WNBA Notebook: Tulsa Giving Opponents the Shock Treatment
Last season the Tulsa Shock didn’t beat the Washington Mystics and the Minnesota Lynx.
They won’t have to worry about this season after completing an impressive weekend road two-step by defeating both the Mystics, 86-82, and Lynx, 86-78, to extend their winning streak to six games, the longest since the Shock moved to Tulsa from Detroit in 2010.
At 6-1 overall, the Shock have the best record in the Western Conference and are tied with the equally surprising Connecticut Sun for the best overall mark in the WNBA. The Shock looks to keep the good times rolling Friday night when they host the New York Liberty (4-3 overall).
“We’ve been able to have a great start to our season,” said third-year guard Skylar Diggins, who was named WNBA Western Conference Player of the Week for the second time in her career on Tuesday.
“We understand there are a lot of games remaining. We are enjoying the moment, but are constantly preparing for our next challenge. The beauty of our team is we don’t care about who gets the glory. We just want to win basketball games.”
With more weapons than the Department of Defense, the Shock are making winning an enjoyable habit.
Tulsa has staying power. Averaging 82.4 points per game, the resilient Shock have been ruthless in attacking opponents offensively with a smorgasbord of options.
“During the offseason, the returning players prepared themselves by getting stronger physically and mentally,” second-year Tulsa coach Fred Williams said.
“In addition, our defense has been one of the main factors of our good start. I think the other factor is that we’re rebounding well. Courtney Paris and Plenette Pierson are doing a good job. Then with our perimeter play, we’re starting to spread the floor and shoot the ball pretty well. We are becoming a triple-threat type of club.”
Everybody has had a shining moment for the Shock this season.
As of Tuesday morning, Diggins (17.1 points per game, fourth overall), Pierson (15.3 ppg.,10th) and Riquna Williams (12.1, 20th) are among the top 20 in scoring. Courtney Paris leads the WNBA in rebounding (12.4 rebounds per game) while Diggins is third in assists (5.0) and three-point field goal percentage (52.6).
Jordan Hooper (45.0 percent) and Williams (40.7) are eighth and 10th respectively in three-point field goal percentage. Williams is seventh in steals per game (1.71). Rookies Brianna Kiesel and Amanda Zahui B. have also made contributions this season. Kiesel, a lightning-quick guard, handed out eight assists against the Silver Stars. Zahui B. blocked five shots in a win against San Antonio on June 14.
Defensively, they held the Seattle Storm to 15 points in the first half of a 68-45 romp. It was the only game this season in which the Shock hadn’t scored at least 70 points.
In consecutive wins over San Antonio and Washington, Pierson scored at least 20 points. However, her biggest contribution besides her scoring has been her veteran leadership and calming influence on the Shock. In her 13th season in the league, Pierson has been a key addition along with Karima Christmas to Tulsa’s squad in 2015.
They have brought their championship experience and toughness. It has paid immediate dividends.
During the win against Washington, Pierson’s best moment wasn’t her go-ahead basket that gave Tulsa the lead for good with 36.9 seconds remaining or finishing with a season-high 24 points.
Nope, it occurred after Diggins picked up her fifth foul early in the fourth quarter. With Diggins visibly upset, Pierson immediately went over to her and offered a few soothing words for her teammate.
However, when the game needed to be sealed, Diggins drilled a pair of foul shots that extended Tulsa’s lead to 85-82, with 16 seconds remaining.
Despite trailing the Mystics by one point with 45 seconds remaining, the Shock made winning plays down the stretch, stayed together, trusted each other and locked down defensively.
“I think adding Plenette Pierson has been a huge thing for their physical maturity and toughness,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said. “They play better defense because of that. They have young players who have two to three years in the league and they’re growing. Picking up Karima Christmas also gave them more toughness on the boards. It’s a maturity process for them.”
Mystics analyst Christy Winters-Scott recently called Pierson the “Paul Pierce of the WNBA because she’s timely and crafty.”
Pierson won two titles with the Shock franchise when it was in Detroit in 2006 and 2008.
She was part of the Shock team in 2010 when it moved to Tulsa before being traded to New York during that season. Pierson has found the fountain of youth as she’s playing with an extra bounce in her step.
“Plenette is playing like she’s in a time machine,” Diggins said. “I’ve been following her and saying I am going to eat what she’s eating. She’s been great for us. We have threats at every position and that helps us. I don’t feel pressured to score 20 points a game. I can focus on doing what I need to do to help us win.”
