The Minnesota Lynx fell to 2-8 tonight with an 84-76 road loss to the Atlanta Dream, fueled by a season-high 26 turnovers that Atlanta turned into 23 points.
Despite shooting a mediocre 42.9% from the floor, the Dream still managed to score 84 points because they took 17 (!) more shots than the Lynx did.
“It’s not like [forcing turnovers] is their mission defensively. So [against] a team that doesn’t force turnovers for us, that’s certainly the game,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said postgame. “We needed to get shots on goal.”
Sylvia Fowles led the Lynx in the turnover department with five, largely due to not seeing defenders come from away from her to poke at the ball and jar it loose. But for the rest of the team, how those turnovers were created has been a recurring theme.
“And when I tell you that we talked about [turnovers], when I tell you when [we came] into halftime, the players talked about it. And we went out there and did exactly the same thing,” Reeve said about her team’s 15 first-half turnovers, followed by 11 in the final two quarters. “Throwing it over high hands into traffic. Players know it. We just got to keep working.”
The Lynx didn’t let the turnovers prevent them from keeping it close, though. After the Dream lead reached 15 at 40-25, Minnesota stormed back because they kept Atlanta out of the paint, forced tough shots, and effectively cleared the defensive glass, led by Fowles 19 defensive rebounds. The Lynx held the Dream to just 43.8% shooting on only 16 shot attempts in the paint.
“We were pretty mindful. You know, as a team, we were trying to really establish our identity and I thought we did that tonight,” Reeve said after the game. “Atlanta is not a team that’s a big-time paint team. And so the balance of defending the paint and defending the 3, that was something that you know, ‘Hey, look, I’m just gonna take baby steps. We defended the paint.’”
Minnesota closed the half on a 12-3 run in large part, too, because of the play of rookie guard Evina Westbrook. She did an excellent job of pushing the pace and creating easy offense opportunities after stops, especially for fellow starting guard Kayla McBride, who scored all nine points of her first-half points late in the second quarter.
“Exactly that, and we need that. We got too many people that when we do get a stop, jog the ball up the court, and that’s not what our opponents are doing to us. And so Evina has kind of learned, you know, that’s a space that she can be in,” Reeve said, before explaining how the Lynx are putting her in difficult situations, including tonight playing point guard and defending rookie superstar Rhyne Howard. “I liked the experience that she’s getting and I think it’ll be helpful, obviously to her and hopefully to us at some point.”
McBride has been pleased with what she saw from Westbrook, too. The former Notre Dame star excitedly noted she was more impressed with the rookie’s play on defense before turning to the offensive end.
“As far as offensively, her ability to get into the paint, her ability to beat her [defender] off the dribble,” she said, while noting how difficult of an adjustment the WNBA is from college. “But as far as her athleticism and her competitiveness and her work ethic, I mean, in practice, she’s battling. That’s how you build confidence, you know, especially young players. ... we want to keep pushing her to keep building on that and knowing that there is no ceiling for her.”
Minnesota entered the break trailing 43-37, but that Atlanta lead didn’t last long in the third quarter, and some offensive rhythm made it feel like the Lynx were going to take control of the game.
When K-Mac and Banham are making 3s like they are, the offensive potential for the Lynx is there.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) June 2, 2022
They have three combined triples in the first 1:59 of the third and the Lynx have their first lead of the game, 48-47.
Teams are a combined 11/23 (47.8%) from deep
But as she has so often in her young WNBA career, Howard had an answer for the collective punch the Lynx threw. She responded with a huge triple to retake the lead immediately after a go-ahead Rachel Banham 3, and made several high-energy efforts to get her hands on the ball and make plays to help her team.
“Her learning curve isn’t as big as some of the other girls she has a savvy to her game. She can score all three levels,” McBride said after the game of Howard, who scored a game-high 22 points. “I like her competitiveness. I like her aggressiveness. And she knows she knows who she is. She knows that this is her team, so I really like that.”
