Analysis: Dream, Sparks get wins on the road to force Game 3

September 22, 2013 - 11:42am
Angel McCoughtry led the Dream with 20 points against the Washington Mystics to force a Game 3. (Photo by Teri Priebe)

Angel McCoughtry led the Dream with 20 points against the Washington Mystics to force a Game 3. (Photo by Teri Priebe)

Atlanta, 63, Washington 45

Shot goes up -- miss -- the Dream get the rebound.  Another shot goes up -- miss -- the Dream grab the rebound. Repeat that scenario over and over and it pretty much sums up game two of the Mystics-Dream series. Neither team shot well, the but the Dream won the game on the boards, out-rebounding Washington 53-30! The Atlanta Dream out-rebounded, out-hustled, and out-muscled the Washington to send the series back to the Peach State for a decisive game three.

After being embarrassed by their losing effort in game one on their home floor, the Atlanta Dream came out with a renewed focus in and took care of business in Washington. The Dream have been to two WNBA Finals and know what it takes to win tough road games. Yes, they’have struggled this season with injuries, but if somehow you’re late tuning into to the WNBA and you want to know what the Dream were like in those WNBA Finals years, then go back and watch game two. Effort, effort, effort.  Three Atlanta players tallied double figures in rebounds: Erika de Souza (15), Aneika Henry (12) and Tiffany Hayes (11), a guard!

The Washington Mystics have to be terribly disappointed with their own effort in game two. What better situation can you ask for? You steal game one, have an opportunity to come home and close the series, and proceed to lay an egg, an even bigger egg than the Dream laid in game one. Essentially everything that the Mystics did in game one, they did not do in game two.  Very disappointing efforts and play from Kia Vaughn, Matee Ajavon and especially Crystal Langhorne who’s an All-Star player.  That was about as poor a performance from a star player in a big game as there has been in a long while. Her stat line reads 24 minutes, 3 rebounds, and 0 points on 0-3 attempts from the field.  YES, Langhorne only attempted three shots the entire game! Did she really expect to win shooting the ball three times? This was a huge opportunity missed, hopefully her conscious isn’t allowing her to hear the end of it in the time between game two ending and game three's tip off.

The Mystics' performance was a common sign in teams that aren’t used to winning. Teams that haven’t learned the effort it takes to close a series out. It reminds me of a quote from the Greatest, Muhammad Ali, when he was in the ring with the imposing, ferocious George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. When faced with possible defeat Ali said;

"You want the title? Want to wear the heavyweight crown? Are you willing to have your nose broke, jaw smashed, face busted in? 'Cause you're facing a man who will die before he lets you win."

Dramatic? Hardly, that’s the mindset champions have and that’s where Langhorne has to get to. Yet all was not lost on this night as the Mystics have proven to have a terrific group of rookie players in Nadirah McKenith, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Emma Meesseman, and Tayler Hill. The star of the show for one scintillating four-minute stretch was Hill. The number four pick in this year’s draft after the much-heralded ‘Three to See’ has slowly but surely begun to adjust to the professional game, at least offensively.  With the Mystics struggling to score, Hill hit a long three from the left side of the court, then followed that by going to the right side of the court and launching a missile from deep, only to follow that up a few possessions later with a steal and a nice perimeter jump shot. One problem is that her teammates didn’t acknowledge she had the hot hand and continue to make the effort to get her the rock. She only got the ball whenever it naturally came around to her as opposed to the Mystics players thinking ‘Whoa Tayler is hot, let me get her the ball and set a pick for her.’ Again this is an example of the growing pains that a team with a losing tradition experiences.

The decisive game three

The Dream organization is upset about game one and now the Mystics organization is upset about game two, which leaves only one happy group -- the fans.  All of us WNBA lovers are rewarded with a series deciding game three Monday night.  Which team can impose their will to move on to the Conference Finals?  If the Dream continue to pound the glass the way that they did in game two when they will be very difficult to beat.  Since it’s inception the Dream have won with rebounding and creating turnovers, all of which they did very well in this win.

The series has had two games and superstar Angel McCoughtry has yet to shoot the ball well. You best believe that won’t deter her from putting the ball up Monday night. Her lack of success along with the magnitude of the game will probably push her to be even more aggressive in scoring.  If she heats up it will only fuel the rest of the team.  Crystal Langhorne isn’t a superstar but she is a star and needs to play like one Monday.  That doesn’t mean a huge number of shots but she must be aggressive and put the ball up at least 8-10 times and find a way to get double figures on the boards.  Ivory Latta just needs to just continue to play her game.  She’s not one to disappear in big games and should play well Monday.

The Mystics rebound total was almost doubled by the Dream in game two, but if they can get close to matching the Dream’s rebounding and keep their turnovers down then they will have a great chance to upset the Dream in this series. But that will mean playing with a fire that rivals Ali against Foreman, and if that happens then game three will be a true war. Because one thing is for sure, a team like the Dream, who has years of playoff experience, is going to have steam coming out of their eyes and ears in their determination to win this series.

Los Angeles 82, Phoenix 73

In the West, ladies and gentlemen, we have a game three.

