The Minnesota Lynx played just well enough to defeat the rapidly improving Tulsa Shock 88-79 Sunday night at Target Center. The Shock led early 20-12, stayed close through 38-38 and 40-42 late in the 1st half, but the Lynx scored the last 7 points of the half--Monica Wright hit a j from Lindsay Whalen, Whalen a driving layup from Wright, and Maya Moore a dagger 3 after a steal and assist by Wright--to create some separation.
Minnesota slowly pulled away in the 2nd half, taking their 1st double digit lead when Seimone Augustus hit the 1st 2 points of the half, her 15th and 16th points of the game to that point. The 1st 12 point lead came on a pair of Augustus throws at 2:43, the 1st 14 point lead on another Moore 3, this time from Whalen and this time with just 4 seconds remaining in the 3rd. The largest lead was at 82-67 at 4:27 of the 4th on a Wright steal and breakaway layup.
It was a well-rounded team effort. Seimone and Maya each scored 22 points, Whalen had 19 with 9 assists, Rebekah Brunson 11 with 11 boards. The main images of the game are Whalen running the show, scoring, dishing, basically taking Skylar Diggins to school, and Augustus and Moore hitting the j. The latter 2 shot 16-of-25 between them and the average FG, it seemed, came from about 18 feet. Both were deadly from long range. Seimone, in particular, doesn't need more than a tiny little bit of space to get off that beautiful j of hers, and she could hardly miss last night.
In the end the Lynx shot 53 percent, Tulsa 42. End of story.
Well, that and the other image on the night was a whole series of wide open looks from the perimeter for Tulsa. The Lynx remain a well-oiled machine on the offensive end. The defense was not good, certainly not in the 1st half. The Lynx are now 6-2 and in 1st place in the West (2nd overall). But in their 2 losses they've given up an average of 86 points and 48 percent shooting. Last night it was 79 and 42, and did I mention they did not look good on defense?
2nd year big forward Glory Johnson, in particular, took Janelle McCarville outside and scored 24 points on 9-of-15 FG, mostly from long range (long 2s). Rarely was a defender anywhere nearby. Candace Wiggins got some open looks against her former team, hitting 5-of-8 for 14 points.
But Whalen and company did a nice job of neutralizing Diggins. Whalen, you may recall, scored 19. Diggins scored 9 on 2-of-8 shooting. Her quickness didn't buy her much, while Lindsay used her strength to beat up Diggins in the paint on both ends of the court.
So the Lynx are 6-2 and in 1st place in the West. In the West they've beaten Phoenix and Brittney Greiner twice, and San Antone once. On the other hand, they lost big at L.A. 87-59 Friday night and they're 2-2 on the road. They're outscoring the opposition 83-77 compared to 86-76 a year ago. And last year they out-shot their opponents 47 percent to 41. This year it's just 44-41 to this point.
Maya Moore would seem to be stepping it up. She has raised her scoring by about 2.5 ppg. She's taking about 1 extra shot per game, though her shooting percentage has dropped from .465 to .455. The fact is the extra offense is all Maya getting to the FT line. The good news is the extra offense from Maya hasn't affected Seimone, who is scoring pretty much the same as last year on fewer shots. In fact she has raised her shooting percentage from 49 to 52 percent. The 2 of them together are making 13-of-28 shots per game so far this year versus 13-of-27 a year ago.
Meanwhile Lindsay has actually upped her average from 11.5 to 13, though her shooting percentage is down from .505 to 44 percent. Brunson is average 4-of-9 shots per game, the same as last year. Monica Wright is hitting 3-of-8 versus 3-of-7 a year ago, but Janelle McCarville is hitting 2-of-4 shots per game whereas Taj Franklin-McWilliams made 4-of-7 a year ago.
But wait. The bench (not counting 6th player Monica Wright) is also less productive at 11 ppg on 33 percent shooting versus 17 and 42 percent a year ago. Amber Harris has increased her production marginally, while Devereaux Peters' has fallen a bunch. Rookies Sugar Rogers, Lindsay Moore and Rachel Jarry are making 1 FG per game among them, whereas Wiggins, Jessica Adair and Erin Thorn averaged 4 FG per game a year ago.
So longer term it seems that the Lynx, more than anything, need their experienced bench (Wright, Harris, Peters) to step up. Overall, while it was the D that looked a little shaky last, overall, It's the offense that needs to com together. Everybody but Seimone could be shooting a little better. The difference between a 47 and a 44 percent shooting percentage is probably the difference between 1st and 3rd in the West.