Howard’s play was infectious; it upped her teammates’ intensity level and breathed a collective confidence back into a team that was squarely on its heels. Atlanta dug in on defense by forcing turnovers, and began to move the ball better, which sent the Lynx into perimeter scramble situations.
“We rotated sometimes to people that we probably shouldn’t have, are rotated off of people I should say. And, you know, like, ‘Hey, we’re a work in progress,’” Reeve said of her team’s perimeter defense during that stretch.
The Dream rode a 10-0 run to carry a seven-point lead into the fourth.
“We’re talking to the group about that; we’ve got to have an understanding that it can’t be that many. It’s got to be, you know, where they get four, five, and then we answer. We just can’t have it where it’s a 10-0 run,” Reeve said. “When you turn it over that much, you force shots that aren’t good shots and you’re constantly in transition defense, that makes it tough. That was that run, where some of it was our offense and then your defense got to be perfect, and that’s a big-time challenge.”
Atlanta also presented challenges with their knack for coming away with 50/50 balls, including coming up with a key one late in the fourth quarter that led to a back-breaking Erica Wheeler 3.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen so many unlucky things happen to us in a game off of a 50/50 ball that we have,” Reeve said postgame, with a chuckle. “Our own teammate knocks it away, knocks it to them, they hit a 3. There’s just some stuff happening that you’re going, ‘We just got to hang in there. We just gonna hang in there and it’ll turn for us.’”
Too many bounces went the Dream’s way in the end, which stopped the now 2-8 Lynx’s comeback effort short.
Not Enough Touches for Syl
Fowles scored 16 points, but only attempted nine shots and four free throws. If Minnesota wants to dig out of this 2-8 hole, they have to play through Fowles to create an offensive flow in their halfcourt sets. At some point, the Lynx have to scheme advantages for Fowles. Obviously, it is tough with so many players in and out of the lineup and so many new faces, but something has to give.
“Seeing that Syl shot only nine times I guess in the flow of the game I didn’t really see that. And that’s on me, too. I know how we want to play and how important Syl is to our flow on the offensive end, finding her touches,” McBride said postgame. “Obviously they were flooding a lot which most teams do because Syl is dominant in the paint, but nine shots isn’t enough for our best player. So you know, we’ll make an adjustment.”
Back-to-Back Broken Noses
Reeve told reporters postgame did Aerial Powers break her nose during Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Sparks (on a shot to the face from Chiney Ogwumike that resulted in a Flagrant 1). Powers played 18 minutes without a mask tonight.
Not only that, but Jess Shepard also broke her nose on a ‘punch’ to the face from Kristy Wallace tonight, during a play for which Shepard was called for a foul. Reeve understandably lit into the officials, who were downright terrible tonight. Shepard returned to the game briefly, but Reeve kept her out both for precautionary reasons and because Nina Milić was playing so well. Both are considered questionable moving forward, as Reeve said some players can play through it and some can’t, among other factors.
An Unsung Third Star
Forward Nina Milić scored 14 points tonight on 5/10 shooting, including four layups and a triple as a result of moving exceptionally well without the basketball tonight. She created windows for her teammates to pass and kept the defense off-balance with constant movement.
“Just a lot of movement, setting a lot of screens, rolling to the basket, getting into the lane. And so she did a lot of great things well,” Fowles said of Milić’s play postgame. “She rebounded a lot, open shots, she knocked down the shots and so she gave us a variety of good things tonight.”
Continued Power(s) Outage
Guard Aerial Powers had another strong start to the game before fading off as the game played on. After tonight, no one in the league has made more free throws than Powers’ 30 over their last five games. While Powers’ 90.9 free throw percentage over that span is tremendous, she hasn’t been able to create offense outside of that. She has just 13 assists to nine turnovers, and has made more free throws than field goals (22), despite attempting 25 fewer free throws than field goals. Minnesota desperately needs Powers to get going offensively, before it’s too late.
Next up for the Lynx is a road game on Sunday at 1 PM CT at Barclays Center in Brooklyn against the New York Liberty. You can watch the game on Bally Sports North Extra.