WNBA Week 2: The Unbeatable Aces, BG’s Resilience, Fit of the Week

Feature image photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Image

The second week of the 2023 WNBA season is in the books! The Aces remain undefeated, the Lynx finally got a win, Chicago is showing us and everybody else, and what in the world is going on with the Mystics. Natalie and Heather are hashing it all out in their WNBA weekly chat — now with a Fit of the Week from EIC Carmen Phillips!

Heather: Natalie, hello! How are you feeling after destroying me at WNBA Fantasy Basketball over the weekend?

Natalie: Ha! Well, it feels like a small slice of redemption after you beat me in last year’s Fantasy Basketball championship. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the defense the Indiana Fever played on Kelsey Plum yesterday, limiting her to 9 points on 4 of 15 shooting. The Aces were able to squeak out a win but they certainly didn’t look as infallible as they did in Week One. What’d you think of that game and how the Aces played overall during Week Two?

Heather: There were so many good, close games this weekend, but I do have to say that the Aces/Fever on Sunday was my favorite. During week one, my wife — who, by the way, is rooting for YOU at fantasy basketball — sincerely asked me if I thought the Aces would go undefeated. I was like, “No way, this league is way too competitive for them to not lose a single game,” but they did feel untouchable for a minute there. Especially when the Liberty, the other “super team” that was being tossed around in the same breath as the Aces, have struggled so much.

It felt good to see the Aces come back down to earth, especially at the hands of the Fever! You and I have been big Aliyah Boston believers, and, I think, both very impressed with how fast she’s climbing that W learning curve. And certainly she’s making a huge difference in that organization! But A’ja Wilson held her to seven and the Fever still had them on the ropes until the buzzer. There’s something cool happening in Indiana and I am thrilled to see it. Meanwhile, the Aces? Yeah, they’re residing on earth with us mere mortals again, but they still do seem like a team that’s poised to win another championship at this point.

What excited you during Week 2?

Natalie: Well, first, thank you to Stacy for the support!

I definitely agree with you that I don’t think the Aces will go undefeated this season. I think they’ve look vulnerable against the Dream and the Fever and now they’re heading to Connecticut for a match-up with Alyssa Thomas and the Sun on Tuesday…so it feels like a matter of time before the parity in the league catches up with them. I’ve said, probably for the last year or so, that I’ve been worried about the minutes that the Aces are putting on their starters and I’m wondering if we’re starting to see the effects of that now. Neither Plum nor Chelsea Gray looked up to par yesterday…we’ll see how they hold up for the rest of this Aces roadtrip.

I don’t know how much the Aces did to contain Boston…I think they got bailed out by the refs who saddled her with early fouls which got her sent to the bench. Thankfully, the Fever had some great contributions off the bench…from Queen Egbo, Victoria Vivians and Kristy Wallace…and so the Fever were able to stay competitive. I do wonder what kind of mental impact a loss like that has, though? I mean, they were rightthere…so close to beating the defending champions. I hope they can rebound.

But you’re right, this weekend was filled with so many close games…and WNBA Action on Friday nights on ION has become must-see TV for me.

Heather: That’s a really good point! In fact that’s several really good points! I think the Fever have embraced their underdog status and I think they have this mentality that they’re going to go out there, every game, and just give absolute hell to whoever they’re playing. They’re going to bite and claw their way to respect and I think that works for them! You know who else that mindset is working for? The Chicago Sky! They’re going to drop some games they should win, especially with Rebekah Gardner sidelined with a foot injury — but they’re also going to compete in every single game. They’re not going away. Just look at what they did to the Liberty yesterday! I know a lot of people want to blame that Liberty loss on officiating, but the Liberty blew an almost 20-point halftime lead because of the Sky’s swarming defense and had absolutely no answer for Kahleah Copper! Kah had 47 points and 16 rebounds in the Sky/Liberty double-header.

Natalie: And she got hurt! (My fantasy team thanks her for her points!)

Heather: Natalie, when she went down, I screamed at the TV for real. I was SO relieved to see her back at it after the half. I think one of the main themes of this Liberty/Sky weekend is that the Sky look so much better than everyone thought they would and the Liberty look so, so much worse.

