June 15, 2021 

Film room: Dallas 77, Phoenix 59

The Wings' horns sets shred the Mercury, so Phoenix tries a 2-3 zone

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The Dallas Wings beat the Phoenix Mercury 77-59 Friday night, a game in which Dallas (5-5, 3-3 in the Commissioner’s Cup) led in the first quarter by as many as 14, and Phoenix (3-3, 2-2 Commissioner’s Cup) were only as close as nine in the second half.

Shooting guard Arike Ogunbowale led the Wings with 20 points while big Satou Sabally put up 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists, and Brittney Griner led the Mercury with 19 points and 6 rebounds. While not exactly a statement win for Dallas, the Wings dominated their matchup and showed a lethal ability to perfect their on-court chemistry.

Dallas was able to force Mercury defenders out of position and kept them guessing by running numerous counters out of its horns set and off-ball screens, while defensively, the Wings basically doubled Griner on every rebound, holding her third-fewest boards in a game over the past two years to ensure success despite Phoenix generating some good looks.

Given the Wings’ early domination, the film will focus on the first half. Keep an eye out for Dallas’ different options out of horns sets, for how its motions occupy Mercury defenders’ eyes, and for how it’s able to stop Phoenix from finishing in the paint.

1Q, 9:35; DAL 0, PHO 0 — First points of the game come for the Wings on a screen-the-screener action, with Allisha Gray bumping Griner, to get Megan Walker to stick on the pick-and-roll action. Walker actually plays this well, but Moriah Jefferson with a real nice leaner, despite Charlie Collier mucking up the paint on a bad roll angle.

1Q, 8:25; DAL 4, PHO 2 — Miami action from Dallas, Brianna Turner’s behind on the hedge recovery since it’s a perfectly timed and placed dump-off from Gray. About as good of a tag from Kia Nurse as you could ask, Brittney Griner rotates, and a nice finish from Satou Sabally.

1Q, 8:10; DAL 6, PHO 2 — Horns set from Phoenix, love the action to have Griner run the cross screen. Sabally expects Turner to be the screener, so she stays on Skylar Diggins-Smith, expecting to have little distance in recovery. Late pass, but Turner does a great job taking Satou off-balance in the faceup.

1Q, 7:13; DAL 6, PHO 4 — Look at how many sets of eyeballs are on Sabally as she goes into this transition faceup, despite being guarded by one of the best frontcourt defenders in the league. The Mercury aren’t the most heady off-ball defenders, but still, this is respect.

1Q, 6:40; DAL 10, PHO 4 — Mercury want to run a weakside double screen, a staple of theirs, for Diggins-Smith. Gray recognizes it and calls for Arike Ogunbowale to switch, neutering the action. Nurse goes to PnR, runs it to the sideline so as to keep it two-on-two, and changes speeds at the end to catch Jefferson’s arms out of position.

1Q, 5:00. DAL 12, PHO 8 — Wings run two pistol actions here. When Phoenix doesn’t give anything up on the first, the ball goes to Alarie, and they run a Chicago to the left. The action is condensed enough that it’s effectively a stagger for Arike, who just misses the three.

1Q, 4:23; DAL 12, PHO 8 — Dallas runs one of their favorite plays, horns flex, but Ty Harris doesn’t exactly land the back screen for Kayla Thornton. So Harris and Bella Alarie turn that into a DHO-and-roll, and Alarie puts herself in perfect position against Phoenix’s show-and-switch to draw the foul.

1Q, 3:59; DAL 14, PHO 8 — Horns set again from Dallas, but Sabally peels to set a pin-down for Marina Mabrey once Harris hops left. Sophie Cunningham is off-balance trying to follow, and Mabrey shakes and shimmies for a step-back two.

1Q, 1:42; DAL 23, PHO 9 — As of this week, Alarie is suddenly a significant and positive contributor for the Wings. Alarie’s giving up five inches to Griner — and she’s going to take her lumps in this game trying to guard her — but her footwork here and her moving of her hips is excellent, allowing her to heavily contest Griner.

1Q, 0:40; DAL 23, PHO 9 — The way the Mercury can flow between actions when they’re clicking is marvelous. Skylar Diggins-Smith advances the ball and runs the pistol right for a DHO with Kia Nurse, while Cunningham comes off a pin-down from Alanna Smith. Ball goes to Cunningham, but Thornton calls on Sabally to switch, so the shooting guard doesn’t have the look. Kia Vaughn sets a flare screen for Nurse after the pass, and with Vaughn being both a roll and pop threat, Alarie has to stay in front of her, so Harris has to stay on Nurse. Vaughn sets a good screen → open three.

2Q, 9:55; DAL 23, PHO 12 — More Wings horns! Dallas wants to target Cunningham, and get her on Jefferson, for some reason, so Jefferson dumps it to Collier goes to set a flex screen. That forces a switch to deny an easy layup to Gray, but Jefferson now has Cunningham trailing as she curls around Sabally’s screen — problem is Vaughn notices Collier falling asleep and pokes the ball away.

2Q, 8:00; DAL 27, PHO 16 — Diggins-Smith DHOs into the pistol action, but relocates to the opposite corner to open the wing, while Smith reverses back towards Nurse to get Sabally trailing the forthcoming screen. Cunningham comes off a pin-down from Vaughn and gets the ball while Nurse gets a flair from Smith and Diggins-Smith gets a little pin-in from Vaughn. Neither are really open, and Nurse knows she’s got Harris a little off-balance, so she calls for the ball to go to Smith and then gets a ball screen from Smith. Smith expects Dallas to hedge as usual and slips, but Sabally follows. Cunningham sees her side getting cluttered and 45-cuts and wraps around a good Smith screen to get daylight. That opens space for Vaughn to lift, and they give-and-go like they did at 0:40 in the first quarter.

2Q, 7:05; DAL 27, PHO 21 — Dallas targets Cunningham via switch again. Here, Jefferson sets the pin-down in hopes of having Cunningham switch onto Arike. When that doesn’t happen, Sabally runs off her DHO right into Cunningham, forcing the switch. Arike enters it to Sabally, Smith doubles, Mabrey 45s to ensure Nurse can’t rotate, and Arike’s got an open three on the kick-out.

2Q, 4:46; DAL 30, PHO 26 — Despite the mini-comeback from the Mercury, head coach Sandy Brondello doesn’t feel good about their SLOB defense. She calls for a 2-3 zone, which mostly works! Brianna Turner just closes out to Arike too hard, and Arike just does Arike stuff for the bucket.

2Q, 2:39; DAL 34, PHO 29 — Phoenix goes back to the 2-3, and this time the Wings are more prepared to beat it, positioning themselves better and Alarie cross-screening to put the Mercury in motion. Nurse hands off to Peddy, who takes Gray on the drive. Turner steps up onto Gray when Griner won’t, and Griner — who’s been on the wrong side of the paint for the whole possession — watches Thornton take an open middy. (Thornton should be guarded by Turner, but Turner had to cover on Gray for Griner.)

Extra fun here is when Arike and Harris both realize they’re both open, at the moment that Peddy takes Gray but Nurse hasn’t fully recovered, and are pointing the other for the pass. (If Griner plays the coverage properly, Harris is probably the correct outlet from Gray.)

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

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