Minnesota Practice Report: Angry Lynx
MINNEAPOLIS, MINN -- Things weren’t going so hot for the Minnesota Lynx bench players in the second week of August.
They’d scored just five points in a combined 31 minutes in an 84-78 win over the Sparks on Aug. 7 and then, to follow that up, came up with exactly zero points in 26 minutes a loss to the Phoenix Mercury two days later.
“Everyone was very sad,” said Minnesota reserve guard Candice Wiggins. “We had to have our own meeting with Coach Reeve. It was just really bad. Everyone was really frustrated.”
The message from Reeve was simple: the bench needed to produce. The starting five were doing their part, but they couldn’t keep it up if the reserves didn’t step up.
Turns out there’s an app for that, too.
“I downloaded, on my iPhone, the Angry Birds app,” said Wiggins. “I was watching it and, and I started thinking that we are just like these Angry Birds on the bench. I’m like the blue bird that turns into three. Jess [Adair] is like the big bomb that comes in. [Monica Wright] is like the yellow triangle bird that just goes nurrrrrrr [as Wiggins made a dive-bombing motion with her hand].”
“I just said that in practice, and we all laughed at it,” she continued. “Because if you think about it, we are like that.”
The very next game, the Lynx bench combined for 30 points in a 79-76 win over the Sky. Reeve tested her reserves, putting them in for a combined 64-plus minutes. And they responded: each of the bench players had a plus/minus of at least plus-10 on the night, led by Amber Harris’ plus-21. Meanwhile, every single Lynx starter finished in the negatives.
“It was a good feeling, a rallying moment,” Wiggins said. “Everybody was like, ‘Which one am I?’ … You do what you do well. That’s what makes the team better. I think once we started tapping into what we do well, in our strengths … everyone just figured it out. That’s why we’re so effective.”
The ‘Angry Birds’ moniker may have faded away after a couple weeks, Wiggins said, but the message didn’t. Each player on the Lynx bench started examining her role, and what exactly she could do to help the team. Once they focused on their jobs, they never looked back.
But after a six-point performance in Game 1 -- all of them from Jess Adair -- the Lynx bench will be called on more in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals on Wednesday night, against an Atlanta team that’s back at full strength with the return of Erika de Souza. Now that the Dream can throw an entire team at Minnesota, Reeve said she’ll have to dig for players who are capable of not only spelling the starters, but making their own impact.
“There’ll be real opportunities to get into the game more, and they’re gonna be a factor,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. “They gotta score the ball, they gotta defend. The same thing [Dream coach Marynell Meadors] wants from her bench, we want from our bench.”
Which is to say, pretty much the exact same thing they want from her starters.
From Adair, she’ll ask for someone to fortify the inside, especially with de Souza planted back in there. From Wiggins, she’ll look for energy and some 3-point balls. From Wright, she’ll need a capable floor leader that can neutralize Dream point guard Lindsey Harding.
And from everybody, she’ll look for a second wave of aggression to keep the Dream on their heels as her marquee players take a break.
“That’s the mindset we want to have,” Wiggins said. “When I come in the game, I’m not making zeroes off the bench. I feel like the intensity has to be raised a little. And if you look at [Deram guard Izi Castro Marques], she’s a starter, technically. That’s the best part of it – there’s no drop-off when the bench comes in.”
The Lynx and Dream have both made it to the Finals thanks to lineups that run strong from 1-to-10 (and sometimes even 11). And for how much they run, they’ve both needed deep benches to keep the pace high.
“This is my theory: when our starters come out and play against their starters, it’s a head-to-head battle, and they exert all their energy, then our reserves come in and we’re just like the starters, they have to put their starters in and they’re even more tired,” said Lynx backup center Adair. “Being able to run waves of players at them definitely gives us an advantage.”
“They’re tough, because really, any of their bench players probably could be a starter anywhere in this league,” said Atlanta reserve guard Coco Miller. “They don’t drop off hardly at all when they bring their reserves in.”
Reeve said she’ll be looking to go 10- or 11-deep on Wednesday night, going with her usual rotation of Adair, Wiggins and Monica Wright, but also working in Amber Harris and Charde Houston.
“They have a tough job,” said Lynx starting forward and Rookie of the Year Maya Moore. “We come in as starters, go head-to-head, just kind of start the battle, and they have to come in and carry that momentum coming off the bench. They’re in with other team’s starters, so just trying to put another run together is their job. It’s tough, but I think they’re up for the challenge.”
A Spectacular Move by Maya Moore
It took a few hours for Maya Moore to realize just how spectacular her high-flying reverse layup was on Sunday night. But even she was impressed.
“There was a TV on in the Target Center and [the play] was on NBA TV,” she said. “It was one of those moments where I was trying to be aggressive and it turned out to look really good.”
For Moore, the moment was about simply trying to “contribute,” she said. She’d struggled from the field in the early part of Game 1, so any chance to get a bucket was a welcome one – even if it required floating in the air, cutting through two Dream defenders and slipping her arm around the other side of the rim, Dr. J-style – to finish.
“I was just trying to help whichever what I could,” Moore said. “Whether it’s scoring, rebounds, getting the seal, putting on ball pressure, I’m not gonna get down just because the ball’s not dropping.”
After seemingly resolving the shooting issues that’d held her to 39-percent from the field in the Conference Semifinals with a 57-percent clip in the Conference Finals, Moore went only 2-for-9 from the field on Sunday.
But she’s not worried, she said.
“I always feel good about [my shot],” she said. “I’m always confident about going out there and scoring. I don’t even think about it. I just try to attack, and hope for the best. Usually when I have that mindset of just being aggressive, whether it’s giving a pass or attacking the rim or knocking down an open shot good things happen.”
Erika de Souza’s return to the Dream lineup means a lot of things to the makeup of Game 2. For one, Atlanta gets her 6-foot-5 frame back in the lane, which should go far in filling the inside void the Dream had in Game 1.
She’ll also allow her team to return to their usual positions, with Angel McCoughtry heading back to her spot at small forward and Sancho Lyttle heading back to the ‘4’ spot.
“I’m excited about that, because that’s what I’m used to,” McCoughtry said. “It was a little challenging out there, and I tried my best, but I’ll be glad to get back to what I’m used to. Everybody likes to go back to their comfort zone.”
“It’s a totally different game,” Wiggins said. “It’s crazy how it’s becoming a whole different game with de Souza alone.”
But it won’t affect how the Lynx prepare for Game 2.
Ever since it drew the Dream in the Finals, Cheryl Reeve’s team has practiced as if Atlanta’s center were in the lineup.
“[Reeve] wasn’t ever like, ‘Oh, de Souza ain’t playing,’ so we’ve prepared since Day 1 for here,” said Taj McWilliams-Franklin. “No way we’re gonna change because she’s here. We’re doing the same stuff, they just happen to have a bigger body, who rebounds more, and actually frees up Angel to go back to her original position for the 3.”
In truth, McWilliams-Franklin said, there’s a chance that de Souza’s effect might not fully be felt until Game 3. Yes, she’s been playing with Team Brazil ever since she left the Dream – but it’s been a while since she played at the pace that the WNBA Finals demand.
Well, at least she hopes that’s the case.
“She can watch on video, but you have to play against us [to understand], so it’ll take her a game to adjust,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “Hopefully. That is my thinking. … But it’s probably not true, because when you’re big you basically set up, post up, get rebounds, set screens and bang inside.”