This matchup will give us a game to remember Monday night.  We have multiple MVP winners, multiple WNBA champs, number one draft picks…everything is set up for a splendid night of drama.  

The Los Angeles Sparks showed a great deal of resolve and went down to the desert and evened the series with an 82-73 win over rival Phoenix.  Many players contributed to the Sparks win, but there is only one place to start the conversation with and that is the current and two-time MVP -- Candace Parker.  “Ace” dominated in this game scoring 31 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.  The Mercury are loaded with very good players, and so far not one has come close to stopping Parker.  Her handling the rock in the open floor, use of the right and left hand shooting and dribbling, are too much to overcome. Not only that, like most of the greats, she just plays incredibly hard and knew she had to take responsibility to win this game.

It’s interesting that coach Pennell never tried to put defensive leader Brittney Griner on Parker. Being that Candice Dupree didn’t have a chance against her and won’t on Monday either.  But with Griner’s foul trouble this season they may be trying to avoid her fouling out against such a dynamic scorer like Parker who handles the ball a lot. Though that matchup may be worth a try in the fourth quarter to see if Griner can get a few stops. There’s no way she can be worse than what Dupree is doing defensively.

As great as Parker is, there’s no way that the Sparks could have won without others contributing. All five starters chipped in. Nneka Ogwumike was her usual double-double self.  Being that the Sparks run three guards, it’s important that she’s big on the glass, and she was. Alana Beard came up with some really clutch shots when you’d least expect it and did a lot to frustrate Diana Taurasi defensively.   She and Lindsey Harding put a lot of pressure on the Mercury backcourt by penetrating to the basket and hitting mid range jump shots. It was important that Harding used her quickness to get around Taurasi and create offense. From the time the Sparks corral the defensive rebound they get the ball to the other end of the court so fast, it puts a lot of pressure on the opposing team.

It’s crucial right now that Beard and Harding are effective offensively because although she was hustling all game, Kristi Toliver has no confidence in her jump shot.  She passed up so many shots that were wide open. Again, she was able to contribute by running the floor and getting a put back or two but there’s no way that this team is going hoist the WNBA crown without one of the deadliest shooters the league has had in years being her normally lethal self.  It seems that Toliver is still trying to mentally shake off her tough shooting night in Game 1.  A shooting guard has to have a very short memory, and in general she is too talented to not believe in her skills. The Sparks will need her to stretch the floor if they intend to make it out of this series.

The Mercury had a tough shooting night in Game 2. Statistically, the Sparks didn’t have a much better night, but the Mercury were missing a lot of shots that they should easily make. Dupree, who had a beautiful catch and lay up early in the game off a Diana Taurasi pass, went on to miss too many bunnies. She’s a fantastic player and still scored 16 points but her night could’ve been so much better, and she’d probably tell you the same. Taurasi didn’t shoot the ball very well either, and didn’t make one three point shot.  She still scored 20 and will generally always find a way to be effective, but they need her to play well if they’re going to advance. They need her shot to fall. Playoff time is when the stars step up, which Candace did better than Diana on this night. Supporting players can make key plays here and there but all in all it’s the big names who have to play well for a team to advance. She’s a winner to the fullest, and will be at her best Monday night.

The Mercury, as a whole, weren’t at their best offensively. There was a lack of movement and probably a lack of direction in terms of what they were trying to do on offensive. Not having Griner for much of game one and having to find a way to win, may have thrown off the team in terms of scheme as Griner was around for game two and very effective. All season that has been my mantra for the Mercury, get Griner more touches and it hasn’t changed for this series. Again, no doubt about it, the offense starts with Taurasi and on some nights you certainly can go to Dupree as your second scoring threat. But in general, after Taurasi they need to get the ball to Griner.  Especially against the Sparks because as great as they are, they can’t stop Griner on the block. She was fantastic in the first half with 12 points by the break, but only had 6 points in the second half because she didn’t get many touches. Not only will it be effective in terms of how well she can score, but also because of the fact that one of L.A.’s best players- Ogwumike and Parker- are going to have to guard her and in turn are subject to foul trouble.

It’s difficult when you have so many scoring threats like the Mercury have. But in order for them to make it to the Conference Finals they are going to need strong nights from Griner, Dupree and their leader Diana Taurasi. Additionally, Pennell needs to give Candace Parker a lot more attention. Either try Griner on her in spurts or just double Parker when she catches the ball and get the ball out of her hands.  It’s as good a time as any to double Parker being that Toliver has no confidence right now, and their team is 0 for 21 from three point range this series. So the three ball is probably not going to hurt you.

For the Sparks to advance, they need to continue to run, continue to stay active and move the ball. Defensively they played with a lot of intensity in game two, especially on the perimeter. In the fourth quarter they began shadowing Taurasi all the way down the court to keep the ball out of her hands. That was very effective as it forces DeWanna Bonner to be a creator and she has struggled so far offensively. Lastly, it’s game three, it’s Phoenix-L.A., it’s some of the best women’s basketball players in the world, the MVP has to be the MVP. Candace Parker has to continue to be Candace Parker, and when she does, it makes L.A. very tough to beat. Well, unless Phoenix’s former MVP has something to say about that. I love the WNBA!