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Notebook: Ten Notes Following WNBA All-Star 2018

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN MINNESOTA AND CALIFORNIA – As I sit on my flight home from Minneapolis, I keep thinking back to the events of the past 48 hours. All-Star is a whirlwind of activities and along with the major storylines of Maya Moore winning her third straight MVP, Allie Quigley defending her 3-point crown and the new format delivering a fun atmosphere and exciting finish, there were a lot of other great moments that I wanted to touch on. Here are 10 that stand out.

1. Meet Liz Cambage, Point Guard

Early in the first quarter, Liz Cambage grabbed a defensive rebound and had no interest in looking for a guard to bring the ball up. She was ready to do it on her own, fulfilling the dreams of centers everywhere who want to play point guard.

Whether it was Cambage initiating offense or her and Sylvia Fowles putting up 3-pointers, the bigs let it be known that they have skills far beyond the low block.

“When you’re in a team setting you have to do whatever it takes for your team to win, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have other areas of your game that you can do,” said Rebekkah Brunson. “That doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot outside, or you don’t have handles. You kind of have roles throughout your team and this is a way to showcase some of your other talents.”

Of course, when the game got competitive, some of that fun had to be put on hold.

“I think both of us are for position-less basketball, but at some point, it’s like, all right,” said Candace Parker in her postgame press conference with opposing team captain Elena Delle Donne. “I told her in the fourth quarter, I was like, ‘A’ll right, Liz, you can shoot threes, I get it, but right now we need a layup,’ and she produced.”

As much as she enjoyed watching her Wings teammate have fun Saturday, Skylar Diggins-Smith isn’t ready to relinquish her point guard role just yet.

“I think she’s great and all, but when we get back to Dallas, I’m going to takeover some of those responsibilities,” Diggins-Smith said.

Even in the final seconds of the game, as the players cleared the lane for Cambage to throw down a dunk, she had to be pushed to do it.

“I’m getting old now. I’m not early 20s no more. It took a lot for me,” said Cambage. “I want to pull up and shoot the three, but Candace [Parker] told me to go dunk it, so…”

Parker prevailed once again and got Cambage to put the cherry on top of an entertaining game.

2. Teammate vs. Teammate

While most WNBA teammates were not split up during the All-Star Game – the Mercury, Sparks, Aces, Mystics and Wings all had their players on the same team – players from Seattle and Minnesota had a chance to become opponents for the day.

We saw Jewell Loyd matchup with Sue Bird on a few possessions, but the two didn’t go too hard at one another. Loyd gave a strong case as to why following the game.

“You’ve got to respect your elders,” she said with a laugh. “You’ve got to be smart. We still need her so there was no need to cross her up. Plus I know if I did something that she would come back at me and fake me out, so I’m not risking it.”

It was a different story with Lynx teammates Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson, with Brunson doing everything in her powers to deny Augustus from getting her hands on the ball, shadowing her all the way near the half-court line at one point.

“You can’t let her get the ball, she’s a born scorer,” said Brunson. “You’ve got to make the catch difficult for her. I think I did a good job of denying her the rock, so I did my job.”

“Well, I told Syl [Fowles] she wasn’t allowed to block my shot,” said Moore. “That worked out. Seimone was chattering a little bit. We actually didn’t even guard each other at all at any point in the game, so Rebekkah held it down for us.”

3. Honoring An Absent Teammate

When Renee Montgomery took the court to participate in the 3-point contest at halftime, she was not wearing her usual No. 21 Atlanta Dream jersey. Instead, Montgomery donned jersey No. 15, which belongs to Dream teammate Tiffany Hayes.

Hayes was widely regarded as the biggest snub of this year’s All-Star Game and even though she wasn’t in Minnesota, she felt the love from her teammate that was there.

4. The Shift From Fun To Competitive

All-Star Games are known for highlight plays, fun antics and very little defense. At least for the first half of the game. At some point, the competitive streak comes out while the players are out on the court. These are 22 of the best players in the world, who compete night in and night out, so it only makes sense that even when the game doesn’t count toward the standings, they still want to win.

“You know there always that fine line of it being fun and a joyous night for the fans, but there’s always a moment in the game where it gets serious,” said Diana Taurasi after her team’s practice on Friday. “Something happens, someone makes a play, the score gets tight, time is winding down, there’s always that moment. You never know when it’s going to come, but it’s going to come.”

For Parker, there was an added motivation. This wasn’t the Western Conference All-Stars, this was Team Parker, and she was determined that any team that bore her name was going to come out victorious.

“Yeah! I was like I have to give an inspirational speech,” she said about her team squandering their double-digit lead late in the fourth quarter. “Like alright y’all, we’re up, we’ve been up, come on now… and they turned it around.”

5. Kristi Toliver Catches Fire

Parker’s former Sparks teammate Kristi Toliver was the main reason behind Parker’s need to inspire her team down the stretch.

After scoring just two points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field and 0-of-2 from beyond the arc in the first half, Toliver started to get things going in the third quarter.

