Friday, October 26, 2012

What Happened to the Lynx?

The Lynx (27-7 on the regular season) lost to the Indiana Fever (22-12) in the WNBA finals. The Lynx  were favored going into the playoffs, but were certainly not considered to be prohibitive favorites. A loss to L.A. or San Antone might not have been a huge surprise. A loss to Seattle would have been another thing. And yet it was Seattle who almost knocked off the Lynx and Indiana that did. L.A., no problem. What up wit dat?

Well, 2 things. 1) The Lynx simply ran into a hot hot hot team. 2) They ran into a hot team with not 1 but 2 new starters, a team/a lineup against which they had relatively little information and so had a difficult time preparing for. And 3) Seattle and Indiana played physical and it worked. It worked well. L.A. ran with the Lynx and that proved to be a recipe for disaster.

Put those 3 things together, and you've got the Indiana Fever: Hot, new and physical.

The Post

Take Erlana Larkins in the post for Indiana. She started just 2 regular season games as Tammy Sutton-Brown manned the post position. Tammy averaged 4 points and 3 boards in 16 minutes of play, while Larkins averaged 4 points and 4 boards in 15.5 minutes. In the playoffs Larkins averaged 8.5 points and 12 boards in 31.5 minutes, or twice as much playing time as during the regular season.

Meanwhile Taj's output fell slightly from 8 to 6 points, 5 to 4 boards, and 51 to 42 percent shooting. And Taj just didn't have the strength to keep Larkins away from the basket.

They increased their output over the regular season, we slipped back a little bit. Larkins was all 3--hot, new and physical.

Big Forward

Here Rebekah Brunson ran into a big strong player but one that the Lynx knew all about, Tamika Catchings, 2011 WNBA MVP and playoff MVP this year based on 22 ppg, 7 boards, 3 assists and 2.5 blocks. This is 5 ponts more than during the regular season.

She also stifled Brunson, who scored 9 ppg with 8 boards, compared to 11 and 9 during the regular season. She actually played as well as anybody for the Lynx, it jsut wasn't enough against Catchings. Catchings is the most dangerous type of playoff opponent--an all-star player who had never won a WNBA title. Given the opportunity, she stepped up quite emphatically.

The increased their output, we slipped a little bit. Catchings was hot and physical.

Small Forward

What can you say about Corey Zellous? A 3rd year pro, her career and 2012 regular season averages are 7.5 points on 37 percent shooting. She almost doubled her average for the WNBA finals scoring 17 points on 41.5 percent shooting. Other than Catchings, the Fever's MVP for the finals.

Meanwhile Maya Moore scored the quietest 15 ppg ever in the finals, only 1 point less than during the regular season. But she shot just 39 percent versus 46.5 during the regular season. She was also down 1 rebound and 2 assists.

They increased their output a bunch, we slipped a little bit. Zellous was hot, new and quick.

Shooting Guard

The Lynx figured to have a huge advantage here with all-star Seimone Augustus, while Indiana's Katie Douglas was out with an injury. Seimone averaged 17 pouts on 49 percent shooting with 4 boards, 3.5 assists and a steal. Douglas' replacement, the Aussie Erin Phillips, had scored 6 points on 39 percent shooting  with 3 boards, 2 assists and a steal in 21 minutes.

Phillips minutes increased 50 percent to 30 minutes He scoring doubled to 13.5 on 44 percent shooting with 3 boards, 5 assists and 2 steals. Seimone's output fell by just 1 point (16) but her shooting percentage plummeted to 37 percent with 5 boards and just 1 assist. And her output in 2 games at Indiana was 7 points per game. In game 4 Phillips out-scored Seimone 18-8.

Phillips didn't quite play at Douglas' level (16 ppg) but Seimone played well below her own. Phillips was new, at least.

Point Guard

Finally, the only position where the Lynx had an advantage. Lindsay Whalen scored 14 ppg on 52.5 percent shooting, 4.5 boards and 4 assists, better than her regular season averages except her assists were down from 5 to 4.

Briann January scored 10 ppg with 2.5 boards and 4 assists, all pretty close to her regular season average. But her shooting dropped from 40 percent to 34. But it was January who defended Seimone Augustus in games 3 and 4, which pretty much evens the ledger in this match-up as well.

In summary, Indiana out-played the Lynx at four positions, while the Lynx didn't out-play the Fever at any position.

Something New

I can't say this for sure, of course, but one imagines that if Katie Douglas had played and if coach Lin Dunn had left the Fever's center rotation as 1) Tammy Sutton-Brown and 2) Erlana Larkins as the back-up, that the Lynx might have won. With Douglas out, the Fever were inspired to step it up a notch, individually, in a way they might not have done if it had been the same old same old. But more tangibly, I wonder if the Lynx just didn't know how to prepare for this new Fever lineup. More physical in the post. Quicker on the perimeter.

But still, while Larkins and Phillips both out-played their Lynx counterpart, it was some old--Tamika Catchings and Corey Zellous--who really stood out. No surprise in Catchings case. But what in the world happened to Corey Zellous. A career 7-pointer, a 37 percent shooter this year, she scored 17 ppg on 41.5 percent shooting.

Except that in the most crucial game--Game 1--Zellous scored only 7, and it was Larkin with 16 points and 15 boards who really put a hurt on the Lynx.

So it was a team effort with the vet Tamika Catchings leading the way. In the other game that the Lynx could have won--Game 4--Catchings scored 25 points with 8 boards, 5 assists and 3 blocks.

Wait Until Next Year

Now that Seattle and Indiana have shown people how to beat the Lynx, I can't see our team going 27-7 again. Coach Cheryl Reeve says, however, that the Lynx will be hungry again. And with 3 Olympians still on the roster, surely they'll be a contender.

Taj could be gone. She's 42 years old. If so, the Lynx could be improved in the post. 6-3 rookie Deveraux Peters scored 5 ppg in just 14 minutes, and looks like she's ready.

And reserves Candice Wiggins and Amber Harris could be looking for an opportunity to play more than they do here. They might be harder to replace. Depth at the point guard position could be an especial problem. But let's be honest. The Lynx bench out-scored opponents on the year, but at crunch time Reeve was reluctant to use any of them save Monica Wright.

And the rest of the division will be a lot tougher next year. Lauren Jackson should be healthy all year long for Seattle. Candace Parker and Nnemi Ogwumike will be improved in L.A., the latter having completed a productive rookie season. And Phoenix would seem to be a lock to draft 6-8 Brittney Griner of Baylor with the #1 draft choice. She will be a force on day 1. And of course Phoenix also figures to have Diana Taurasi healthy all year long.

So, for the Lynx, the same questions that pertained this year (see my post "Can the Lynx Repeat?" dated September 1). Post defense. Maya Moore's progress toward being a go-to MVP caliber player, which seemed so solid then fell so flat in the finals. The 3-ball, where they almost always get beat. And Lindsay, who struggles a bit more these days against really quick opponents.

And, I guess to all of that, add the new question of how long Seimone will be an MVP candidate caliber of player, now that Indiana has shown the world how to stop her. Of course, not everybody will have the personnel to stop her, or to out-quick Lindsay. Still, this team seems vulnerable to a general decline, what with Brunson next year being 32, Lindsay 31 and Seiomone 29--again, not to even mention Taj's 42. I would guess that Moore and Peters are going to have to be much improved for anything near another 27-7 to happen.

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