Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
When you’re going to an event for the first time, there’s probably a ton of thoughts racing through your mind.
Will I enjoy it, what am I going to get out of it, and will I want to go again?
For me, those were some of the things I was wondering about before going to Tuesday night's Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) game between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces with the New York Times Sports Storytelling course. As someone who has gone to plenty of Knicks games for the last 10 years, I was curious about what type of experience I would get from watching a WNBA game for the first time. Forty minutes later, I left Barclays Center hoping for another chance to attend a game.
Las Vegas emerged victorious last night as they extinguished the Liberty’s burning torch, leading throughout the entire contest. The Aces improved to 16-7 while the Liberty fell to 9-14. In a game that featured a combined six all stars, four of them on Las Vegas, the Aces barely broke a sweat in the first half, leading 53-28 at halftime thanks to a balanced scoring attack led by All Star MVP Kelsey Plum. However, the Liberty fought back valiantly in the second half, scoring a WNBA record 73 points in a single half. With superstar Sabrina Ionescu on the bench, her fellow all-star Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb trimmed the Aces lead to single digits by the end of the third quarter. Ionescu joined the rally in the fourth quarter by scoring 21 of her 27 points, but the Aces hit key shots down the stretch and ultimately emerged victorious.
After the game, Liberty coach Sandy Brondello credited the team for their ferocious rally, but stated that if they continue to replicate their first half performance, “We’ll lose against every team.”
While watching, I tried to observe more than any other basketball game I’ve previously attended. What I witnessed was tons of off-ball movement with all five players working as one. Yes, there were still one on one baskets whether it was from Ionescu or Plum, but more often than not, each basket involved an off-ball screen, a cut to the basket, and the extra pass. As someone who has seen lots of basketball, I would rather see possessions where everyone plays as one compared to sequences where someone tries to dunk it over everybody. There’s plenty of times in the National Basketball Association where teams have a sequence involving all five players working together, but that tends to come during the first minutes of action or when a coach draws up an out of bounds play.
When an NBA game is free flowing, players will try to use their athleticism to outsmart their opponents which can only do so much. In last night’s game, the possessions that saw lots of passing were more frequent. The most impressive part is the fact that they aren’t running a specific play, but rather trying to outsmart the opponent by using their brains.
In a question surrounding the play style of teams, third year player Jocelyn Willoughby has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury but still finds the WNBA teams to be “more team oriented” and “fundamentally sound”.
If more NBA teams could adapt the playstyle WNBA teams play with, the game as a whole would be more beautiful because everyone would have a significant role on each possession. As a matter of fact, it would open more opportunities for highlight reel plays since players will be in a better position to make those spectacular plays. Everyone, including myself, understandably enjoys watching the entertaining moments of an NBA game but if good ball and player movement can lead to a great play, it’ll be the best of both worlds.