opener. Candice Dupree did Candice Dupree things, finishing with a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double, and Kelsey Mitchell chipped in 16 points. But Natalie Achonwa was the Fever’s most outstanding player of the afternoon with 21 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes of play. The 15 turnovers for Indy is something the team will need to handle, but this is something that should improve as the season progresses.

The Washington Mystics walked away with the win on strong performances from double-digit scorers Kristy Toliver (16), Elena Delle Donne (13). and Monique Currie and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (who each scored 11).

Aces (65) vs. Sun (101)

No. 1 draft pick A’ja Wilson and the Los Vegas Aces got off to a hot start in the team’s WNBA debut. But then the Connecticut Sun, a more seasoned team behind the expertise of Jonquel Jones and Chiney Ogwumike, clicked into gear and took care of business, handing rookie Wilson and her Aces an ugly loss for their first outing.

Despite the loss, Wilson finished with a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double, while Tamera Young scored a monster 23 points.

The Sun got the win because multiple players had double-digit scoring performances: Alex Bentley (18), Alyssa Thomas (13), Jasmine Thomas (12) and Shekinna Strickland (11). But the real difference-maker was Alyssa Thomas, who also grabbed a whopping 17 rebounds.

Granted, Las Vegas is still without key players who remain overseas, namely Kelsey Plum. But the 19 Aces turnovers (to the Sun’s 8) is something Aces Head Coach Bill Laimbeer will undoubtedly address no matter who is on the court.

Shoni Schimmel’s 1 rebound was canceled out by her 1 turnover. She went scoreless in 8 minutes of play, which is surely not what Laimbeer had hoped to get out of Schimmel when he lured her to Sin City.

Dream (78) vs. Wings (101)

Skylar Diggins-Smith has said she’s here to work and if the other 11 teams of the WNBA didn’t believe her then, they should believe her now. The veteran out of Notre Dame scored a game-high 25 points and Australia’s Liz Cambage, in her return to the WNBA, chipped in 21 points and snatched 9 rebounds.

But that’s just the beginning.

Karima Christmas-Kelly notched a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Kaela Davis and Kayla Thorton finished with 15 and 13 points apiece.

In other words, the Atlanta Dream didn’t have much of a chance despite double-digit scoring from Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery and Brittany Sykes, who had 14 apiece, and Angel McCoughtry and Jessica Breland with 13 and 11, respectively.

Clearly, with new Head Coach Nicki Collen, a returning McCoughtry and a bunch of new players, Atlanta has some work to do to get everyone on the same page. Hopefully Collen can figure out how to get Layshia Clarendon going in scoring and assists (she finished with 6 and 2, respectively) and Imani McGee-Stafford into a rhythm to score and avoid turnovers. (The Longhorns center was scoreless and committed two turnovers.) Both Clarendon and McGee-Stafford can be difference-makers for the Dream.

Lynx (76) vs. Sparks (77)

Los Angeles grabbed the one-point win over Minnesota, in Lynx territory, to keep an increasingly heated WNBA rivalry alive. This game was filled with drama, which perhaps contributed to Sparks’ star Candace Parker’s choice to sit this one out (although the team reported she stayed in LA with a minor back injury). Either way, her guards got it done. Future Most Improved Player Chelsea Gray had a solid performance with 18 points, 8 assists and 6 steals. Cohort Odyssey Sims was no slacker, however, contributing a stellar 21 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Nneka Ogwumike, the 2016 WNBA MVP, neared double-double territory with 19 points and 9 rebounds.

Losing by a single point means the Lynx players also came to play. Sylvia Fowles notched a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds and Lindsay Whalen scored a team-high 17 points and dished 9 assists. Rebekkah Brunson finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds.

The Sparks won this one on a buzzer-beater from none other than Chelsea Gray.

Liberty (76) vs. Sky (80)

After a dismal preseason and regular-season game on Saturday, the Chicago Sky’s Gabby Williams adhered to coach’s advice and became Gabby Williams in the second game of her WNBA career. Against the New York Liberty, Williams scored 12 points in the Sky’s 80-76 win. But Allie Quigley remained the key to Chicago’s offense, putting in 22 points, while Jamierra Faulkner scored 14 points, dished 5 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds. Diamond DeShields, now on the teams’ scouting reports after her stellar season opener, chipped in 7 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists on Sunday.

It was an exciting, close game in which the Liberty’s Kia Nurse had an outstanding WNBA debut, finishing with 17 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals on the night. Tina Charles was the team-high scorer for New York, with 19 points, and Amanda Zahui B contributed 15 points and grabbed 7 rebounds.