Natalie: Between the Aces/Fever and the Sky/Liberty game, it was definitely not a great showcase for refereeing in the WNBA but, like you say…the Liberty definitely have to take responsibility for giving up that huge lead and letting the Sky claw their way back into it. I don’t understand how you have that many offensive weapons on the floor and then get outscored 30-17 in that fourth quarter.

I think when the Liberty brought Courtney Vandersloot, Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones together…not only were people just excited to see that level of talent unite but there were folks constantly reminding us that they’d played together overseas.

Heather: Agree and agree!

Natalie: You see none of that chemistry when that collection of players is out there. As for the Sky, two things stand out: first, of course, Kahleah Copper who is just refusing to let the naysayers be right about the Chicago Sky. She’s just balling.

And second, the defense. Did you think that a team that includes Kahleah Copper, Courtney Williams and Marina Mabrey would be so scrappy on the defensive end? I sure as hell didn’t. They forced the Liberty into 16 turnovers and had 4 steals on top of that.

Heather: I wholeheartedly agree with both of those things. Did you also think a team that includes Kahleah Copper, Courtney Williams and Marina Mabrey would be so good at ball movement? So ready to pass up a good shot for a great shot? That’s one of the best shot-creation trios in the league and they’ve all become little assist goblins on top of it!

You know what shocked the heck out of me during this matchup? In the first Liberty/Sky matchup, which the Liberty ended up winning by one, Sandy Brondello had Sabrina Ionescu and Jonquel Jones on the bench at the end of the game, choosing Kayla Thornton and Marine Johannes in that clutch moment instead. It worked out — but I just kept thinking: in their entire careers, all the way back to like elementary school, have Sabrina and JJ ever been sidelined on purpose in big moments? It does speak to the bizarre chemistry happening in New York, and the fact that even their head coach isn’t sure what to do about it. One thing that really surprised me is, after that Friday night game, I saw Stewie blast past a bunch of little girls waiting for autographs and I have literally never seen her do that. She looked furious, even though they won.

Natalie: You’re right, I can’t imagine either of them having been in that position before. I said from the beginning of the season that I’m leery of super-teams because they don’t work out more often than they do…and New York is definitely proving that point. They have to figure out their spacing. They (read: Sabrina) have to learn their roles within the new offense. They have to learn to be more aggressive on defense. Something has to change in New York…

Changing gears: what’d you think about Minnesota getting their first win of the season?

Heather: Well, I think Napheesa Collier had something to prove to you, personally! She looked like the Phee of Destiny against Washington! (Man your fantasy team really was next level this week!) I was so glad to see them get a win, and not just because it seemed like Cheryl Reeve was ready to start feeding them into a volcano as sacrifices, one by one, until things turned around.
The Lynx were obviously going to struggle this year. Losing Sylvia Fowles? Come on. But I don’t think anyone expected them to start 0-6.

Natalie: Wait, hang on. Phee had the big game against Connecticut, not Washington.

Heather: Oh right! Yes!

Natalie: She returned to normal against Washington.

Heather: Returned to normal, lol.

Natalie: SMH. I’m grateful that Minnesota got their first win but I still have so many questions about what’s going on with the Lynx this season. Napheesa Collier drops 30 against a very good Connecticut team on Thursday and I’m thinking, “Finally! This is the Phee I’ve been waiting to see,” but then she regresses to the mean against the Mystics on Saturday. Kayla McBride’s shot finally starts falling against the Mystics after shooting a paltry 27% against the Sun. And then there’s Aerial Powers…who the hell knows what’s going on there…

I just want some consistency.

As you said, I didn’t have high expectations after the loss of Fowles and Natalie Achonwa’s pregnancy but this still falls short of what I was expecting from a Reeves coached team.

Heather: I agree. And I feel confident Cheryl Reeves agrees!

Natalie: Do you think Cheryl Reeves is capable of tanking? Because that’s a question people are asking, right…like how much of this is positioning for the 2024 WNBA Draft?

