Three Takeaways: Stars at full strength, but Wings go full throttle

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 20: Skylar Diggins-Smith
ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 20: Skylar Diggins-Smith /

Anticipation seeped through the atmosphere Thursday afternoon at AT&T Center.

The San Antonio Stars were at full strength for their matinee duel with the Dallas Wings. That meant the return of Moriah Jefferson and the debut of Kelsey Plum, this year’s top overall draft pick. However, Dallas went full throttle in the fourth quarter, erasing a 10-point deficit en route to a 94-82 win.

The result was a discouraging one for the Stars; they led at halftime for the first time this season and were poised to finally enter the win column. The Wings upheld their perfect road record (2-0) and Skylar Diggins-Smith provided another example of her takeover ability.

New heights for Harrison

SAN ANTONIO TX – MAY 25: Isabelle Harrison
SAN ANTONIO TX – MAY 25: Isabelle Harrison /

In just her second season, Isabelle Harrison is on the verge of a breakout performance. On Thursday, she racked up 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. Her scoring total matched a career high, and she shattered her previous marks for rebounds and blocks.

Harrison’s first career double-double was the result of her exploiting weaknesses on the Dallas defense. The Wings struggle with rim protection, so Harrison went to the paint early. She converted her first four shots of the game and scored 11 points by halftime.

In the second half, Harrison had trouble breaking Dallas’ containment. Her touches dropped, and when she did get the ball, the Wings stayed with her through strong one-on-one play and double teams. Finding a solution to such coverage is crucial for Harrison’s development, especially against strong defensive groups like Los Angeles and Minnesota.

“With us, we’re asking her to start and play a lot of minutes and be productive. So I’m sure her body has never gone through this before,” Stars head coach Vickie Johnson told reporters after the game.

The 23-year-old from Tennessee deserves props for what she has done so far. Relegated to back-up minutes with Phoenix last year, Harrison is thriving in Johnson’s new regime. Through four games, she’s averaging 13.2 points and 5.0 rebounds. Her five blocks against the Wings was more than double her total for her entire rookie season. For all the talk about San Antonio’s one-two-three guard combo, Harrison is determined to enter the conversation as a post of the future.

Our first look at “McPlumerson”

SAN ANTONIO TX – MAY 25: Kelsey Plum
SAN ANTONIO TX – MAY 25: Kelsey Plum /

If you’re wondering, “McPlumerson” is an amalgam of Kayla McBride, Plum and Jefferson. The trio’s first appearance was delayed with injuries to Jefferson and Plum in the preseason, but all three found floor time on Thursday. McBride got the start, while Jefferson and Plum came off the bench.

The experience of Jefferson and McBride was evident from the start, even if their stat line wasn’t so great. McBride scored a team-high 18 points, but she was unable to hit from three-point range. Jefferson added nine points and four steals. With her speed and agility back in action, the second-year player from UConn will help the Stars meet their goal of speeding up their pace.

Plum’s first trip to the floor came late in the first quarter, but a cautious approach kept her minutes in check. Her debut was uneventful, with four points and five turnovers in 12 minutes.

Observers keen on grading the first appearance of this trio would have to consider an “incomplete” listing. Jefferson and McBride have the advantage of familiarity, while Plum is still absorbing her transition from college to pro ball.

“Everyone is still figuring it out, it is only the fourth game and only my second game. We are still trying to fit in those pieces and that is part of the process,” McBride said.

Super Skylar

SAN ANTONIO TX – MAY 25: Skylar Diggins-Smith
SAN ANTONIO TX – MAY 25: Skylar Diggins-Smith /

A pair of three-point plays from Diggins-Smith launched a fourth quarter offensive for Dallas, who outscored San Antonio 33-13 in the period.

The first strike came with the Wings trailing by 10. Diggins-Smith chased down an offensive rebound, then baited Harrison into buying a fake on the left wing. Diggins-Smith attacked the open lane and got herself a bucket.

On Dallas’ next possession, Diggins-Smith took a shovel feed from Glory Johnson and sprinted to the bucket from just behind the half-court line. Jefferson tried to keep up alongside her, but Diggins-Smith drew contact and scored again. Both plays were classics from the 26-year-old.

“With Skylar, she is a competitor. I think someone blocked her shot earlier and she didn’t like that so that really upped her game. She really went after it and played hard,” said Wings head coach Fred Williams.

Diggins-Smith finished with 17 points and seven assists, and she had plenty of help. Karima Christmas-Kelly scored 18 points, and rookie Allisha Gray added 17. Their composure was a microcosm of the change in momentum. With San Antonio unable to feed Harrison, desperation rose, leading to rushed shots. The Stars went 2-of-16 from the floor in the final quarter. Even worse for the Stars, their misses fed the Wings transition game.

Although Dallas is young, a healthy Diggins-Smith offers an astute fulcrum who can inspire her comrades.