Late Sunday afternoon, after her team had lost Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve calmly, publicly, challenged Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus to do more.
Monday, subtly, the narrative had changed.
Reeve did not back down from anything she said, though she characterized her comments as less of a challenge than a simple response to a question of whether she needed more from her guards.
Yes, she does.
But Monday she pledged to do more to help them, particularly Whalen. Reeve suggested part of the problem might be in the way games are being called. Simply put: The bread and butter of Whalen’s game always has been her ability to drive the lane and either get a basket or get a foul. This season, for whatever reason, those calls have stopped coming in a season in which her scoring average (10.9) was her lowest since 2006.
“Early on it seemed kind of like it was an agenda that she wasn’t going to be able to go to the basket as she’s done throughout her whole career and get calls when she’s contacted illegally,” Reeve said. “It’s been a season-long struggle for her to overcome. She’s changed her game because of it. I think it’s really important that Lindsay Whalen be Lindsay Whalen, and I’m going to try to help her do that.”
Whalen said she just wants to play better.
“That’s not something I can control,” she said of the officiating. “At the same time, that’s kind of the way it’s gone. But I guess I just need to do better. I need to be better. It’s tough, it’s hard. But it’s the Finals. And you have to do what you need to do to be a better player.’’
Whalen has battled soreness in an ankle and Achilles’ tendon this season, injuries that forced her to sit out the last few games of the regular season. But, Reeve said, even before that became an issue it became clear that Whalen wasn’t getting the calls she used to.
“Don’t get me fined,” she said, when asked again about it. “I don’t want to go down this road. But … It’s not the same when she goes in there. Every game we go, ‘Whalen doesn’t get that call.’ And it’s discouraging. We have to put her in better position to be successful. I am part of the equation for each of them to do more.”
Reeve said that is something that can be done on the fly, with Game 2 scheduled for Tuesday night at Target Center. The coach naturally isn’t going to go public with her game plan, but it’s worth noting that Whalen this season has frequently been placed at a wing, rather than the point guard position. And coaches always can call for additional picks to help players drive the lane.
That said, Reeve did not back down from her belief that veterans such as Whalen, Augustus and even forward Rebekkah Brunson need to do more after the first game, in which three Fever guards scored in double figures. Whalen took only three shots, making one. Augustus scored nine points, seven in the fourth quarter. Brunson, a rebounding machine in the first two rounds of the playoffs, had one point and three defensive rebounds.
“We don’t disagree,” Augustus said. “We know. Whey could have done a little more. I could have done more. We need to take pressure off Sylvia [Fowles] and Maya [Moore]. And we will.”
Whalen said the key was letting the game come to her.
“Just do what I’ve always done,” she said. “I think Game 1 they did a pretty good job keeping us out of the lane, and I think we have to be better, more determined to make it happen. … There are opportunities to look for offense, and I need to try to do better. We all know what we have to do.”
By shifting the story slightly Monday, Reeve might have been trying to take some pressure off Whalen. The Lynx coach knows just how important the former Gophers standout and five-time WNBA All-Star is to the team.
“We need to get her wheels rolling,” Reeve said of Whalen. “We’re not doing a lot for her, whether it’s what we’re running or whether it’s teammates being great screeners for her. We have to all do better. All of us.”
Will it work? In Game 1, Moore (27) and Fowles (21) scored 48 of the team’s 69 points.
“Everybody doing their job is going to help everyone else do their job,” Moore said. “It’s bigger than any one player. We’ll be OK.’’