Checkmate? Wings look to experience teaching chess match to WNBA semifinals

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Playoff basketball collection are sometimes determined by the chess match between opposing coaches, and the first-round showdown between the No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun and the 6-seed Dallas Wings has been no completely different. After Dallas’ 6-foot-7 beginning heart, Teaira McCowan, struggled to get stepping into Recreation 1 — a 93-68 Solar victory — Wings coach Vickie Johnson modified issues up heading into Recreation 2, bringing McCowan off the bench and beginning Isabelle Harrison in her place.

The choice may need appeared minor — McCowan nonetheless logged 24 minutes — nevertheless it performed a pivotal position within the Wings’ means to bounce again to take an 89-79 win and pressure a winner-take-all Recreation 3 at their place on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The Wings received information late Tuesday that main scorer Arike Ogunbowale is possible Wednesday after lacking the previous six video games with an belly damage. However how efficiently the Solar can counter Johnson’s transfer and guarantee McCowan cannot repeat her Recreation 2 success — and the way rapidly McCowan and the Wings reply to that — stays a deciding consider figuring out which group advances to the WNBA semifinals subsequent week.

McCowan’s emergence — in her first season with the Wings after being traded by the Indiana Fever this previous offseason — was an enormous a part of Dallas’ surge down the stretch of the common season. Since being inserted into the beginning lineup after the All-Star break, the previous Mississippi State star averaged 16.2 factors and 10.0 rebounds in 26.5 minutes per sport to shut the common season; these marks have been 7.6/5.1/13.9 in her 20 prior appearances this season. Moreover, the 9.2-point differential per 100 possessions in Dallas’ internet ranking with McCowan on the ground versus on the bench was the second-best mark for any Wings participant, behind Allisha Gray‘s 14.1.

The Wings went 8-5 following McCowan’s insertion into the beginning lineup, together with 6-2 heading into the playoffs, and McCowan took residence the primary Participant of the Month Award of her profession in August.

However in Recreation 1, she was largely neutralized, a part of the Solar’s technique to include McCowan, Grey and Marina Mabrey.

With reigning MVP and perennial All-Defensive Workforce choice Jonquel Jones matched up towards her, McCowan had a tricky time attending to her regular spots and getting touches. McCowan completed with six subject purpose makes an attempt (2-for-6 from the sector), seven factors and 5 rebounds. Defensively, she was primarily matched up towards the uber-physical Swiss Military knife Alyssa Thomas, who might pull McCowan out of the paint and take her off the dribble — not essentially McCowan’s robust swimsuit.

The Solar completed Recreation 1 plus-16 within the paint and plus-7 on the glass, they usually held the Wings to simply seven second-chance factors.

“There isn’t any means we are able to win with Teaira solely taking six photographs,” Johnson stated after Recreation 1. “We have got to pound the ball inside and play inside out.”

Johnson approached McCowan between Video games 1 and a pair of to see how she felt about being introduced off the bench. It wasn’t that McCowan was being punished or handed over for Harrison, Johnson stated. Moderately, it had every little thing to do with matchups.

Along with beginning the 6-foot-6 Jonquel Jones, the Solar have been bringing in 6-foot-3 Brionna Jones — the WNBA’s reigning Most Improved Participant and a favourite for Sixth Participant of the 12 months — off the bench.

Jonquel Jones can match McCowan’s size and has the sting in physicality. Johnson anticipated placing McCowan up towards Brionna Jones would play to the Wings’ benefit. And it largely did.

Harrison did her half in matching Jonquel Jones in Recreation 2, particularly early on, whereas Kayla Thornton helped decelerate Thomas. Then McCowan and Brionna Jones each checked in on the 4:35 mark of the primary quarter and have been matched up towards one another the remainder of the competition. Towards a smaller and fewer cellular defender — and with a renewed intention by Dallas to get the ball inside — McCowan regarded way more snug working within the paint, ending with 17 factors (second greatest on the group) on 8-for-13 taking pictures, whereas additionally coming away with 11 rebounds, together with eight on the offensive finish, and three assists.

“It was actually to match B. Jones,” Johnson stated of the choice to vary the beginning lineup. “B. Jones got here in, [McCowan] got here in. That was the true focus behind every little thing. She needed to match B. Jones, she’s the one who can do it, they usually went head-to-head the entire evening.”

McCowan and the Wings flipped the script from Recreation 1, beating the Solar on the glass (plus-3), narrowing the hole in factors within the paint (minus-2) and doubling them up on second-chance factors (23-11).

“It feels nice understanding I will be on a group the place they’ll use me in the best way I am supposed for use,” McCowan stated, referring to her latest success with Dallas as in comparison with Indiana. “I really feel like simply coming in and staying true to my position, that is what I have been doing.”

After a putrid first quarter by which the Solar managed simply seven factors, the Joneses nonetheless had strong performances offensively, ending with 20 factors apiece in Recreation 2. However protection and rebounding are what Connecticut constructed its success on this season, and the group felt that was missing most of Recreation 2, a part of what allowed McCowan to go off for an enormous evening.

Brionna Jones admitted that the Solar want to enhance their assist protection round McCowan and do a greater job of holding her off the glass when the groups meet once more Wednesday. If the Solar can efficiently include her and extra broadly management the paint and boards, they are much extra prone to advance to the semifinals for the fourth straight yr.

And if Dallas is ready to break by with the upset — and safe the franchise’s greatest playoff run because it was positioned in Detroit — it will little doubt be due to the work of McCowan and Dallas’ different bigs in successful that battle.

“McCowan is so large to maneuver that you have to do your work early,” Jonquel Jones stated. “And as soon as she will get in that place, essentially the most you are able to do is simply attempt to tip it out. We simply need to be extra proactive and do our work early.”

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