Monday, June 27, 2011

Lynx Back to Reality

The big "statement" came earlier than expected. But the Lynx gave one back last night at home, losing 75-72 to Indiana. So at 5-3 and in 3rd place in the West, just one-half game away from dropping out of the playoffs, the Lynx are back to square one, trying once again to prove that they belong in the championship conversation.

On the bright side: The Lynx are consistently winning the possession game, hitting the offensive boards and limiting turnovers. But that by itself isn't enough. They still have to out-shoot their opponents to win. If they have the higher FG percentage, they win, and if they don't, they lose. They dominated the possession game against the Fever, and lost.

And so, on the other side: They're a terrible 3-point shooting team and a terribly inconsistent FT shooting team. The 2-point shooting has been good, well, except for half of the loss at Seattle and most of the way against the Fever.

Here's the way the numbers stacked up. The Lynx were +13 on the offensive boards but had 1 additional turnover. So they got off 74 shots versus just 59 for Indiana. And so the Lynx made 30 FG to 27, despite being out-shot 46 percent to 40 percent. Usually that's a recipe for victory. Get more shots and keep the FG percentage at least close.

But Indiana made 8-of-18 3s (44 percent) to 3-of-10 (30 percent) for the Lynx. And Indiana also made 16-of-18 FT (89 percent) to the Lynx' 12-of-19 (63 percent). 15 extra FG attempts but only 1 extra point, and 1 extra FG attempt for a deficit of 4. Not good.

Lynx guards Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen were the chief culprits, shooting a combined 9-for-29.

The real problem was down the stretch. The Lynx had played poorly but had managed to struggle to a 67-61 lead at 7:12. It looked like a tough and somewhat uninspired win at that point, especially being at home. Instead, the Lynx defense retired early and allowed the Fever to make ALL of their final 6 FG attempts and to score on 8 of their final 11 possessions.

The Lynx, meanwhile, made just 3-of-12 FG down the stretch, all 3 of them by Rebekah Brunson. And there were 2 devestating turnovers, both by Mya Moore. Augustus missed her last 4 shots.

The loss might have been a bit unlucky or maybe the Lynx are lacking in mental toughness, but either way Indiana would not have won this game--nor even been in position to win--but for a couple of key buckets. The Lynx had fought back from a 29-18 deficit to lead 41-38 when Jessica Davenport hit a 2 at 0:00.5 to make it a 1-point game. Then, the Lynx had pulled out to 49-44 and 56-52 and 60-53 leads when Zellous hit a 3 at 0:00.4 of the 3rd to pull the Fever within 60-56.

Even so, the Lynx started the 4th period with a 7-5 edge for that 67-61 lead, but Indiana closed on a 17-8 run.

At this stage, the Lynx have yet to establish a real identity. Initially (and surprisingly) it was Brunson who was the Lynx' MVP, tying a WNBA record with 6 double-doubles to start the season. Defenses have adjusted to her now and nobody is quite filling the "go-to," MVP type of role. Augustus is the veteran scorer who would seem most likely to fill the role but last night she played well below that level. Meanwhile, Moore is obviously the future star and led the way last night with 21 points, but those 2 turnovers go to her lack of experience at this level. Those plays that worked in college aren't always gonna work here. And her big play ability has been more opportunistic than otherwise, meaning it doesn't tend to come when most needed. She isn't so good just yet that she can turn it on. But, of course, who can? Well, Maya Moore is expected to do so. But in 2011? Time will tell.

The Lynx' fate in 2011 probably rests in Moore's hands. Brunson remains a force and will tie up a lot of the opponent's interior defense, though the Lynx posts are not the sort of people who can capitalize on the relative inattention to them. So it's up to Augustus or Moore, and so far neither one can be described as a WNBA MVP candidate or even a reliable "go-to" scorer at crunch time.

The really scary thought is that by the time Moore is playing at that level, Taj and Seimone and Lindsay may all half lost a half-step. And whenever the whole crew is at their cumulative peak--almost surely this year or next--the whole enterprise might be torpedoed by weak leadership and the inability to develop a consistent and reliable rotation that leverages the Lynx overall roster fully enough. Meaning you've got a tired starting 5 in there at the end of the game.

The Lynx have some nice talent, but it's not so good that it can overcome poorly conceived and/or executed game plans.

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