Heather: Yeah, and that is such a dangerous path! I mean, look at Sabrina Ionescu (Caitlin Clark 1.0) and her trajectory. The Liberty positioned themselves to build a dynasty on her and now she’s not even on the floor at the end of a one-point game!

Natalie: I was talking to a Lynx fan over the weekend and we debated this question…and I do think the Lynx are tanking but not in a conventional way. This is a team that knew that they weren’t going to have Syl, they knew they weren’t going to have Achonwa, they had questions at the PG slot…and then during free agency, they did absolutely nothing. Like, it’s not clear they even tried when there was so much talent available and they had so many obvious needs. It just never made sense to me….but now, with this incredible draft class looming, it feels like it was all a conscious choice.

Heather: It’s hard to deny that’s what’s happening, and I agree that free agency was the big tell!

Natalie: On the flip side of that, can we talk about the Mystics? What the hell is going on with the Mystics?

Heather: The Mystics are so all over the place I don’t even know what to say about them! One minute they look like some kind of superstar dynasty of yore, and the next minute they’re losing to the Lynx! And I honestly can’t even figure out exactly what’s wrong with them! Elena Delle Donne’s averaging 30+ minutes for the first time in ages, and she looks great! They seem poised to split with Seattle — Seattle! — this week.

Natalie: With the Mystics, I’m just so disappointed by this team. I had such high hopes. And I don’t know what the issue is, really? Eric Thibault’s been the assistant coach of this squad for years now so I didn’t think there’d be a big adjustment to the coaching change…but maybe that’s it. Or maybe the Mystics were so focused on getting the core of that 2019 championship squad back together without acknowledging that Father Time is truly undefeated and the team looks a step slower than they did when they won the title.

Heather: Oof that’s so real! But then! You turn around and look at, say, Alyssa Thomas who seems like she’s held together with duct tape and pure grit at this point, and she’s still on triple double watch every game! This is such a wild and unpredictable season, on a team and individual level, and I kind of love that.

Natalie: Every. Single. Game. Triple Double Watch.

Heather: It’s unreal. I love to watch her play! What else is surprising you so far this season?

Natalie: I mean, I hate to be predictable but the biggest surprise for me remains how good Brittney Griner looks. It defies all logic that she’s out there, playing at such a high level, after having been away from the game so long and after having gone through what she has. Now, do I wish she had a better team around her and a better coach? Yes, absolutely. But still. She’s a fucking marvel.

What about you?

Heather: Absolute same. She looks as good as she has ever been, just absolutely dominate. And honestly I’m surprised I’m STILL getting SO emotional about it. Had another sobby meltdown just yesterday over this photo. After everything she’s been through, how much she’s STILL giving? God what a hero!

Natalie: So here’s a question, Heather: Does Skylar Diggins-Smith come back this season?

Heather: Oh man. I hope she can take all the time she needs! But also, the Mercury NEED her. I’m trying to remember when Phee had her baby because she was back at the end of last season, but that was a lot because she wanted to play one last time with Syl. What do you think?

Natalie: Obviously, I think she should do what’s best for her and her family…but, at the same time, I don’t know how, if BG asks her to come back, she says no?

Heather: Yep!

Natalie: I think we’ve had a couple of players in WNBA history come back quickly after pregnancies — Phee, as you pointed out, and Dearica Hamby, most recently — but I don’t know that we should normalize that.

Still, though, if BG asks…

Hell, I’d suit up for the Mercury if BG asked.

Heather: That’s exactly how I feel!

Natalie: That’d be really bad for everybody, though. Don’t ask me, BG!

Heather: Imagine us saying that two years ago! That we’d put on MERCURY JERSEYS.

Natalie: Imagine!

Heather: I just imagined Cherelle Griner winking at us from her court-side seat and us running into the wall or something.

Natalie: Sounds about right. At least DT wouldn’t be the only fossil on the team then

Heather: HAHAHAHA!!!

Okay and now! Let us turn it over to Autostraddle Editor in Chief/femme sports legend Carmen Phillips for the WNBA Pre-Game Fit of the Week!

