September 25, 2020 

‘We know we’re right there’: Lynx have little margin for error

How Minnesota, on the brink, can win out in series against Seattle

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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 24: Crystal Dangerfield #2 of the Minnesota Lynx drives to the basket against the Seattle Storm in Game Two of the Semifinals of the 2020 WNBA Playoffs on September 24, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Photo credit: Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images/NBA Content Network

The Seattle Storm have been viewed as Finals favorites since the start of the 2020 season. Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird playing alongside the developed 2019 crew would provide more depth than any opponent could handle.

The Minnesota Lynx, on the other hand, had to contrive their depth as the season chugged along. Without Sylvia Fowles in the mix, some viewed the season of the comeback kids as a fun story but not one that ends as true Finals contenders.

The Lynx have proven those skeptics wrong — in spurts. The Lynx played a near-perfect Game 1, only to lose on a last-second Alysha Clark put-back. In Game 2, the Lynx cut a 21-point deficit to five and only lost by 10 after managing Napheesa Collier’s foul trouble.

But in order to diminish the “just happy to be here” theme, the Lynx have to avoid being swept out of the semifinals.

“We’ve got one more crack at this,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “It’s not a 200-minute series unless you are winning a couple of those 40 minutes. We’ve got a 40-minute game, and the mindset is we have to win a game. Sunday will be that day.”

It’s a tall order, of course. Seattle has shown they won’t beat themselves, so Minnesota can’t expect anything to come easy. They haven’t all year.

“It’s hard being down 2-0 in the series,” Collier said. “I think it really lights a fire under our butts for next game. But we know that we’re right there.”

Patience on offense

Through two games, the Lynx have committed fewer turnovers than they did in their final regular-season game against the Storm. However, rushed shot selection was a factor in Minnesota’s poor offensive execution in Game 2.

Seattle has threatened Minnesota’s guard by trapping them alongside the perimeter before Minnesota can establish its offense. The Lynx guards struggled to overcome the traps in Game 1, and seemed to be eager to get a shot off before the traps were set in Game 2. When Damiris Dantas wasn’t positioned at the top of the key to bail out the guards with a 3, the guards’ avoidance of the anticipated traps often resulted in missed jump shots, stagnant ball movement and not enough attempts at the rim.

Download of Minnesota’s shot chart from their Game 2 loss to Seattle from WNBA.com

“Offensively, you have to be really good when you play Seattle,” Reeve said. “Not only is their defense really good, but their offense is really good. They have a ton of shot makers, and you have to go toe-to-toe with them offensively. We didn’t get that done.”

Odyssey Sims, Dangerfield and Rachel Banham shot a combined 2-for-15 in the first half. Only one of their 15 attempts came in the restricted area.

“I tried to run some things, and we had shots that we normally make that just didn’t drop,” Crystal Dangerfield said. “That’s something that’s not, you know, we’re not going to rely on next game hitting those shots, but we’re going to try to get the same looks, draw fouls and put the ball in the hole.”

Defensive intensity

The Lynx have harped on some form of “defensive intensity” all season long, but when it comes to slowing down Seattle, the Lynx specifically need to stick with plays. They can’t settle for stopping Seattle’s first or second option because there’s always a counter with the Storm.

“Not the first pass, not the second pass, but the third, fourth, fifth passes for them … you’ve got to play all the way through,” said Reeve after Game 2. “You’ve got to rotate and you’ve got to help. We just didn’t have the awareness or the timeliness that we had in Game 1. We’ve got to get back to that.

“These guys make you pay. One wrong step, and they make you pay.”

“A lot of times we didn’t make that third, fourth extra effort in the play,” Collier said. “We would guard the person in the second look and then wouldn’t get to an easy layuup on the backside, things like that.”

Seattle has Minnesota beat in the amount of scoring options they can go to — their bench outscored Minnesota’s 21-8 — so the Lynx can’t afford to get outworked by Seattle, too. The margin for error is too slim.

The Lynx, again, learned that lesson the hard way when Napheesa Collier was called for her third foul just two minutes, 38 seconds into the second quarter. Sami Whitcomb was driving on the left baseline where she was met by Bridget Carleton and Dantas who came over to help. Mercedes Russell collapsed in the paint to bail out a trapped Whitcomb and drew a questionable shooting foul on Collier.

“I guess it’s one of those things she’s in the RA, little bit of body is like an automatic foul because her feet are on the ground,” Reeve said. “Maybe if she jumps it’s not a foul. It’s a tough call. It’s really disappointing, and obviously it hurt us.”

It’s still puzzling how such a minor foul could be called in the semifinals, especially when it forced Minnesota to bench its best player for the final 7:22 of the first half.

“I just thought that there wasn’t a lot of contact,” Collier said. “With the playoffs, I hate when they call touchy fouls. I wish they would let us play, and it sucks to be on the bench for a quarter and a half when I have three fouls in the game.”

The Lynx won’t be able to control the officiating of Game 3, so their only option is to tighten up their defensive rotations. Again, asking Minnesota to be even just a half a step quicker against a team like Seattle is a demanding task, but the Lynx have already shown they’re capable of doing so.

Aside from an allowed basket cut from Clark and a shooting foul committed on Stewart, the Lynx played sound defense for the final 4:30 of the third quarter. Their communication allowed them to quickly recover from switching mismatches, passes were deflected, and they flooded the paint, tempting Seattle to beat them with long 3s.

Few things have been unachievable for the 2020 Lynx. Claiming a game against Seattle shouldn’t be an item on that short list.

“It’s comforting to know at least we know what we have to do and that we’re capable of doing it for next game,” Collier said.

Written by Katie Davidson

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