Friday, September 16, 2011

Lynx Dodge a Bullet

There were themes galore, last night. But the big one was this: The Lynx dodged a bullet last night, edging the San Antonio Silver Stars 66-65 in the opener of a hoped-for drive to the WNBA title. In so doing (Theme #2), they made coach Cheryl Reeves look like a world-class prognosticator on the day that she also was named WNBA coach of the year.

Reeve had spent the past few days saying that the Lynx were not focused on the fact that they'd beaten the Stars in all 4 of their meetings this year. Rather, they were focused on the fact that each of the 4 games had been close and hard-fought. Of course, that was a lie. The Lynx beat the Stars by 1 and 2 points, it's true, in their 1st 2 meetings. But they won more easily, by 10 and 11, after that.

But (Theme #3) the fact is the Stars are a different team with rookie forward Danielle Adams in the lineup. The Lynx have now beaten the Stars by 1 point, 2 and now 1 again with Adams at full strength, and by 10 and 11 after Adams got hurt but before she got herself fully into fighting trim again. And on the very day that Maya Moore was named WNBA rookie of the year, Adams made a strong case that they got the wrong woman.

Adams out-scored Moore 16-10 and out-rebounded her 4-3, while Moore had a pair of turnovers and Adams none. Moore also missed 3-of-4 FT in the 4th quarter, including a pair with 37 seconds remaining.

But the marquee match-up (Theme #4) was veteran point guards Becky Hammon and Lindsay Whalen, and the Lynx took this one. Whalen led all scorers with 20 (to Hammon's 16), and chalked by 5 assists (to Hammon's 2). But the biggest number was probably 4--Whalen had 4 steals to Hammon's none, and the 4th clinched the win with 4 (there's that number again) seconds remaining in the game and the Stars still with the ball and a chance to win.

The Lynx started out cold, making just 10 of 30 shots in the 1st half and trailing 16-11 at the quarter and 35-32 at intermission. The Stars led by as much as 8 at 14-6, though the Lynx came back for their only leads of the 1st half at 26-25 and 30-28. But San Antone scored 7 straight points before Alexis Hornbuckle closed the half with a pair of FT.

Fortunately the Stars were also cold at 13-of-35. But, amazingly, they were 6-of-20 on 2-pointers and 7-of-15 on 3s. Meanwhile, the Lynx had made just 1-of-5 3-pointers but had out-scored the Stars 11-2 from the charity stripe. Whalen led everybody at half-time with 12 points, 3 assists and 2 steals.

The game was nip and tuck throughout the 2nd half. The Lynx largest lead was still just 2 points at 57-55 at 6:48 of the 4th, but suddenly it was 60-55 at 5:23 and the Lynx appeared to be on their way (or Whay). But, no. San Antone went ahead 65-64 on a Hammon 3 at 1:10, but Seimone Augustus hit a mid-range jumper at 0:53 to put the Lynx back in front, and neither team scored after that.

The Lynx shot a respectable 15-of-33 in the 2nd half while the Stars made just 12-of-31. The Lynx could have/should have pulled away with those extra FG and a 10-5 edge in FTA, but the Lynx made just 4-of-10 throws and San Antone 4-of-5.

On balance, the Lynx 27-7 (or, now, 28-7) record would seem to reflect the fact that everything fell into place for them--i.e. no injuries--while the Stars' 18-16 is in no way reflective of the caliber of team they are right now. A win in San Antone on Sunday, despite a 6-game winning streak against the Stars, would hardly seem assured, nor even a win at home on Tuesday. And the same might be said of defending WNBA champion Seattle--that they're a much better team than their 21-13 record would indicate. In fact, 2010 WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson remains at less than 100 percent, and yet the Storm thrashed the Phoenix Mercury 80-61 last night and held the league's leading scorer, Diana Taurasi, to just 11 points.

The Lynx, in short, are not going to find a WNBA title to be a cakewalk. Surely, they expected as much. And, so, while we fans might be distressed by the difficulty of win #1, well, again, nobody said it was going to be easy. Did they?

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