September 2, 2021 

How the bench, keyed by Jessica Shepard, is boosting the Lynx

Lynx bench players step up after injuries and foul trouble leave the team shorthanded

Spotted in the crowd on Tuesday was four-time WNBA champion and former Minnesota Lynx point guard, Lindsay Whalen.

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Fans could have been forgiving for wondering if she could check in. A combination of injuries and early fouls gave Minnesota trouble at the starting point guard position and a shallow bench to play with in their home game against the New York Liberty. 

The game day injury report listed point guard Layshia Clarendon and center Sylvia Fowles out with lower leg and shoulder injuries respectively. Clarendon’s injury added Crystal Dangerfield back in the starting lineup, although her production would immediately be limited after she picked up two early fouls in the first quarter.

The Lynx opened the game shooting 0-for-5 but despite a rocky, albeit at times messy, offense, the Lynx bench and defense pulled together to defeat the Liberty, 74-66.

Former Minnesota Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen and former associate head coach Jim Peterson attend the Minnesota Lynx game (photo via Minnesota Lynx Twitter)

“We always preach that when your offense isn’t getting it done, you gotta win anyway and you gotta win with your defense and that was the story for us to be able to pull out a W here tonight,” said general manager and head coach Cheryl Reeve.

The Lynx relied heavily on their bench and forward Jessica Shepard to help secure their win over the Liberty and boy did they come through.

A shallow but productive bench 

The Lynx were already shorthanded without starters with Clarendon and Fowles out, then the squad grew thinner as Dangerfield and forward Natalie Achonwa each racked up 4 personal fouls quickly, requiring more minutes from Shepard, forward Bridget Carleton and guard Rachel Banham.  Neither Banham nor Shepard had played in the last two regular season games, coach’s decision. 

“I told her yesterday, you go from DNP-CD (did not play coach’s decision) to you’re hooping. And she’s our second best point guard on the team in terms of when you think about putting her in a team concept and running and making reads,” said Reeve.

Video of guard Rachel Banham shooting a three in game against the New York Liberty (Originally tweeted by @minnesotalynx on September 1, 2021.)

After not playing in the last two games, Banham played just under 24 minutes against Liberty. She finished the game with 8 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds and had a plus/minus of 10.

Carleton also saw more time on the floor and made her presence known with 5 points, 1 defensive rebound and 1 steal. Carleton helped seal the game for the Lynx with a fourth quarter bucket beyond the arch.

Video of forward Bridget Carleton shooting a three with under two minutes left in contest against the Liberty (Originally tweeted by Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) on September 1, 2021.)

The Lynx are no stranger to having a short roster, as they’ve played much of the season with under 10 players. 

“It’s just a next man up mentality,” said guard Kayla McBride, “Obviously we know how important Lay and Syl are to us and what we do but it’s a 12 [person] roster and I think that we understand that. Coach Reeve is emphasizing that. I think people stepped up.”

The Lynx bench collectively outscored the Liberty 25-6.

Jessica Shepard was ready for her time

Shepard’s 2019 rookie debut was cut short at just six games after an ACL injury forced her out the rest of the season. After opting out last year, extending her recovery time, Shepard has played limited minutes this season, averaging 10.4 minutes a game.

In Tuesday’s game, Shepard played just shy of 19 minutes after foul trouble kept Achonwa off the court.

A previous lack of minutes didn’t deter Shepard from giving it her all on Tuesday night.

“For me, it’s just making sure that mentally I’m locked in so you know if my number is called, I’m ready to go.” She told reporters postgame.

Shepard finished the game with a season-high 8 rebounds and 1 assist.

“Jess obviously was massive for us [with] her ability to rebound the ball and I think we can get even better things with Jess on the offensive end.” said Coach Reeve.

Despite only scoring two points, both of which came from free throw attempts, Shepard’s 6 defensive rebounds gave the Lynx multiple chances to get back on offense.

“Rebounding is one of the things that I feel like I can control, it’s an effort thing. Just going in there every time.” Shepard said.

Shepard was also only one of two Lynx players without a turnover. The Lynx average 14.5 turnovers a game and gave up 26 points on 15 turnovers against the Liberty. Shepard’s ball security and rebound prowess should certainly help build the case for her to get more time on the court as the Lynx close out the regular season and head into the postseason. 

Up Next

The Lynx next take on the Los Angeles Sparks at home, who are suffering a four game losing streak. The team will once again be without Clarendon. Forward Damiris Dantas, who suffered a right foot injury in the game against Liberty, is also listed out. And Fowles is questionable for the game.

But the bench is ready.

Written by Alyssa Graham

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