Carmen: Okay, it’s a little corny but honestly the best fit was Pride Night in Indiana. Erica Wheeler and Nalyssa Smith coming out with the rainbow arch behind them? Fire.

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.

Natalie

A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 401 articles for us.

Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 714 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. God I’m so glad y’all are doing this column! I have so many WNBA Thoughts, and I’m slowly working on the people in my life to get into the best players around, but it’s nothing like getting a bunch of smart and funny and heartfelt thoughts from huge fans.

    The Mystics are my (main) team, and man are they confusing to me. like, they were supposed to be amazing on defense, but the Lynx had periods where they just took what they wanted. And where is the rebounding? I get that teams have rough shooting starts (and thankfully Atkins seems more herself these days), but THAT’S WHEN YOU GOTTA REBOUND. Damn.

    Also, loled at this line: “they’ve all become little assist goblins on top of it”

    • I can definitely relate to that confusion, LGBT-Rex. I just don’t understand what’s going on with that team.

      Saturday after the game, Tasha Cloud offers this strong defense of Shakira Austin in the post-game presser…and I’m like, Shakira went 14 and 10…no one thinks that she’s the problem. It’s mystifying.

      • i love Cloud, but i feel like in the previous 2 years she’s had less control than ’18/19? like when the team is struggling, she tries to force things, but it’s not where she excels. i watched alot of games the past 3 years, but haven’t seen many this year, though, so it’s not a qualified impression.

  2. This is my fave column! Thanks for writing it.

    Also you know the Storm is tanking when they don’t get a mention. Dang, it is hard to be a storm fan right now! Jewell is doing an incredible job leading this team and I’m so proud to be a fan. I felt a little sad to see so many fewer fans in the arena this year. But this team is fighting hard. They aren’t probably going to go far but they aren’t going down without a fight!

    • We’ll do our best to rotate the teams we talk about each week, Summer. I remiss I didn’t touch on Jewell Loyd this week because that 37 point performance against the Sparks was other worldly. She’s leading the league in scoring and you’ve got to think, if she was on any other team, she’d be in the MVP conversation.

      Who from the Storm has impressed you so far this season? Kia Nurse continues to improve, as she comes off last season’s injury, so I’m hopeful that she’ll give the Storm another consistent scoring option. I’d hoped that Ezi and Jewell would be a strong 1-2 punch for Seattle but Magbegor hasn’t been the offensive force I’d hoped for.

      • Oh sorry if that came off critical, not my intention. You all write my fave weekly column so no complaints here :)

        Yeah Jewell is on fire! I do feel bad that she likely won’t be in MVP conversations and I do have a sinking feeling she will leave the Storm after this season. She is in the last year of her contract and staying isn’t exactly… attractive!

        Jordan Horston and Jade Melbourne are my players to watch! They’re young and forging their path. It’s exciting to see

        • Oh, Summer, you didn’t. No worries at all.

          I actually think Loyd stays. I think she wants to rebuild the franchise and to prove that she can be the leader that the Storm needs. I think (hope?) she wants to lead Seattle out of this transitional period. Plus, knowing the way she feels about Kobe, I think she sees the appeal of playing her whole career with one franchise.

          Given the investment that the team’s owners are about to make in the franchise, I think Seattle’s going to become a destination for free agents on top of the top draft picks they’ll secure.

          • I’m also convinced Jewell will stay! Especially seeing her really seeming to take an active role in helping the rookies.

  3. I have the same feeling about the Fever – even if they don’t have the Ws to show for it, there’s something about their energy that makes me think they’ll be COOKING if they can just get everyone on at the same time. I’m a Lexie Hull apologist from her Stanford days, and I really do think if she can find her shot outside, opponents will be in trouble with her, Mitchell, and Boston on the floor.

    I also think it’s really dangerous to be tanking this year if you’re banking on Clark or Bueckers. I’m fairly confident Brink won’t take her covid year, but there’s a fair chance the high impact draft year won’t be until 2025 with all the college stars coming out.

