For all the talk about newness of players, how Kayla McBride all but went from the airport to Target Center, suited up and played, what plagued the Lynx in their two-point season-opening loss to Phoenix on Friday was something a bit more old-fashioned.
"We had some effort areas that were really lacking," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said after practice Sunday. "In our transition defense efforts, our lackluster rebounding."
Things like that led to Phoenix scoring 46 points in the paint, a sizable amount coming on the fast break. As Reeve calls them, easy-to-play-against type stuff. It was something Reeve and her staff talked about during training camp. But, apparently, it was something the players needed to see, on tape, for themselves.
"They recognized it," Reeve said. "I told them, 'I can't coach that part.' "
Yes, the offense struggled to just 24 points in the first half of a game in which both team's offenses started slowly. But even then, after some pace issues were worked out, Reeve liked many of the shots her team was getting. And then the Lynx went out and scored 30 in the third quarter, 51 in the second half. After running at a 60% offensive efficiency in the first half, the Lynx bumped that up to 118% in the second.
No, the problem was hustle, and Reeve knows she shares the blame for some of that. She took pains to go easy on center Sylvia Fowles and veteran free-agent signee Aerial Powers during camp.
"I played people too long," Reeve said. "Too many minutes consecutively. And we didn't use our bench a lot. There are a lot of takeaways from the game we all can participate and be a part of solutions for the next game."
So when the Lynx play at 2-0 New York on Tuesday night, look for Reeve to use her bench more, particularly Jessica Shepard (who only played 4 minutes, 51 seconds Friday) and Rachel Banham (8:53).
Part of the problem was the opponent. Phoenix plays its starters heavy minutes, and that includes center Brittney Griner, who played almost 38 minutes. After Fowles, Reeve just didn't feel comfortable with matching up either Damiris Dantas or Shepard against Griner. And backup center Natalie Achonwa was battling foul trouble all night.
Still, the Lynx bench scored just five points and made only one basket, Banham's three to start the fourth quarter. That number has to change.
Reeve said she believes Fowles can play better, can put herself in better position to reach the ball. The Lynx can balance their attack, not relying so much on the perimeter. In upcoming games Reeve sees more favorable matchups for Shepard, and she has determined that Banham and Crystal Dangerfield share minutes more evenly at the point guard going forward.
All of that is designed to keep people fresher.
The newness factor did play a part. Reeve said the Lynx possession that came with about 31 seconds left and the Lynx up one with the ball out of a time out didn't go well, in part because the players executing the play she called hadn't played together enough for it to work.
That part will improve. But with all that, with the problems making shots early to the rebounding problems to the defense, the Lynx still had a chance to win the game. A little more energy going forward could make the difference.