Playing for the fifth time in nine days the Connecticut Sun’s 89-75 win over the Minnesota Lynx Saturday afternoon was a statement game. The Sun are the hottest team in the league with a record of 7-1 and extended their perfect home record to 4-0 as they outclassed the Lynx. Connecticut has now beaten the Sparks twice and the Lynx once as they upset the status quo of the WNBA’s old guard.
Minnesota was able to hang around in this game for the first 25 minutes by generating early offense and establishing Sylvia Fowles in the paint. Fowles led the Lynx with 20 points and 14 rebounds, but didn’t get much scoring help from her teammates. Maya Moore had a below average game needing 18 shots to score 17 points. Things fell apart in the second half. The Lynx struggled with turnovers and consistent defense. With the loss the team is now 3-6 on the season.
The Sun are for real. Last season they put the WNBA on notice winning 15 of their final 21 games and fielding three All Stars including the winner of 2017’s Most Improved Player award: Jonquel Jones. Despite falling in a first round single-elimination game, head coach/GM Curt Miller put together the league’s most exciting young team.
This year Connecticut is back with essentially the same roster (except the addition of Chiney Ogwumike who returns after a year-long achilles recovery) and are currently reaping the benefits of depth and continuity. Through eight games they own the league’s top spot in both offensive and defensive rating. The Sun are a balanced and composed team, shedding the “young” label from a year ago. Their deep roster ensures that no one player has to shoulder a large responsibility on either end of the floor. Connecticut features six players who average between 10.3 PPG and 14 PPG. Their offensive depth was on display Saturday as five players scored in double digits and four players had at least three assists.
Minnesota’s defense has been inconsistent this season, especially at the point of attack. Speedy guards have bothered Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus for years, but the Lynx defensive issues seem to be even greater this summer. Against the Sun, Minnesota attempted a new approach: switching.
The concept of switching on defense (generally while guarding pick and roll) is very en vogue in the modern NBA but is seen less in the WNBA. The idea is simple. The two defenders guarding the ball handler and the screener switch their assignments as the screen occurs.
The benefit to this type of coverage is that each defender gets to stay in front of the opposition and dribble penetration is taken away. The downside to switching is that mismatches are created. For example, if Fowles’ man sets a pick on Whalen and the Lynx switch, then Whalen is suddenly matched up with a center and Fowles is out on the permitter attempting to stay in front of a guard. Minnesota tried to save themselves from harmful mismatches by using a third defender to take over defensive duties on the screener.
The Lynx really embraced a switching defensive scheme today.— Lynx Dynasty (@Lynx_Dynasty) June 9, 2018
Watch as the defender on the ball switches onto the screener then gets “scrammed” or “kicked out” by another Lynx player to avoid the mismatch. #LosLynx pic.twitter.com/ix0ZMDrBy9
This scheme had mixed results on Saturday. There were times when the Lynx successfully nullified any Sun advantage created by pick and roll. Other times, the “scram” (or second switch after initial pick and roll) was late and open looks were easy to come by. Communication, basketball IQ and awareness are paramount in a switching concept. This is something that can work out well for Minnesota. They have a lot of veteran defenders and a brilliant coaching staff who should be able to make this a fruitful tactic in time.
Despite the switching, Connecticut was able to get too many open shots in this game and had two huge second half scoring runs (13-0 in the third, 9-0 in the fourth) that put the Sun ahead for good.
Connecticut has flipped the script on the Lynx in the early part of the season. The Sun’s hot start and two-way excellence is reminiscent of the 2017 edition of the Lynx. Minnesota has enough talent and institutional knowledge to get back to that level. Exactly how that will happen is still unknown.
Rebekkah Brunson played a season-low 14 minutes. Cheryl Reeve revealed that Brunson suffered a knee-to-knee injury earlier in the year. She’s the most important of the three “old” starters. Hopefully she can get back to averaging 20-25 MPG soon.
Maya Moore got up a season-high eight three point attempts. This is a welcome sign for those who believe Minnesota needs to raise their 3PA average. Moore is one of the elite shooting talents in the WNBA. She needs to let them fly at this kind of clip more often.
I love the Connecticut Sun’s new home court floor. Its totally different than anything else in the league. A breath of fresh air.
After a full week off, the Lynx return home to face the New York Liberty on Saturday night. Tip is at 7pm and the game can be viewed on Fox Sports North or heard at BOB 106 FM.