Diggins has topped 20 points in a game three times. However, she provided a beautiful reminder to everybody of how explosive and great she can be against Minnesota in a first-place showdown in which both squads entered the game with 5-1 records.
A 2014 All-Star, Diggins scored a season-high 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point range, while also dishing out eight assists and recording two steals in a win over the Lynx, which was its first home loss of the season.
However, the scoring was secondary to what she provided down the stretch to help the Shock finish strong. After the Lynx sliced an eight-point deficit to 72-69 with 3:07 remaining, Diggins took control, helping Tulsa score on four consecutive possessions to repel Minnesota’s charge.
On consecutive possessions, she found Paris for easy layups after penetrating in the lane. Williams drained a three-pointer on the Shock’s possession which answered a Lynx basket.
Then, Diggins delivered a dagger three-pointer after executing a behind-the-back dribble and stepping back in an elegant display of ball-handling wizardry. Diggins flourished down the stretch by scoring seven points and handing out a pair of assists.
Just like that, the Shock had responded to a road challenge by remaining poised.
In the two wins over the Mystics and Lynx, the Shock overcame a slow start and first quarter deficit.
“We are more experienced in those situations,” Diggins said. “We have Jordan Hooper who can score and is the best shooter in the league, in my opinion. Courtney Paris had a most improved type of season last year and is the best rebounder in the league. We have a lot of talent on this team.”
Tulsa leads the WNBA in 3-point field goal percentage, offensive rebounds per game, rebounds per game, and it commits the fewest turnovers per game.
Furthermore, the Shock are second in the WNBA in points per game and assists per game. In every game this season, the Shock has enjoyed a double-digit advantage.
Combining those facets has been a recipe for championship success.
The Shock has also been mentally strong as they have faced their share of adversity early in the year.
All-star Glory Johnson reported late to training camp after dealing with well-publicized personal issues. Johnson decided to sit out the season after becoming pregnant. Second-year guard Odyssey Sims has missed the last four games with a knee injury. Sims is expected back soon.
“We support Glory with motherhood,” Williams said. “With her not being here, it’s enabled others an opportunity for increased playing time. The ladies have done a good job of staying focused on what we’re trying to accomplish as a team. The players who are getting those minutes are making quality contributions.”
The Shock are having fun. After an intense one-hour shootaround Friday morning at the Verizon Center, they engaged in entertaining half-court shooting drills.
The thuds of balls clanging off the rim and ricocheting off the floor were drowned out by the consistent sounds of joyous laughter in an empty arena.
“Everybody believes in our coaches,” Diggins said. “We give them a lot of credit for what they’ve done for us. We have a team that’s proud to put on that Shock uniform every day. We work hard. We understand that we might not have any super-duper stars in the eyes of others, but that’s O.K. because at the end of the day, all we care about is winning.”
DELLE DONNE DETONATES AGAIN: While Tulsa and Connecticut are the early team stories, the biggest individual narrative this season is Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne, a University of Delaware graduate.
She is re-writing the franchise and WNBA record book with each mesmerizing performance for the 4-3 Sky.
A day after earning her second consecutive Eastern Conference Player of the Week award, Delle Donne got started on her third straight honor in a big way by scoring a career-high and franchise record 45 points to lift the Sky to a thrilling 100-96 overtime win against the Atlanta Dream Wednesday morning at Allstate Arena.
It was the Sky’s second straight overtime triumph.
Delle Donne also grabbed 11 rebounds for her third straight double-double.
In leading the Sky to their second straight victory, Delle Donne also blocked a career-high six shots. Just sit back and marvel at where Delle Donne’s accomplishments rank in WNBA history thanks to the Sky’s Media and Communications coordinator Lauren Niemiera.
With her 45 point performance, Delle Donne shattered the WNBA mark for most points by a single player through her team’s first seven games of a season with 221 points.
The previous record was set by Maya Moore last year with 193 points. Delle Donne’s effort is sixth all-time in WNBA history for most points scored in a single game.
She became the fifth player in the 19-year history of the WNBA with two or more games of 40-plus points in her career (the others: Diana Taurasi, 3; Maya Moore, Katie Smith, and Cynthia Cooper, 2 each).
With 40 points at Tulsa on June 6 this year and 45 points against Atlanta, Delle Donne becomes the fourth player in WNBA history with two games of 40-or-more points in the same season (the others, all with 2 each: Diana Taurasi in 2006; Maya Moore in 2014; Katie Smith in 2001). She still has 27 games remaining to inflict more damage.
Delle Donne also went 19-for-19 from the free throw line to set the new WNBA record for most consecutive free throws made without a miss.
