The Lynx kicked off their 21st season with a win Wednesday night at Target Center and were led by a few new faces. Sixth overall draft pick Napheesa Collier set a new Lynx record by scoring 27 points in her rookie debut. It was the highest league-wide mark since Candace Parker debuted with 34 points back in 2008. Meanwhile Jessica Shepard came off the bench, controlled the glass with a game-high 13 rebounds, and dished out a team-high six assists.
“We had to go through some adversity.” Cheryl Reeve said after the game, “We weren’t playing very good defense. (Giving up) points in the paint, we just talked at halftime about what we could do better controlling Vandersloot because she was kicking our butt. She was creating so much for them. Controlling her in the third was a big factor.”
Minnesota and Chicago played a sloppy but entertaining first half as both teams had trouble holding onto the ball, combining for 22 total turnovers before the halftime buzzer. The Lynx came out of the locker room a different team. They put the clamps down on defense which propelled them into transition. Minnesota outscored their opponents 34-10 in the third and used a 21-4 run during that quarter to put the game out of reach from the Sky.
In the past, Lynx rookies do not find themselves with playing time in a typical Cheryl Reeve rotation. This is yet another way that this season will be very different. Collier and Shepard will play and be counted on to be productive on the court. Collier was illustrious on both ends of the floor. Her 27 points came on only 11 shooting possessions. She went 8-11 from the field including 3-4 from three.
Reeve described postgame how the rookie would have to generate scoring in an offense that won’t run many plays for her.
“Feeding off her defense, feeding off her rebounds, getting out in transition she’s a great cutter.“
She also finished with six rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals. Collier also made her impact felt on the defensive end, her length and foot speed bothered Sky players both on the perimeter and in the paint.
Shepard was a revelation as well. Her 13 rebounds helped the Lynx dominate Chicago on the glass 46-29. Most impressive was her work on the offensive boards, pulling down a game-high five rebounds. The Notre Dame alum also dimed up her team mates six times. Minnesota’s offense needs all the help it can get this summer, Shepard’s ability to find cutters and set up post players will be important.
Another way the Lynx offense can be efficient is by getting to the free throw line. The Chicago Sky sent them there 32 times Wednesday night. Chicago was the league’s worst defense last year. They failed to bring in any help in that department this winter and it looks like they will retain that dishonor again in 2019. The Sky simply could not defend the Lynx without fouling. Minnesota’s front court was especially successful at earring trips to the stripe. Collier shot 11, Fowles shot six and Shepard shot four free throws. In the first half free points keep the Lynx in the game, and in the second it helped them turn the tilt into a blowout.
Former Lynx assistant coach James Wade is the new head coach of the Chicago Sky. A deserving promotion to a coach who has won at every level.
Sky second year player Diamond DeShields wowed the Target Center crowd last August when she scored a career 28 points in a Chicago win. DeShields shockingly did not score Wednesday night but only played 11 minutes as she dealt with foul trouble.
Minnesota did a great job defending the three point line. The long ball might be Chicago’s biggest advantage against the rest of the league. Shooters are everywhere on the Sky roster. Players like Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, Stefanie Dolson and rookie Katie Lou Samuelson can change a game with their range. The Lynx held Chicago to 3-13 from the three point line.
Minnesota faces defending champs Seattle on Wednesday night in Minneapolis. It will be up to young Jewel Loyd and Jordin Canada to lead the injured Storm this season. Former Lynx Natasha Howard led her team to a win over Phoenix Wednesday night with 21 points, 16 rebounds five steals and three blocks!
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