  4. friday’s aces/dream game was incredible! and i still think that if the challenge on cubaj’s shooting foul in the last two minutes had been successful, they could’ve pulled out a win. it seems like they’re finding their footing as a team really well and they’re hungry

    • Definitely saw a different Dream team vs. the Aces, @caitthegreat. I’m so bummed about Aari McDonald’s injury (she’s out to 3-4 weeks) but I’m hoping that it’ll push Haley Jones to really step up like she did against Chicago.

  5. As every Australian basketball fan knows, the Liberty have to overcome something bigger than gelling their super team – they also have to get through Sandy Brondello, who has an unparalleled skill to take a winning team and put the worst possible combinations on the floor to make them a losing one (see what’s she’s done to the Australian Opals for years). She can only win if superstar players overcome her system and play the lights out and rescue them. It’s actually kind of depressing to see her run the same horrible plays with the Liberty we’ve been seeing in international games for years. She did the same to the Mercury.

    • Admittedly, I’ve cut Brondello a little slack because of the mysterious circumstances surrounding her departure from the Mercury (will we ever find out what happened there?) but you’re right, @nancyamazon.

      In my view, Brondello’s problem has always been believing that an elite offense can make up for a lackluster defense…and we’re seeing some of that this season. Plus, it feels like she has favorites and would rather support those players than laying out a gameplan that’ll get a W. I’d hoped that, after his experience in Chicago, her husband would balance out her questionable impulses but that’s not been the case so far.

      • If she could she’d throw the whole team on Stewie’s back, cross her fingers and hope like hell they win. Then she’ll try and say it was all some grand plan. Don’t throw her any slack – she was a great player and is a great strategist, but that favorites thing has gotta go.

        • I mean… there are worse people to favor. Honestly, they’ve won when Stewie is getting the most looks. There are obviously other issues with her coaching, but I don’t think relying on Stewie is one of them

  6. Even if Skylar is ready post-pregnancy, does she really come back if she has to play for Nygaard? Like, I’m sure the entire Mercury organization would walk through fire for BG, but it was pretty clear at the end of last season that Sky was about ready to split from the team after the clown tweet.

    • Okay, I googled the clown tweet, but I’m otherwise not at all caught up on why Nygaard is not a good coach. Saw it mentioned in the article, too, so I believe it. Anyone willing to catch me up a bit? I’m excited to see BG play in person this month (against the Liberty) and want to know all the things.

      I’ve also got a soft spot for the Mercury because they were the only team I remember having a super visible gay player back in the 90s (Timms was my favorite player in the days of ubiquitous ponytails, years before I even realized I was gay).

      But I have no idea about team dynamics other than the big stuff that made news—like the D-S/DT drama from last season. Love this column so much for helping to rectify this!

    • Yeah, @amalia-hs, the relationships with Nygaard and DT are definitely a factor but, if I’m BG, I’d try to sell Skylar on the idea that it won’t be nearly so bad with her there to act an emissary. I think that, combined with the fact that it’s hard to say no to BG anyway…I think she could win Skylar over.

      (People forget that BG and Skylar came into the league together…two-thirds of that “three to see” draft class. They had a friendship before she ever came to Phoenix.)

      Plus, Skylar’s in the last year of her contract with Phoenix and I think, if she wants to have a future in this league, she’ll need to showcase to other teams that she’s worth pursuing in free agency. If she doesn’t want to play in Phoenix…I wouldn’t mind seeing her in Seattle or Minnesota.

  7. I remain loving this column!

    The convos about the Storm and Lynx ranking are so funny because I’m just like this league is so insanely talent I don’t think it would even be possible to rank on purpose! But I agree with y’all that I’m sure they’d prefer to be winning, but also considering their options for the future since they’re in this period of rebuilding. Which I think is smart, we’ve seen how #1 picks can come in and light up a league and breathe new life into a franchise. I see the comparison but I don’t think Caitlin Clark is really Sabrina 2.0. She’s already gotten to the point of passing up a good shot for a great shot before she’s graduate college, and I feel like her specific skill in terms of court vision is something that could fit well with this current Lynx roster

    It’s funny being a Liberty fan who didn’t really watch Sabrina in college because from watching the games, I totally agree w subbing Johannes in for her, but I’m sure that sounds insane for most people to hear

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