September 9, 2020 

‘Our total disregard for our principles’: Lynx’s defensive holes exposed

The cost could be precious rest in the playoffs for Minnesota

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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 8: Emma Meesseman #33 of the Washington Mystics shoots the ball against the Minnesota Lynx on September 8, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Photo credit: NBA Content Network, Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages

The Los Angeles Sparks’ 26-point first quarter against the Lynx was overshadowed by Minnesota’s offensive momentum infused by Rachel Banham on Aug. 31.

The Sky’s 16-point comeback driven by its pick-and-roll action was dismissed when Minnesota was able to withstand Cardiac Chicago on Sept. 2.

Cheryl Reeve referred to her team’s second quarter against the Dallas Wings “maybe the worst basketball we’ve played of the season,” on Sept. 4, but commended her team’s elite, second-half defense which held Dallas to 27.6% shooting after halftime adjustments were made.

But Minnesota’s infrequent commitment to its defensive principles was exposed in their 103-88 loss to the Seattle Storm on Sunday. And there was no talk of “resiliency” in Reeve’s postgame availability, to put it lightly.

“Couple things: our offense and then our total disregard for our principles of what our defense is, and this is not the first game,” said Reeve when asked what allowed Seattle to be so successful in the paint. “This has been brewing. Think about how many times we give up 50 points in a half. This defensive team isn’t good enough to beat good teams. Facts… without defense, we’re going nowhere. Like nowhere. 103 points! I mean, it’s a really good basketball team over there, but this shit was embarrassing today.”

Point taken.

Reeve’s 76-second presser wasn’t an exaggerated product of her high standards for her team. The Lynx’s defensive rating has dropped to tenth in the league (108.9) in their last five games, and the Storm did a surefire job of reminding Minnesota that half-assed quarters are detrimental when you’re playing the best of the best.

Minnesota’s first defensive possession of Sunday’s game looked solid at first glance. Odyssey Sims recovered after going under a screen set by Breanna Stewart then showed on Stewart’s drive, forcing the MVP candidate to kick out to Sue Bird who was met by Crystal Dangerfield on the perimeter. Stewart received the ball again after Bird dismissed Natasha Howard’s screen, and Bridget Carleton was planted on the left block ready to help Napheesa Collier on Stewart’s drive to the basket. Stewart threw up a wild shot that was rebounded by Alysha Clark, who had little time to do anything with her offensive rebound before the shot clock went off.

But under further review, the Lynx’s defense was faulty.

Sims gave Jewell Loyd plenty of room to shoot a 3 by going under Stewart’s initial 3. Loyd was set on making a pass to Stewart and didn’t even look for her own shot in the first possession of the game, but the Lynx would be burned for going under screens…

here when Lexie Brown makes little effort to get around a screen set by Stewart for Bird, forcing Carleton to show on Bird and leave Clark who’s then granted more than enough time and room to hit a 3…

All screenshots are taken from WNBA.com’s League Pass.

and here when Sims shows little regard for getting around a screen set by Mercedes Russell.

Howard also had a wide-open slip to the basket after her screen for Bird in the first possession of Sunday’s game.

That was just a quick preview of Howard’s 19-point night to come. She burned the Lynx on a similar slip just five possessions later.

Howard sets a screen for Bird.

Bird demands both Dangerfield and Dantas’ attention.

There’s no help-side defense to be found.

The game’s opening possession was reviewed right away, and the shot clock violation was ultimately overturned after the officials spotted the shooting foul Carleton committed on Clark. Not a great start for a team whose coach has harped about defensive rebounding for weeks.

Seattle went on to score 40 points in the paint, hit 22 free throws, earn 28 points off of Minnesota’s 26 turnovers and blasted the Lynx’s help-side defense here…

here…

and here.

“It was really quiet in the gym the whole time, which I think was pretty clear in the way we defended that we weren’t talking,” said Collier after Sunday’s game. “We weren’t getting through what our scheme is, and that comes from communication. We weren’t talking and we were stepping out there, just not doing what we needed to, and our effort, a lot of times, wasn’t there as well, so that’s always disappointing to see.”

During Tuesday’s pregame press conference — in which Reeve made it known that she was not the one who called for a 76-second press conference on Sunday — Reeve lamented her team’s helpside defense.

“If you guys go back and watch and if we could have a film session, there would be a number of times that the paint did not have a Lynx player in it defensively — which is so contrary to all of our concepts,” Reeve said. “Just a lack of awareness on islands by ourselves and worried about, ‘Well, I have this player. If I do that, then my player might score.’ So just kind of a mindset that not a collective effort that we guard things as a team.

“It’s sometimes hard when you win the game and I go, ‘Look, our defense isn’t where it needs to be.’ I think a loss speaks more loudly than any message a coach could send, I suppose.”

Well, if not one, how about two losses?

The Lynx recorded their first two-game losing streak on Tuesday after dropping an 89-86 loss to to 6-13 Washington Mystics whom the Lynx held to 48 points and 29.5% shooting from the field in their first matchup of the season.

But Tuesday was a different — yet familiar as of late — defensive story.

The Mystics recorded 89 points on 54.5% shooting from the field, scored 21 points off of Minnesota’s 15 turnovers and had 26 points in the paint by halftime. All after Reeve believed her team learned a lesson after giving up 103 points to Seattle two days prior.

Reeve said it was “probably an understatement” to say Tuesday’s response was “disappointing.”

“I’m at a loss for anymore words about it with them,” Reeve said. “Another 40 points in the paint, which means another 54 percent opponent field goal percentage. It’s simply not the path. So we’ll put our heads together and we’ll figure something out.”

Minnesota’s first two-game losing streak comes two days before they’re scheduled to play the No. 2-seeded Las Vegas Aces who lead the league in percentage of points scored in the paint per game (48.4%).

“We’ve got to figure it out, we’ve got to push through some stuff,” Reeve said. “I don’t have … in terms of Vegas in this next game, Vegas really doesn’t matter; I think how we play matters. If we continue to play like we’re playing, it’ll be another 100-point game. This is the best offense in the league. It’s a team that gets to the foul line, a team that gets to the paint, and it’ll be on national TV again. So I don’t know, we’ll have to see if we can figure it out again. It’s not likely, though.”

The disappointment is exacerbated because Reeve knows what her team is capable of. If she thought this was purely a rebuilding year, there’d be more shrugged shoulders than s-bombs in postgame press conferences, and Sylvia Fowles’ absence would surface more often.

But it appears this team could have more to look forward to before next year’s free agency, so the excuses won’t accumulate.

“We’re going to playoffs, and coming off the two losses like this and some of the other losses we’ve had this season, we have to make a huge change really fast,” Collier said. “So, we have practice tomorrow. I’m sure that’s something that we’re going to be working on: defense.”

Written by Katie Davidson

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