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.
All four WNBA games were decided by six points or fewer on Friday night.
The combined scoring margin was a total of 13 points, that's the lowest scoring margin in a single day in WNBA history (min. 4 games played). pic.twitter.com/cMNUryvJnc
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 3, 2023
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.
— Chicago Sky (@chicagosky) June 4, 2023
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.
— espnW (@espnW) June 4, 2023
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?
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.
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
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.