MINNEAPOLIS -- Things didn't start as smoothly as Cheryl Reeve and her championship-driven squad had probably hoped for in the Lynx season opener Friday night.
Tulsa pushed the ball in transition, playing a high-tempo style to start the game led by their quick backcourt duo, Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims. When the Shock scored, early in the game, Diggins anxiously awaited the inbounds on the baseline, ready to put the full-court press on Lindey Whalen. That didn't last long, as Whalen blew past Diggins a few times to make Shock coach Fred Williams adjust his game plan.
But the overall tempo, and full-court press, seemed to throw the Lynx off their game during the initial period. Defensively, they looked overwhelmed by Tulsa's quick ball movement. Plenette Pierson scored 10 of her team-high 18 points in the first quarter to help the Shock get out of the gates quickly. Sims added 8 points in the first quarter.
Slowing but surely, the Lynx started figuring everything out. They closed the first quarter on a 9-0 run and extended that to a 13-0 run before Tulsa used a timeout early in the second. Maya Moore scored the last nine points of that impressive run, which turned the momentum, along with an extatic home crowd, in favor of the home team.
At halftime the Lynx found themselves up by one. The third quarter was a back-and-fourth affair, the Shock took it 20-18, while the fourth quarter was an excercise in defensive dominance. Minnesota held Tulsa to 11 points in the final quarter, and seized control of the game with Whalen's layup at the 3:07 mark, which put them up 77-70.
Diggins did her best to keep the Shock alive, hitting two clutch shots to cut the lead to two points, 77-75, but Seimone Augustus came right back with a smooth runner in the lane. Diggins missed her next shot, while the Lynx hit their next four free throws to seal a season opening victory in front of their passionate hometown fans, 83-75. Attendance was announced at 9,020.
What changed defensively? How did the Lynx go from allowing 26 first quarter points to buckling down defensively and holding the Shock to a meager 11 points in the fourth?
"Staying the course," Reeve said during the postgame press conference.
"We did switch up in the fourth and we started, instead of them getting deep in the paint with our schemes and the pick-and-rolls they run, they run a gazillion pick-and-rolls, we changed our schemes to try to block the lane sooner rather than letting them get deep."
Reeve continued, "I just don't think that they really knew what was open with the way we were playing it. We were trying to force them into tough two's and I thought we accomplished that. They missed some shots maybe they were making early and we rebounded the ball."
Lindsey Whalen was sensational, finishing with a game-high 26 points (9-13 from the field, 8-8 from the line), 6 assists, and four rebounds. The way she finished at the rim tonight reminded me a little bit of Tony Parker. She might be the smallest player in the lane, but she rarely gets her shot blocked and finishes at such a high rate. Tonight, it seemed like everytime she went to the rack it resulted in a layup. Tulsa didn't have an answer for Whalen.
Rebekkah Brunson put on a rebounding clinic. She grabbed 18 rebounds, including seven offensive, to give the Lynx a huge advantage on the glass (45-32). She also added 14 points on 6-9 shooting and looked like the Brunson of old after dealing with injuries last season.
Maya Moore dropped in 23 points in 26 minutes of play. She was limited due to foul trouble, but still managed to have a huge effect on the outcome, as per the usual. As for Seimone Augustus, she struggled from the field and forced some shots on her way to a 7-22 shooting night (16 points), but most of her shots were good looks and I'm sure the coaching staff will live with most of those attempts.
The Lynx had 16 turnovers to the Shock's 6, making Brunson's offensive rebounding, along with the team's 16-18 night from the free throw line, that much more important. Minnesota also destroyed Tulsa in the paint, 50-30.
Bench scoring is something to keep an eye on moving forward. It was an issue last season and tonight they only chipped-in four points. Obviously, Anna Cruz will help once EuroBasket wraps up, and both Asjha Jones (fatigue) and Monica Wright (strained right calf) should help the cause once they return to the lineup. No word yet on their availaiblty for tomorrow night's game against the Indiana Fever at 7:00 pm (ET).