There is a good-natured kangaroo court that sometimes meets in the Lynx locker room.
Whenever a Lynx player makes a great play, or makes an opponent look bad, she is fined. A particularly spectacular play will result in the Lynx player being sentenced to jail. Which is why, on the podium after Sunday’s victory over Atlanta in the opening game of the WNBA Finals, Maya Moore turned to Monica Wright and said:
Wright just smiled. It’s not always easy accepting a reserve role, even on a team as talented as the Lynx. But Wright, a college star at Virginia and the second overall pick in the 2010 WNBA draft, has taken the role and run with it.
In Sunday’s 84-59 victory, Wright scored 20 points in 23½ minutes of playing time. She also had five rebounds, three assists and three steals and she took two charges.
As so often happens in high-level games, it was a player coming off the bench that made the difference. When Wright entered the game midway through the first quarter, the Lynx held a three-point lead. By the time she returned to the bench six-plus minutes into the second quarter, that lead had grown to 15.
Wright, a top candidate for the league’s sixth woman of the year award, has been doing this all season.
But on this stage, in a game this big?
“She was amazing,” Moore said, after having levied the fine. “She lifted us completely to another level. So much energy. Her defense, her hustle, her activity. We have known about her all season.’’
Wright wasn’t alone. Backup forward/center Devereaux Peters was also vital, playing good post defense and getting seven rebounds, four steals and three assists.
But this best-of-five finals series with Atlanta is a good match for Wright. Her speed and athletic ability are important against a quick Atlanta team whose offense is based on dribble penetration. Wright’s quickness could be seen all night, and her end-to-end speed was vital — especially on a night when starting point guard Lindsay Whalen contributed only three points.
This is a job that has been years in the making. Wright was primarily a starter in 2010, but she had to both accept and embrace her move to the bench, a role that got more important after the Lynx traded away Candice Wiggins in a three-team, offseason deal that brought Janel McCarville to the team.
“I think it’s an acquired skill,” Wright said. “I’d never been a bench player. [Coach Cheryl] Reeve talked to me all season about embracing the role, how important bench players are.’’
Ultimately, Wright came to like it. Watching the first few minutes of a game from the bench allows her to sense what the team needs when she gets in. When things go right, she is able to inject energy into a game like she did Sunday.
“Actually, Monnie is rare,” Reeve said. “She doesn’t need time [to get warmed up]. Whether she starts of comes off the bench, she’s the same. Monnie is like Vinnie Johnson of old.’’
Reeve was referring to guard Vinnie “The Microwave’’ Johnson, sixth man on the Detroit Pistons’ NBA title teams of 1989 and 1990.
Informed of the Johnson comparison Wright said, “Who?’’
Generational references aside, you get the point. Before the playoffs began Reeve told Wright of her 2001 season as assistant coach with the Charlotte Sting. After a horrid start to the season the Sting qualified for the playoffs, then made it all the way to the finals with bench players Tonya Edwards and Shalonda Enis helping lead the way. Reeve calls top reserves X-factors in the playoffs.
“We embrace our role,” Wright said. “We know we are important.’’