After a very long practice Thursday — emphasis on “very” and “long” — Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve offered some detail about what has gone wrong in her team’s uncharacteristic 2-3 start: an onslaught of turnovers in an opening loss to Los Angeles, followed by fourth-quarter foibles in losses at Washington and Atlanta ending their 1-2 road swing.
The Lynx were beaten on the boards in Washington and in Atlanta, made key turnovers and had offensive stoppages while giving away consecutive fourth-quarter leads.
But despite divulging what the issues were, Reeve grew a bit cagey when asked why.
“I’m not going to talk about it,” she said. “It just happens. We know what it is. And we’re working through it.”
Read between some lines and you get the idea Reeve, as well as some players who talked after practice Thursday, are talking about good, old-fashioned intensity. Passion.
Reeve went out of her way to say the rebuilt bench isn’t a problem and has nothing to do with the team’s troubles, which have manifested themselves in so many ways the past two games. They’ve been outscored 12-0 on second-chance points. There have been key turnovers late in games. The Lynx weren’t able to score in Atlanta over the final 115 seconds after Rebekkah Brunson hit a jumper to put the Lynx up five in the eventual 76-74 loss.
For much of the final portion of practice, the Lynx worked on end-of-game situations. But in the huddle afterward, Reeve emphasized playing the kind of basketball they have here for years.
“We know what we have to get done,” Reeve said. “It’s not complicated. Doesn’t take analytics or magical schemes. It’s a passion for what you’re doing. I could ask ’em to go sit on their heads as far as a scheme. If they do it passionately, I bet we could get a stop.”
There it is. The particulars of what has cost them games in their 2-3 start have varied, though fourth-quarter issues have been persistent. Opponents are hitting nearly 47 percent of their shots in the fourth, and on 36.1 percent of their threes. All Lynx starters have a minus rating in the quarter.
But the one common denominator appears to be intensity.
“I don’t think it’s been an intentional thing,” guard Lindsay Whalen said. “But it starts with the first group, understanding what it takes to be a championship team. Last time we were all together it was Game 5 of the [WNBA] Finals. Those games are pretty easy to be on the edge, be passionate. Coming back the next year, it’s not Game 5. So you have to put that much more mentally into it, that much more passion into it from yourself. If you don’t do that, you can be 2-3.”
Friday’s opponent, the Phoenix Mercury, is also 2-3. The Lynx have won eight consecutive against the Mercury, and Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, in the past two seasons, has clearly outplayed center Brittney Griner. Fowles has averaged 14.8 points and 9.1 rebounds in nine games against Phoenix, three in the 2016 playoffs. Griner’s averages are 9.7 and 3.4.
But the Mercury figure to be just as motivated by their 2-3 start as Minnesota.
So the Lynx will have to bring it. Opponents have been flooding the paint to stop Fowles, who has six assists — and eight turnovers — in the past two games. Teams are daring someone else to beat them.
The Lynx are not panicking. But they are looking for more urgency.
“It’s about being poised, having each other’s backs when things aren’t going right,” Fowles said.
Said Whalen: “Last year we were 13-0 [to start the season]. This year we’re 2-3. We’ve never come into a season saying, ‘It’s good we have 29 more games.’ We want to win. We haven’t gotten it done.”