First, she hit back-to-back threes in a span of 39 seconds to tie the game at 72 with 2:40 left in the period. She went for the heat check two possessions later, but missed and had one more miss in the closing seconds of the third. Through three quarters, she had eight points and was 2-of-6 from 3-point range.

When she re-entered the game midway through the fourth quarter, she had transformed into the Human Torch because she was absolutely on fire. She made all five of her 3-point attempts in the quarter with her fourth trey pulling Team Delle Donne within three points with two minutes to play.

“Yo, are we going to guard her? That’s what I told [my team],” said Parker. “Then we guarded her and she went to basket and that’s what we want, whether she made the layup or not, it doesn’t matter.”

On the next Team Delle Donne possession, Team Parker ran Toliver off the 3-point line, which resulted in a turnover. Moore topped it off with a three of her own to put Team Parker up six. But Toliver wasn’t done. She got free for her seventh 3-pointer of the game – tying the All-Star record set by Shoni Schimmel in 2014 – and pulling Team EDD back within three points.

“I mean, we certainly wanted to win, but those guys are just encouraging me to shoot the ball,” Toliver said after the game. “Syl was setting screens, Dan [Hughes] drew up some stuff, D [Diana Taurasi] was finding me. It was a lot of fun.”

After a Cambage layup put Team Parker up five with a minute to play, they were determined not to allow Toliver to shoot another three. They swarmed her and forced her toward the baseline. Toliver drove the lane but missed the layup, which essentially sealed the game.

The competitive nature even spilled into the postgame as Delle Donne crashed Candace Parker’s interview with NBA TV to claim the game was rigged and that she was ready to run it back.

All-Star Postgame: Candace Parker

6. A Traveling Call

Mark it down…

July 28, 2018. Minneapolis. 4th Quarter. 5:21 Remaining.

Skylar Diggins-Smith is called for traveling … in an All-Star Game.

Then watch Chiney Ogwumike’s reaction:

7. Sklyar Diggins-Smith Flirts With Triple-Double

If anyone were going to dethrone Moore as the reigning All-Star MVP, it would have been either Toliver (had Team Delle Donne completed the comeback and won the game) or Diggins-Smith, who flirted with a triple double off the bench. She finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in just 18 minutes on the court. She was plus-11 in those minutes, which was the second-best mark in the game, trailing only her Dallas teammate Cambage’s plus-12.

8. A’ja’s Impressive All-Star Debut

A’ja Wilson was the lone rookie in this year’s contest and wasted no time in making a strong first impression. She first entered the game to open the second quarter and was absolutely unstoppable. She made her first four shots and had eight points in her first 2:29 on the court. She was the game’s leading scorer at the half with 12 points and finished with 18 points on 9-of-18 shooting to go five rebounds, two steals and an assist in 17 minutes.

Her 18 points are the second-most from a rookie in WNBA All-Star Game history, trailing only Schimmel, who had 29 in 2014 as she led the East to an overtime win.

9. Crashing The Boards

With much of the game free-flowing with few offensive sets and even less defensive intensity, doing a deep analysis of the X’s and O’s for an All-Star Game doesn’t make much sense. But there is one statistic that must be mentioned, as it was vital to Team Parker’s victory on Saturday.

Team Parker outrebounded Team Delle Donne 60-43, with the majority of that advantage coming on the offensive glass, where Team Parker held a 23-9 edge. That advantage on the offensive glass led to Team Parker getting 12 more shot attempts than Team Delle Donne (113-101) and a 23-10 edge in second-chance points.

MVP Moore led the way as she corralled a game-high six offensive rebounds.

“I just wanted to either make the pass, hit the shot, get the rebound, those little things make a difference in the fourth quarter of an All-Star Game,” Moore said.

They also lead to back-to-back-to-back MVP awards.

10. Feeling The Minnesota Love

The Minnesota Lynx fans are some of the most passionate in all of the WNBA. They love their Lynx and let you know it, as opposing players often feel the wrath of the crowd as they play in a hostile environment. That changed for the 48 hours surrounding All-Star as the Minnesota fans embraced their role as hosts and showered all of the players with love and appreciation.

“The Minnesota fans are cheering for me, I feel like that’s never happened in this building,” said Sue Bird during Friday’s practice.

No two players had a bigger swing in their interaction with the Lynx fans than the Sparks duo of Parker and Chelsea Gray. With the rivalry between the two teams at such a high level over the past two seasons, it was “definitely a different dynamic” as Gray put it to see Lynx fans cheering for them, asking for autographs and even …

“A Minnesota fan high-fived me, and I was like, ‘Whoa!’” said Parker feigning how she was taken aback. “This is the All-Star Game. Wow. No, I mean, it’s great. You saw the crowd. Their support for their team, and that’s the main thing in the WNBA, when we have fans, even if they’re against you, they rally behind their team, I respect it. So it was fun. It was a great All-Star Game. They did a great job putting it on.”