One of Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve’s favorite things is watching a game in which Lindsay Whalen has decided to set the tone.
“The most memorable games for me are the games that Lindsay Whalen just wills us to do something,’’ Reeve said after the team’s practice Tuesday.
The most recent example: Sunday’s victory over Seattle at Target Center.
Coming out of the Olympic break, the Lynx lost last Friday in Connecticut, losing by four after entering the fourth quarter with a one-point lead. The offense was stagnant and the turnovers were plentiful. Whalen, for example, had six of the team’s 18 turnovers and was a minus-16 though she did score 16 points.
Much of that stagnation continued in the first half of Sunday’s game against Seattle, which saw the Lynx trailing by six at halftime.
Finally, things changed. Down 47-41 at halftime, the Lynx out-scored Seattle 51-33 in the second half. And much of that was due to Whalen, who pushed the pace on offense, attacked the rim constantly and scored a season-high 24 points. Perhaps more impressive? She had just two turnovers and was a plus-26 in the game.
She changed the game.
“She did,” Reeve said. “She absolutely did. That was fun. She willed us.’’
That explosive second half against a Seattle team that was coming off an impressive victory over Los Angeles might be just what the Lynx need to push into their final seven-game stretch.
The Lynx (22-5) are currently a half-game ahead of Los Angeles (21-5) for the WNBA’s best record, a spot earned by strong play by the Lynx into the Olympic break and the Sparks stumbles; LA was 1-2 heading into the break, 0-2 so far coming out of it.
The Lynx will need to keep their offense humming. They have home games Friday and Sunday against Washington and Connecticut before starting a four-game road trip Tuesday in Los Angeles.
The last time the Lynx played Washington, in D.C., they lost 87-63, the team’s worst loss this season. And there is that loss last Friday to Connecticut to atone for.
The Lynx finish the regular season with a home game with Atlanta. But their schedule is difficult, with games against the Sparks, Chicago, Indiana and Atlanta looming.
--Meanwhile, it appears Anna Cruz will rejoin the team this weekend. She likely won’t play Sunday against Connecticut, but she’s likely to make her season debut against the Sparks in L.A. Tuesday.
Cruz, a guard who helped lead Spain to the silver medal in Rio, will bring defensive intensity and the ability to attack the rim to the Lynx.
In many ways it’s a replay of last season, when Cruz joined the Lynx after the All Star break and was a key cog in the team’s drive for a third WNBA title in five seasons. Cruz is one of the best on-ball perimeter defenders in the league.
Reeve said she didn’t anticipate Cruz taking long to fit back in with the team.
Having said that, this situation is a bit different. Cruz needed to play big minutes from the get-go last year, with both Whalen and Seimone Augustus struggling with injuries. This year the Lynx are already very deep at guard, with Jia Perkins and Renee Montgomery playing well off the bench for the team.
So it may take a while for Reeve to figure out her rotations at the guard position. “I don’t want anything to be disruptive to anything we have going on,’’ Reeve said.
--One of the things Reeve said the team worked on in practice today was getting the ball to center Sylvia Fowles in the post.
The team has not always been successful doing this this season. The key, Reeve said, is to recognize when Fowles is open and when she needs to get the ball. Fowles, Reeve said, has been working very hard and has been open enough that she should be getting more touches inside.