Emotions are boiling over for the now 3-10 Minnesota Lynx, who lost by 17 at home tonight without star Sylvia Fowles to a Washington Mystics team playing without two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne.
Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve was more visibly frustrated throughout tonight’s game than any other this season.
Guard Rachel Banham — the heart and soul of the Lynx — battled with and wiped away tears throughout postgame media presser.
“Just frustration. I’m sorry, I’m super emotional. It’s just frustrating. It’s hard,” Banham said about how the accumulation of missing shots and resulting losses are weighing on the team. “You gotta put the ball in the hole. That’s just how basketball goes, but we just gotta keep at it. I always say this: shooters shoot. So, things are gonna get better.”
It is evident that these games mean more to Banham — the lone Minnesota native among the Lynx —, who witnessed first-hand how the historically dominant 2010s teams built this franchise into a powerhouse.
“I know that our fans are behind us and they’re continuing to cheer for us and we want to do it for them, too. So that makes it a lot harder. It definitely weighs on me a little bit.”
Reeve and Lynx players have kept everything in perspective through a rough start, understanding there is plenty of season left, but now sitting at 3-10, faced without their two best players in Fowles and Napheesa Collier for the immediate future, the reality of a grim outlook is setting in.
Shooting 19/58 from the floor — 32.8% — turning the ball over 17 times and scoring a season-low 59 points certainly deepens that frustration. The lack of shotmaking mired the team’s largely stellar defensive performance and ultimately dug a hole too deep to climb out of.
Minnesota held Washington under 40% shooting through the first three quarters; under Reeve, the team holds a record of 132-4 when achieving that mark for a full game. But unfortunately they fell short of achieving that goal as a result of some slippage in the fourth quarter.
The Lynx front-court set a strong defensive tone in the paint from the jump.
Forward/center Damiris Dantas made her return to the lineup, after missing the last nine months with a Lisfranc injury to her right foot, and made an immediate impact. In addition to her nine points, Dantas made things tough inside for exciting rookie center Shakira Austin, who registered a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds in the first matchup back in May. Austin registered six points on seven shots, largely because of Dantas’s strong post defense that featured great verticality, excellent strength, and discipline on contests.
When Dantas was forcing stops, it was Jess Shepard who was clearing the glass and completing successful defensive possessions before rifling the ball up the floor to infuse some pace into the offense. Shepard corralled a career-high-tying 15 rebounds — and Minnesota needed each and every single one. The injured Fowles paced the W in both rebounds and rebounds per game prior to her injury. Reeve challenged Shepard to be the one to cover for Fowles on the glass and Shepard rose to meet it.
Unfortunately for the Lynx, their defense simply can’t win them games until their offense rises to a similar level of consistency.
“You can only do so much defensively. I mean, this is a good offensive team that we had at 40% at halftime, and that, largely, all the way through until the dam broke in the fourth quarter that we held them down,” Reeve said of her team’s defensive performance. “But you only get so far before you start to get pretty damn discouraged if you can’t put the ball in the basket. ... And until we figure that out, it’s a tough life.”
Despite generating good looks for the majority of the night, Minnesota failed to consistently make easy, open looks, whether it was at the rim, from beyond arc or in between. Collectively the Lynx shot 8/23 (34.8%) in the paint, 6/21 (28.6%) from deep, and 15/22 (68%) from the free throw line.
Minnesota at times (early in the second and fourth quarters, especially) strung together consecutive stops that fueled scoring, but those stretches didn’t last long because the team’s shotmaking struggled to support their defense. The offense got stagnant in the half-court because of a lack of off-ball movement.
“Our guards did a miserable job of cutting when we were being pressured. They understand that. That’s something they learned on the first day of training camp, that when you’re covered you back cut,” a very frustrated Reeve explained. “We got really stagnant in the third quarter with that and the turnovers [came] off of that.”
The combination of limited off-ball movement and inefficient shooting is a tough one to manage.
“I don’t really know what else to say about it. It’s obviously frustrating for everyone, including the 6,315 people that watched. It had to be awfully frustrating for everyone. The entire scorer’s table moaning when we can put the ball in the hole. By the time you get to the fourth quarter it’s the same thing over and over and over again,” Reeve said. “It’s pretty simple. You can’t shoot 32%; You can’t have 17 turnovers and expect to win.”
The key for the Lynx moving forward — beyond simply scoring more consistently however possible — is stacking on top of each other quarters during which the offense and defense operate harmoniously.
“I think it’s kind of coming down to putting both together. Because sometimes when we have that good defense then it’s like we can’t make a big shot. So that part’s like, ‘What the heck?’” Banham said postgame. “We just gotta put a full game together. It’s not gonna be perfect, but, man, that’s the hard part.”
The first step is individual players putting together complete games; a common theme this season has been players struggling to replicate the same attention to detail and aggression on both ends for consecutive quarters. Once that comes from more players, things could turn up for the Lynx, especially if Fowles’ absence is limited to a handful of games.
That will come as a byproduct of the work the Lynx put in during practice.
“We need to get our asses in the gym and we need to shoot the damn ball. And we need to put the ball in the hole at practice, because everything we do at practice is what you see when we play a game,” Reeve said.
Minnesota is off Saturday, so they will not get into the gym as a team before taking the floor at Target Center once again on Sunday evening against the 3-12 Indiana Fever at 6 PM. Fans can watch the game on Bally Sports North.
Damiris Dantas made her return to the Lynx starting lineup after missing the Lynx’s playoff stretch run last season and the first 12 games of this season with a Lisfranc injury in her right foot.
The Target Center crowd rose for a thunderous ovation when Dantas heard her name announced in the starting lineup.
“I love DD. She’s amazing. We all love her. She’s worked so hard. She’s been through so much. You know everyone knows injuries suck. And it’s almost been a year for her and that is so hard but I’ve seen her grind,” Banham said with a huge smile on her face. “I’m just really happy for her. I love that the fans were embracing it just as much as we were. She’s special and I’m really excited for her to be back for us. She’s gonna help us a lot.”
Dantas’s 3-point shooting in particular will be a big boost for a team that needs to add shooting without downsizing, which is exactly what Dantas provides.
“I was happy to have her back. I was happy that the crowd gave her the reception they did when she was announced in the starting lineup. She fired off a number of threes that we were looking for,” Reeve said of Dantas’s performance. “It’s just what DD’s going to do. But I thought she had a good showing. You know she’ll get better and better as we go.”
Dantas finished the night with nine points and one rebound in 21 minutes of play. She is on a minutes restriction, but is likely to remain in the starting lineup as the team moves forward without Fowles.