The previous mark was 17 by Angel McCoughtry against Chicago last year on June 2
Her 19 made free throws tied for second in WNBA history for free throws made in a game with Tina Charles (Connecticut vs. Phoenix, June 29, 2013). Delle Donne has now made 34 consecutive free throws since her last miss on June 14th against the Indiana Fever.
She has led the Sky in scoring in every game this season, tallying at least 24 points in every contest. She also has pulled down at least eight rebounds in all but one game.
Fueled by a historic effort, Chicago’s starting five of Delle Donne, Courtney Vandersloot, Cappie Pondexter, Allie Quigley and Jessica Breland combined for 95 percent of its point total.
This is a key week for the Sky, who’s in the midst of a three-game in five-day stretch against Eastern Conference opponents.
After beating the Dream on Wednesday, Delle Donne’s scoring show goes on the road to Indiana Friday and Washington Sunday afternoon.
“We just wanted to win,” Delle Donne said following her effort against Atlanta. “At this point, being 3-3, we wanted to show that we can be consistent and put two wins together; so, that was the biggest focus.
"It wasn’t even about who the opponent was or what happened in that last game. We needed a win, and we were desperate for one.”
HARTLEY HEALING: Bria Hartley made her season debut against the Sparks Tuesday night. She missed Washington’s first six games with a stress fracture. Hartley scored six points in six minutes as Thibault eased her back into the lineup.
“Whatever time I have out on the court, I’ll definitely cherish,” Hartley said. “I still have to get out and get my wind back. Overall, I felt good being out there for the first time this year.
"My foot is doing well and the special brace that I am wearing has helped with the pain. It was tough not being able to be out there with your teammates, but at the same time I just tried to be as supportive as I can.”
The Mystics are 5-2 overall after beating the Sparks, 84-80. They got 20 points each from Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Emma Meesseman. The Mystics visit Atlanta on Friday night and host the Chicago Sky on Sunday afternoon.
GRINER RETURNS: After serving a seven-game suspension for her role in a domestic dispute with Johnson, Brittney Griner makes her season debut Saturday night against Minnesota. That game will be televised nationally on ESPN2 at 7:00 p.m. eastern time.
The Mercury has done a good job in her absence with a 3-3 record. They have one more game without Griner on Thursday against winless San Antonio.
During Griner’s absence, veteran DeWanna Bonner has stepped up her game. She is second in the WNBA in scoring, averaging 20.2 points through six games. Leilani Mitchell is shooting 50.0 percent from the three-point line this season (14-of-28), tied for fourth in the league.
Mitchell is averaging career highs in points (10.2), three-point field goals made (2.3), three-point field goals attempted (4.7) and three-point field goal percentage (.500).
The Mercury are 3-0 vs. Western Conference opponents and remain the only undefeated team vs. their own conference in the WNBA.
Phoenix faces Western Conference opponents in each of their next seven games. The Mercury’s next Eastern Conference opponent is the Dream at home on July 14.
SPARKS OPTIMISTIC: The Los Angeles Sparks got a key piece of their attack back in Nneka Ogwumike during their 84-80 loss to the Mystics Tuesday night.
The 2012 WNBA Rookie of the Year started and scored 11 points in 36 minutes.
It was her first game of the season after missing the previous four games with a left ankle sprain. She looked good and flashed the explosiveness at times that make her one of the most dynamic players in the league.
“It feels really good to be back on the floor,” Ogwumike said following the Mystics game. “I’ve been watching and reflecting on what I can do to help the team once I got back out on the floor.
" I am glad that (head coach Brian Alger) had the confidence to keep me out there a long time. I want to help our team. I wasn’t entirely frustrated being out because getting healthy was the main priority. I’ve been to every practice and this week I was involved in practice.”
Ogwumike was one of five Spark players in double figures against the Mystics.
Jantel Lavender scored 18 points and Temeka Johnson contributed 17 points. Jennifer Lacy was active in scoring 14 points and Farhiya Abdi added 10 points for the Sparks. Entering Tuesday’s game against the Mystics, Johnson led the league in assists and Lavender was second in rebounding.
The Sparks have two games remaining on their road trip. They visit Connecticut Friday and New York on Sunday.
"We’re getting better,” Alger said. “We’re also getting a lot of young players some playing time, which may benefit us down the road. We thought we could be competitive without Candace Parker and Kristi Toliver early in the year, but we didn’t expect not to have Nneka, Alana Beard and Erin Phillips. So we’re just trying to improve and move forward.”
When asked about Parker’s possible return, Alger said, “probably sometime in mid-July.”
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