After a three-day hiatus to navigate around NBA playoff action, the WNBA moved away from its opening weekend fanfare, which allowed established veterans to take the platform after a massive marketing effort to promote the 2013 rookie class.
Prior to Friday’s trio of games, Seattle Storm forward Tina Thompson officially announced that 2013 will be her final year in WNBA competition. Thompson is the last original player from the league’s 1997 inception, and was the youthful figure of the Houston Comets dynasty from 1997-2000, when the now-defunct organization won four straight WNBA championships.
Making stops in Los Angeles and now Seattle, Thompson’s longevity bears a heavy marking on career leader boards. She holds the all-time scoring record (7,018 points as of Friday night) and also owns career records in field goal makes, minutes played and starts. She sits third all-time in rebounds with 2,875, 139 away from passing Taj McWilliams-Franklin for second.
Friday was also monumental for the Indiana Fever, who received the traditional ring presentation following their first championship in franchise history last year. Retrieving the 2012 roster was not difficult; Indiana brought back 10 of those players for the 2013 season, the lone departure being Tammy Sutton-Brown.
The 2012 Fever team still have a visit to pay with President Barack Obama to complete the annual customs, but the team recognized the state’s loyalty to basketball by giving fans replicas of the championship ring presented to the players.
However, Indiana entered 2013 hampered by injuries, and its implications gave a road win to the Atlanta Dream, who Indiana eliminated in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last year.
Bill Laimbeer officially recorded his first win in his return to coaching, thanks to a crafty play by New York Liberty veteran Cappie Pondexter in the closing seconds of overtime. The game-winning shot was another deflating moment for the Tulsa Shock, who have yet to record a win this season after drafting top-rated point guard Skylar Diggins.
Adjusting to the WNBA has been a taxing process so far for Diggins. The Notre Dame alum has converted just above 25 percent of her field goal shots in her first three games, not scoring above 15 points.
Another rookie from the “three to see” continued to flourish in Friday’s nightcap; Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky hit the 20-point mark again in their win over the Connecticut Sun, but Sylvia Fowles owned the interior against a team with a thin post unit.
The Sky will foresee how Delle Donne and other roster changes influence their success as they prepare for another extended stretch without prolific scorer Epiphanny Prince. Prince will spend the month of June with her Russian team for a Eurobasket championship tournament, forcing her to miss seven Sky games in that period.
McCoughtry rises to lower Fever
Despite the controversies that shrouded her persona a year ago, Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry is poised to contend for another WNBA scoring title in 2013. The potent offensive force had 29 points and nine rebounds to help Atlanta defeat the Indiana Fever 86-77 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
With the Indiana (1-1) roster depleted by injuries, Atlanta (2-0) was able to go inside against a team who prefers “small-ball” play. The Dream had a 48-36 advantage in points in the paint and led 36-29 in rebounds.
Tamika Catchings led the Fever with 20 points and Erlana Larkins got her first career double-double in regular season play with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Pondexter shocks Tulsa with game-winner in overtime
No matter how quiet Cappie Pondexter of the New York Liberty may seem, she is always capable of pulling off a heroic play.
Pondexter provided another example of her rescue skills against the Tulsa Shock. With 11 seconds left in overtime, Pondexter drove to the right baseline and faked out former teammate Nicole Powell to hit an open jumper, giving the Liberty a 78-76 win at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Pondexter’s shot rattled around the rim before falling, creating an unintended saving grace for New York (1-1). Tulsa (0-3) called timeout with a half-second left, allowing them to advance the ball past the half-court line.
Skylar Diggins found Glory Johnson inside for an open layup, but Johnson could not get rid of the ball before time expired, erasing a play that would have forced a second overtime. Had Pondexter’s shot gone in cleanly, there would likely have been enough time for Johnson to pull off the jump move she used to lay it in.
New York’s victory was welcome relief after committing 24 turnovers. While their 51 percent shooting clip dwarfed Tulsa’s (0-3) 29 percent mark, Tulsa continuously attacked in the lane. The Shock made 24 of 29 free throw attempts, while the Liberty made just five of 12.
Elizabeth Cambage led Tulsa with 22 points, but left the floor in the final minute of overtime with an ankle injury. Johnson added 17 points and 11 rebounds for her second double-double of the season.
Essence Carson paced New York in scoring with 18 points, and Pondexter finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Fowles renders Sun powerless
When Elena Delle Donne was drafted by the Chicago Sky, popular belief suggested Sylvia Fowles would benefit immensely by having a reliable power forward to draw coverage away from the paint.
With fewer defenders to battle against, Fowles blossomed against the Connecticut Sun, getting 24 points and a career-high 22 rebounds as Chicago defeated Connecticut 86-75 at Allstate Arena.
The Sun (1-1) have attempted to compensate the absence of Ashja Jones by increasing emphasis on perimeter offense, but their lack of solid interior players factored heavily against the Sky (2-0). Chicago had a 46-32 edge in rebounds and hit 18 of 20 free throws to surpass Connecticut’s 2-for-5 listing.
The Sun’s only lead came at the first basket before the Sky answered with a 14-4 run.
Delle Donne added 20 points for Chicago and Epiphanny Prince put in 17 points.
Allison Hightower led Connecticut with 20 points and Tina Charles picked up her second double-double of the season, reaching 16 points and 15 rebounds. Renee Montgomery suffered a leg injury early in the fourth quarter and did not return.