The Lynx got off to a fast start in this one, and held on to take their season opener against the Chicago Sky, 70-61 at Xcel Energy Center. It was the same cast of characters temporarily moving across the river for the Lynx, and although it turned into a bit of a struggle, they got their result.
Two points of emphasis for Cheryl Reeve coming into this season were to engage Sylvia Fowles offensively more consistently than last season, and to increase the team’s three point attempts. You could see that in action tonight, as the Lynx pounded the ball into Fowles regularly, where she had great success, especially in the first half when she scored 17 of her game high 26. She was especially effective catching on the move, cutting to the basket and finishing. The Sky had nobody who could counter her strength and agility. They also took 20 threes on the night, 11 by Maya Moore, but only made three of them.
Overall, it was not a good offensive performance by the Lynx, who shot under 40 percent for the game and turned it over 15 times. Players other than Fowles (9-15 from the field) made only 18 field goals, and Moore in particular struggled with her shot and finished 5-19 from the floor for 11 points. She contributed in other areas, with seven boards, six assists, and three steals, but the Lynx need her scoring to make their offense work. After scoring 28 in the first quarter behind Fowles in the post and multiple transition baskets, things slowed down markedly, and the Lynx scored only 42 points over the final three quarters.
They were excellent defensively, however, holding the Sky to 35 percent from the field, and forcing 23 turnovers, including 11 steals. They did a great job of swarming any paint touches, and forcing bad shots or pressured passes, and the Sky had nobody who could make them pay from the perimeter. The Sky’s best offense was on the glass, where they grabbed 15 offensive boards, though that too dried up in the second half, when the scored only 26 points.
In truth, this Sky team does not look very good. The trade of Elena Delle Donne means they are rebuilding, and while they are not entirely without talent, they lack an offensive focus and any real perimeter threat at all. It doesn’t help that a couple of their players are still not with the squad, and they are clearly trying to figure it out on the fly. I suspect it will be a long year for Chicago.
It was only the first game of the season, so we’ll have to see how things develop, but I was heartened at how active the Lynx defense looked tonight. That has been a hallmark for them, and they will need to be great at that end again if they want to be a serious championship contender. The questions we raised in the game thread—depth, age, threes—were not going to be answered in one game, and they are things we’ll keep our eyes on as the season moves along. Moore will shoot it better most nights, but they will need more from others beyond her and Fowles. Ultimately consistent contributions from others will tell the tale of this season. Tonight, Syl and some terrific team defense was enough.
- The refs were a little too involved in this one for my tastes. Lots of fouls called, especially early, on both squads, some of which I thought were unnecessary.
- Three new Lynx made their debuts tonight: Plenette Pierson, the veteran big free agent signing played 10 minutes. She got in immediate foul trouble in her first stint, but finished with 4 and 3 in 10 minutes.
- Temi Fagbeble, who they drafted last year, another big, got six minutes and also was whistled for two fouls almost immediately.
- Alexis Jones is their recent draft pick from Baylor. She got a late cameo.
- It was not a great night for the bench unit—they struggled especially when both Moore and Fowles were out. Reeve will have to work out rotations as the season goes on. I would hope to see Whalen and/or Augustus subbed early, and then one of them back in with the bench group to settle things down. We’ll see how it goes.
- Will be interested to hear from anyone who was there (Average Jer?) about how the atmosphere compares to Target Center.