Almost immediately after leaving her postgame news conference Sunday evening, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve went back to the locker room and watched the game tape.
She doesn’t usually do that. Normally, win or lose, she waits. But, after dropping Game 1 of the WNBA finals to a Los Angeles Sparks team that opened the game on a 28-2 run and ended it on Chelsea Gray’s game-winning jumper with 2 seconds left, that changed.
Reeve went home Sunday night and watched it again. Twice more Monday morning, getting angrier each time. By the time she was on the Williams Arena floor later in the day, she had a lot to say. Especially after she noticed some players not as upset as, well, she was.
For starters: “Anybody that can walk in this gym this morning and be lighthearted and laugh, it’s concerning to me,” Reeve said. “I don’t know how, after what we did in the first 10 minutes of that game.”
The Lynx missed 10 of 11 shots to start the game and were behind 28-2 by the time it was 7½ minutes old. And while the team did fight back over the final 32 minutes, it means little to Reeve who said she saw, on tape, an L.A. team that seemed to want the game more than the Lynx.
“My team appeared to seem like they felt it was just show up, our fans would be here, and we’d be able to do whatever we wanted to do, and we didn’t have to play very much defense,” she said.
In her postgame remarks Reeve pushed back questions about her team’s effort to start the game. By Monday that had changed. She said she saw an effort level enough to win a preseason game, maybe a regular-season game, but not a championship game. She saw a team perhaps taking things for granted.
“They had no understanding how hard it was going to be, how hard they’d have to play,” Reeve said. “It’s mind-boggling for a team that’s been here however many times. But maybe it’s old hat for them. Maybe this is something they’ve become softened to.”
That was a notion the players pushed back on.
“This is what we play for, this is why we’re here,” Lindsay Whalen said. “The Finals and getting back for a championship is what we’re all still here for. You never want to take anything for granted, any moment, any game, much less a Finals. It’s just unfortunate the way we started [Sunday].”
Seimone Augustus said it wasn’t a matter of who wanted it more, but which team stuck to their game plan at the start.
“You could see the fight we had once we did get ourselves together,” she said. “But that’s Coach Reeve, she’ll find any way to push our buttons.”
Perhaps. But, when asked about her team’s comeback, Reeve practically scoffed.
“People say you battled,” she said. “That’s what the hell you’re supposed to do. You’re competing for a championship. You’re supposed to battle. We did what we were supposed to do in those 32 minutes. You guys can focus on that if you want to. That’s what I call Loserville.”
Apart from the emotion, there are adjustments to be made. The move to a smaller lineup that included guard Jia Perkins worked Sunday. It allowed the Lynx to pressure the ball more on defense and space the floor on offense. It was one reason center Sylvia Fowles was so effective after the first quarter.
But Reeve doesn’t believe that lineup can be leaned on for a series. So she is determined to get forward Rebekkah Brunson back on track; she went 1-for-6 and was a minus-22 Sunday. Brunson, who has expanded her range this season, has to hit shots to force the Sparks out of double-teams on Fowles.
But the fiery Reeve was most concerned about her team’s competitive edge, which was clearly too dull to start Game 1. She pointed to the zero rebounds the Lynx had in the first quarter as the stat that most describes the way the game began.
“That most signified the effort we brought to the first quarter,” she said. “Zero. Zero.”