If there was one thing that really surprised Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve about Friday’s 85-71 loss in Phoenix in Game 1 of the WNBA Western Conference finals, it wasn’t any one statistic or stretch during the game. It was an attitude.
As in, the defending champion Lynx didn’t have enough of it. “Phoenix has had a great season,” Reeve said Saturday, shortly after the team’s flight landed in Minnesota. “Phoenix has a great understanding that, in order to beat us, to go to the finals, they’re going to have to wrestle the trophy away from us. What I was surprised about was we didn’t have the collective effort to have two hands on that trophy.’’
In a game where the final score didn’t indicate how effectively the Mercury controlled the play, what struck Reeve was her team’s lack of edge. The Lynx came out of the gate slowly. On offense there was a lack of patience to get the best shot and a lack of ball movement to keep the Mercury going. That ineffective offense led to the Lynx having to defend too often in transition.
And the result of that?
• The Lynx shot 39.7 percent, their lowest since the second game of last season’s title run.
• The Lynx managed just 10 assists on 29 made field goals, the team’s lowest total this season.
• MVP Maya Moore was held to a season-low nine points on just nine shots attempted.
“What stood out was how well Phoenix engaged on the defensive side,” Reeve said. “They set the tone early in the game.’’
And the Lynx didn’t meet the challenge.
Perhaps just as telling was the Mercury’s 14-rebound edge. Or the 24 points the Mercury scored off Minnesota’s 15 turnovers.
All that has to change for the Lynx to extend this best-of-three series. Minnesota hosts the Mercury Sunday afternoon at Target Center.
The Lynx will have to reverse the ball to find open shots. And Moore has to get going. Friday the Mercury led with the long, lean DeWanna Bonner on Moore. Bonner’s length — plus the looming presence of Brittney Griner — took away much of Moore’s post-up game. But it didn’t stop there. On pick-and-rolls the Mercury often switched off with a big player to make a jumper more difficult. When Moore put it on the floor the Mercury responded with almost a mini-zone defense to contain her.
Problem was that — with the exception of Lindsay Whalen later in the game — Moore’s teammates didn’t pick up the slack. The Lynx had just two assists at halftime and trailed by 25 points in the third quarter before a Whalen-led push closed the gap a little.
Seimone Augustus made four of five shots in the first quarter and didn’t hit a field goal again.
Ultimately, those problems on offense bled over into the defense.
“We have some things to fix,” forward Rebekkah Brunson said after the game. “We didn’t approach this game the way we should have. But we know we can play a lot better.”
To Reeve, that means attacking the Mercury more on the perimeter, reversing the ball to force Phoenix defenders to move.
But, X’s and O’s aside, Reeve wants her players to play closer to the edge. When someone is trying to take what you’ve got, you have to hold on a little tighter.
“We have to know we can play on the edge,” Reeve said. “I have to get more of a sense of urgency. Phoenix showed they understood what it’s going to take.’’