Shavonte Zellous was scoreless and dished one assist in just under 18 minutes of play. Getting her going on offense — both making plays and scoring — will have an impact on the Liberty’s success moving forward.

Mercury (87) vs. Storm (82)

The Phoenix Mercury-Seattle Storm matchup has been one of the most exciting in the WNBA since the arrival of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi to the league, and last night was no different.

The Storm defeated the Mercury in the teams’ two preseason matchups and it is now clear Phoenix used those games to work out rotation details and scout the competition, with zero concern for the scoring outcome. Instead, Phoenix turned it on when it counted — in the regular season — to claim its second win of the 2018 season and its first regular-season win over Seattle.

Brittney Griner had a monster double-double performance for Phoenix with 29 points and 10 rebounds, while Breanna Stewart was the team-high scorer for Seattle with 22 points and 15 rebounds.

Seattle won’t have to wait long to avenge this loss. The teams play next on Wednesday May 23 at 10 p.m. EST at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. Something to watch for the Mercury will be Diana Taurasi’s left quad. She grimaced after a play around the midpoint of the game but, thus far, there has been no update from her team.

Sleepy in Seattle Storm fan base

For the sake of the Mercury players and fans viewing at home in Phoenix’s Wednesday matchup against the Seattle Storm, let’s hope the X Factor fans bring their team some energy because those in attendance at KeyArena in Seattle last night were a lesson in what not to do. The audience, overall, was listless — giving no energy to the Storm players.

Seriously, Seattle? You miss your Sonics, do you?

How about show some team spirit for the excellent basketball team you do have, complete with basketball legend Sue Bird. Moreover, the Storm play the best in the west throughout the season, so appreciate your good fortune to have stellar team in your city by A) showing up (fill the seats, dammit) and B) acting like you have more energy than a dying fish.

Seattle is known for its coffee. Slam back some espresso shots pregame if needed, but do something.

Lynx-Sparks rivalry dramz

Candace Parker made it known back in February that she was displeased to learn the WNBA had decided to give the Minnesota Lynx its ring ceremony during the teams’ first game of the season — in Lynx territory — on the same court where the Sparks lost to Minnesota in the 2017 WNBA Finals.

She has a point: The NBA did not schedule the Golden State Warriors’ ring ceremony in honor of its 2017 championship during the team’s first regular-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nor would the league ever even think about disrespecting superstar LeBron James like that. So, why isn’t the same respect and courtesy afforded Parker and her Sparks teammates?

Parker ended up sitting this one out due to what the team reported as a “minor back injury;” she didn’t make the trip to Minnesota which, of course, begs the question of whether she sat this one out on principle. The Lynx, then, proceeded to interrupt the Sparks’ game-day practice with a video tribute to the 2017 WNBA championship Lynx team — a move that only seems to validate Parker’s claims about this whole situation being rotten.

Good, healthy competition is exciting. But is this what happened in Minny? It seems the Lynx were keen to tip the rivalry into nasty territory by taunting — and not in a fun way, but in a mean-spirited, disrespectful way. Playing the video during LA’s practice was a classless move by a usually high-class organization.

But the Sparks got the last laugh, in the form of a buzzer-beater from future Most Improved Player Chelsea Gray — for the win.

This, boys and girls, is called karma.

NBA: A “bad product” trash league

If you can stomach the sexist and racist vitriol, scan through the comments of any article in a mainstream publication about WNBA basketball and you will see a bunch of men dissing the league with one of the strongest talking points being the “bad product” that is supposedly WNBA competition. By “bad product,” these people mean lackluster performances, boring competition due to blowout losses and so forth.

Sure, the league has its share of those games, with a few on display Sunday, including the Sun’s dismantling of the Aces and the Wings’ demolition of the Dream. But anyone who watched (mind you, these naysayers do not watch because watching would mean giving the league a chance and giving the league a chance would mean they’d be proved wrong), saw three high-defense, close-scoring games that showcased the game of basketball played at its highest level: Lynx vs. Sparks, Liberty vs. Sky and Storm vs. Mercury.

Meanwhile, on another channel, basketball fans were treated to Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. The Warriors crushed the Rockets in 41-point extermination. Final score: 126-85.

But this was not the only blowout of the postseason. The Warriors dropped Game 2 to the Rockets by 22 points and, over in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics won Game 1 in its series with the Cleveland Cavaliers by 25 points.

So, whenever anyone dares to diss the W, don’t hesitate to employ these talking points as evidence of the NBA being a trash league defined by hero ball and weak defense.

Other happenings in women’s hoops

“No bird soars too high, if she soars with her own wings.”

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