Both Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and point guard Lindsay Whalen summed up the mood in the locker room after her team’s 68-64 loss to the Seattle Storm tonight as "disappointed".
“We’re pretty disappointed,” said Reeve. “We’ve played them four times now. Last time we were here, they made some big plays down the stretch, much like today. I’m disappointed that we didn’t have a better offensive showing.”
After the Lynx held the Storm without an offensive rebound in the second quarter and ahead 23-16 in the rebound column, fortunes reversed in the second half with the Storm winning 27-14 on the boards. Ultimately, the shift in rebounding begins to tell the story of why the Storm managed to remain undefeated at home and improve to 26-6 on the season in front of 7,394 fans at KeyArena.
“We missed a lot of shots, so they had a lot of opportunities to rebound,” said Whalen. “Defensive rebounding percentage means more than total rebounds. They have some great inside players and great rebounders. We worked as hard as we could.”
Entering the fourth quarter with their 11 point halftime deficit cut to four, the Lynx shot only made 3 of 17 shots for eight points in the final period. With more missed shots came more rebounds for the Storm and with more rebounds came more second chance points: the Storm beat the Lynx 7 to 0 in second chance points in the final period.
To Whalen’s point, the Storm’s defensive rebounding percentage in that final period was 70%, which is actually about league average for this season. It really was a matter of the Lynx missing so many shots moreso than outstanding rebounding on the Storm’s part.
“We had some mistakes, but 68 points and 39% (for the Storm); I’m not disappointed in that,” said Reeve. “They fouled 25 times, that were called. We shot 27 free throws. The story of the game is plain and simple: 29% (field goal %).”
It is not the easiest or the prettiest way for the Storm to win games, but it’s the way the best team in the WNBA has done it all season.
“It came to the point in the third quarter where we just had to let them play through it and see if we could get it going, and we did,” said Storm coach Brian Agler. “Svetlana (Abrosimova) was really a big spark for us there in the third, hitting some shots. I think everybody contributed in a fine way.”
As usual, Storm center Lauren Jackson made the gaudiest contribution with 24 points on 9-for-18 shooting — including 4-for-6 from the three point line — as well as a 7 rebounds and two steals. However, the most noticeable energy boost came from the Storm’s forwards.
Forward Swin Cash — who finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds — led the third period charge with nine points and four rebounds while going 5-for-5 from the free throw line. Forward Camille Little picked it up in the fourth quarter with five of her game-high 14 rebounds in the fourth as well as 12 points. That energy was pivotal, if not contagious.
“It’s major — I wouldn’t even just say me and Swin,” said Little. “It’s our entire team. Any given night, it could be anybody who brings intensity to our team. I think it’s something we all have to have within ourselves. Once we all get it and start clicking, I think defensively our intensity gets up, our offense comes easier to us and that’s how everything starts for us.”
As usual, the Storm’s defensive energy was partially what carried them to victory. Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen was aggressive early with 9 of her 20 points coming in the first quarter. Whether it was scoring off drives past Storm point guard Sue Bird or setting up teammates with layups on the fast break, Whalen had an outstanding first half.
“We got our wheels rolling in our early offense, playing off our defense and getting clean rebounds and outlets; that’s when we’re really good,” said Reeve. "Whalen can get down the court in a hurry. I think Whalen and Bird enjoy playing against each other. It is a fun match up, and they each have confidence. "
Whalen finished with five rebounds and five assists as well, but had none of the former and only one of the latter in the second half. A lot of that was a matter of the Storm simply making shots in the second half: the Storm only shot 12-for-29, but also went to the free throw line 16 times, forcing the Lynx to walk the ball up the court more and take the Lynx out of their transition defense.
And unfortunately, Whalen’s perimeter teammates were not able to provide her with much back up.
Wing Seimone Augustus and Monica Wright combined to go 5-for-30 from the field, with the majority of Wright’s 14 points coming as a result of her 7-for-8 free throw shooting. It was a large part of that 29% that Reeve referred to. By the time crunch time came around, the Lynx were just searching for someone to get a shot and came up empty.
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t get the win,” said Whalen. " We knew it was going to come down to be a close game. They have a great team and a great crowd, and we knew it was going to come down to a couple of possessions at the end, and it did. They made a couple of big shots and it was enough to win. It’s a tough loss. We defended well enough to win, but we didn’t score enough points. Hats off to them."
For the Lynx who now stand at 12-20, it will be a difficult road forward if they hope to return to KeyArena to meet the Storm in the first round of the playoffs next week. They travel to Los Angeles on Friday to face the Sparks followed by a season finale against the 21-11 Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Fever in Indianapolis. As Reeve said prior to the game, tonight’s visit to KeyArena certainly wasn’t a “must-win” for the Lynx but it certainly would have made the road forward a lot easier.