Two weeks ago Lindsay Whalen broke a finger in a home win against Atlanta that moved Minnesota to 20-2 on the season. Since then the Lynx have gone 1-3 without their starting point guard. The team still sits atop the league table, but have struggled to forge a team identity with Whalen sitting on the bench in street clothes. Last night was a disappointing 62-61 loss to the Seattle Storm.
Renne Montgomery is a fine WNBA basketball player. She can hit deep threes, run a fast break and adequately defend opposing point guards. Whalen is four years older and has five more seasons of wear and tear on her body than her replacement. This makes Montgomery the quicker, bouncier, more spry player and for the most part, she’s held her own in the starting lineup. However, Minnesota’s offensive rating (points score per 100 possessions) has fallen off a cliff in the last two weeks. Montgomery simply hasn’t been effective in getting Minnesota into their offensive sets or in collapsing the defense in order to get her teammates easy baskets. Team assists are a good barometer of this. In the first 22 games of the season the Lynx averaged 21 assists per game, while they have only managed 15 in the four without Whalen.
Most of the Lynx issues over these last four games can be chalked up to adjusting to a big shakeup in the lineup rather than simply poor point guard play by Montgomery. The stability and continuity in the Whalen/Augustus/Moore/Brunson/Fowles starting five has been staggering. That lineup has started just about ever game since the middle of the 2015 season when the Lynx acquired Fowles from Chicago. Removing a piece of that group for an entire month is proving difficult to overcome.
The Seattle Storm were the more desperate team on Wednesday night, and for good reason. They’re fighting for their playoff lives with only two and a half weeks remaining in the regular season. After firing their head coach Jenny Boucek last week, Seattle has now won both of their games under interim head coach Gary Kloppenburg. The defensive effort was high all night for Seattle as they held Minnesota to a season low 61 points. The Storm hounded the Lynx backcourt and forced them into long contested jump shots for most of the game. Sylvia Fowles consistently saw double and triple teams and finished with only 13 points on the evening.
The game was tightly contested for its entirety with the largest leads equaling four and five for the Lynx and Storm respectively. With 10 ties and 18 lead changes, the contest was a close, entertaining matchup. Maya Moore, despite a rough shooting night hit two big shots with under three minutes remaining to keep the Lynx ahead by a few points in crunch time. Minnesota couldn’t get the stop they needed as they led 61-60 with 22 seconds remaining. Fowles successfully blocked Jewell Loyd’s layup only to have the loose ball end up in the hands of Crystal Langhorne as she laid the ball in for the eventual game winning basket.
Whalen isn’t expected to return until the playoffs. While the Lynx should be able to hang onto the number one seed, it would behoove them to patch up their issues and pick up some momentum to bring into the post season.
-Rebekkah Brunson injured her left ankle mid-way through the second quarter. Nothing about the injury looked too bad, she even walked off the court without much of a limp. However, she returned to the bench in the second half with an enormous brace covering her entire lower left leg.
-Hall of Fame point guard Sue Bird was a late scratch in this game due to knee soreness. This fact makes Seattle’s win even more impressive.
-A lot will be made after this game about Minnesota missing their “emotional leader” in Whalen. I don’t think this is the case. Whalen made the road trip and was right there in every huddle presumably providing that “emotional leadership” for her teammates. The Lynx simply aren’t executing as well on offense and miss the player who is a key cog in that task.
-Interm head coach Gary Kloppenburg’s father Bob Kloppenburg was an assistant head coach under George Karl’s Supersonics from 1985-1996.
The Lynx head back home to St. Paul to face the Indiana Fever. The Fever defeated the Lynx only 11 days ago. You can watch the game on Fox Sports North.