It’s not as if Janel McCarville hasn’t seen this before; she did play with Lindsay Whalen for a few years in college. Still, after the Lynx had ground out their 87-72 victory over San Antonio on Tuesday night at Target Center — yes, it was more of a grind than the score might indicate — McCarville was left shaking her head.
“That’s what makes her so good,” McCarville said of Whalen. “She understands what the team needs. And if somebody else can’t get it done, she’ll step up and do it.”
Whalen stepped it up on offense, keeping the Lynx in the game when it seemed nobody else’s shot was falling. Whalen finished with a game-high 23 points with seven rebounds and six assists. But in a rock-’em, sock-’em first half, when the rest of her team was shooting a combined 6-for-22, Whalen scored 13.
That’s why the Lynx still were within a point of the Silver Stars at halftime. In the second half the rest of the Lynx added some offense to strong defensive play, finally creating separation at the end of the third quarter. When it was over, Maya Moore had added 19 points, 12 in the second half. Seimone Augustus had scored 18, 13 after halftime. And the Lynx had bounced back from Saturday’s offensively dysfunctional loss in Washington with their 11th consecutive home victory.
The Lynx — who also got 16 points off the bench from Monica Wright — improved to 3-1.
“That’s the job of the point guard, to read the game,” said Whalen, who opened the game hitting mid-range jumpers, then ended it going to the hoop; after the game Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve joked about one play when Whalen attacked the basket one-on-three. “I asked her if she saw everybody else on the perimeter,’’ Reeve said. “She said, ‘Yeah, coach. But I wanted to dunk over them.’ ”
In the first half, when the Lynx shot 35.5 percent and the Silver Stars nearly 44 percent, Whalen kept Minnesota close. In the second the Lynx shot 53.1 percent, the Silver Stars 34.1. And the decisive 20-6 run began with 2:34 left in the third quarter with the Lynx up by two. Wright scored nine in the run, which put the Lynx up 72-56.
Whalen was steady throughout. “She was ready to play in the sense that she understood the schemes, how she’d be guarded,” Reeve said.
Whalen knew what was coming. As Moore said, Silver Stars-Lynx games are usually equal parts chess match and boxing match. The intense game saw both head coaches and Lynx reserve Devereaux Peters getting called for technical fouls.
“In the first half we weren’t getting the loose balls we needed to get, the rebounds,” Whalen said. “In the second half we got those rebounds, those tips. Everybody stepped up and hit the shots.”
This of course, was after Whalen hit so many in the first half. She’s unflappable. After the game, while Whalen was talking to the media, Reeve accidentally knocked over the team’s postgame meal table, creating a small fire in the locker room. Whalen didn’t miss a beat, talking as someone grabbed an extinguisher to put it out.
That’s the way she played, too.
“Lindsay’s ability to get inside, to finish herself, was huge,” Moore said. “It’s a huge band-aid for us. That’s what our vets do, they cover up for our mistakes. She had a heck of a game.”