Game 2 Notebook: Practice Makes Perfect
MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. – Over the last two games, the Lynx have outscored the Dream by a combined score of 58-32 in the fourth quarter.
And if you’re looking for reasons, look no further than Angel McCoughtry – all 6-3, 200 pounds of him.
“We play situations in practice for the fourth quarters,” said Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin. “When we’re dog-tired, we’re doing two-minute games against the guys … in the end we always have another gear we can go to.”
All season long, Lynx assistant coach Jim Petersen has run a squad of men against the Lynx in practice. Charged with making the guys – most of whom played college ball – a carbon copy of whatever team the Lynx are set to play against, Petersen’s assembled quite the crew.
“We have a great group of guys who really challenged us and did their best to simulate what Atlanta’s gonna do to us,” said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve.
And if you’re looking to simulate Atlanta, it’s useful to have a guy like Stavon Williams, which is the name the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder goes by when he’s not trying to channel Angel McCoughtry.
“I’m asking Seimone [Augustus] – I’m like ‘Seimone how much is this helping you?’” Petersen said. “She’s like if I can stop Stav, I think I can stop Angel McCoughtry.”
“I’m a great shooter off the dribble, and that’s pretty much what she does,” said Williams, who played college ball at Utah State.
Petersen’s been working with Tommy Franklin, the elder statesman of the practice group, since 2009 to perfect the group. There were a couple mis-steps along the way, but over time, it all came together.
“Between Tommy and I, we weeded out the bad guys, and we’ve got a lot of talent now,” Petersen said. “But everybody on the floor, they simulate somebody. We’ve got an Angel McCoughtry, we’ve got an Erika de Souza – everyone emulates someone on the floor, and they help us immeasurably.”
Erika de Souza’s name is Damon Sims. He’s 6-foot-4 and weighs 240 pounds. He also coaches eighth grade girls basketball locally, although his background is in football, and he most recently played Danielle Adams before graduating to de Souza.
“I’m more de Souza, when she comes in and muscles them around,” Sims said.
“He’s kind of the big bully out there,” said teammate Dan Andersen. “I’m the more finesse player.”
Andersen was an OK McCoughtry, all things considered. But he was probably a better Armintie Price – he’d gladly let Williams play the part of Angel.
Anything, he said, to help the team.
“They’re really smart, so you don’t have players where every time it’s like ‘No, please do this,’” McWilliams-Franklin said. “They have these signals where they trap, double-team and iso. These jokers here make us better and more prepared, because if we can play against guys with their talent and physicality and athleticism, we can play against anyone.”
Before the game, Reeve said that her bench would have to play a key role if the Lynx were to keep up with a Dream team back at full strength with the return of Erika de Souza.
They answered the call.
Jess Adair led the way with 13 points (including a 9-of-11 effort from the foul line) and three blocks to bolster an inside game for a Lynx team that lost starting center Taj McWilliams-Franklin to a right knee sprain in the third quarter.
“That’s just being aggressive,” said Maya Moore of Adair’s performance. “The person who’s more aggressive most likely will get the foul called in their favor. We’re proud of her aggressiveness and how she’s looking to attack. Her confidence is just overflowing right now.”
But it didn’t stop at Adair. Monica Wright scored six points in 12 minutes in the first half to help stem the tide while the Lynx were struggling to put any sort of consistent offense together.
Then, in one of the night’s biggest surprises, little-used forward Amber Harris scored five points and grabbed three rebounds to give the Lynx a much-needed boost. After sinking a long two to cut the Dream lead to five just before the halftime buzzer, Harris came back to hit a three that put the Lynx ahead, 80-78, three minutes into the third – on a play that began with an Adair block.
“Coach always tells me to be ready, so that’s what I was trying to be,” Harris said.
Said Moore: “Our bench players want to play so badly, and when they come in they bring so much energy.”
Note: No word yet on McWilliams-Franklin’s status for Game 3.
De Souza’s return did wonders in solidifying the inside for Atlanta, which won the rebounding battle, 31-30, after the Lynx held a 40-28 edge in Game 1.
The Dream’s Brazilian center only scored eight points in her first game back in the lineup since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but did manage to pull down 10 rebounds and block three shots in only 26 minutes.
Her playing time was limited due to foul trouble, but she still left an impact. After the Lynx outscored the Dream, 52-30, in points in the paint on Sunday, Minnesota held only a 38-34 edge on Wednesday, and managed only six offensive rebounds.
“She had 10 rebounds, and that certainly helped it – it did,” said Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors.
Free throws proved the difference in Game 2, with the Lynx knocking down 38 of 46 shots from the stripe, compared to 21-for-32 for the Dream.
After struggling from the line at times this year, the Lynx gladly took their free ones on Wednesday night.
“I think we’ve worked hard all season in making free throws,” said point guard Lindsay Whalen. “We knew it’s been something that was a concern all year, not making your free throws, but I think everyone has taken it upon themselves to get in the gym, shoot extra free throws, knowing that in the Finals you’re going to need to step up and make those shots.
“Tonight we made almost all of ‘em, and that was a key for us.”
The Lynx scored 32 points in the fourth quarter. Nineteen of those came from the foul line.
In a final frame that saw 19 personal fouls between both teams – 12 for the Dream, seven for the Lynx – Minnesota went to the line 24 times, as a game that took 2 hours and 26 minutes to complete slowed to a crawl at times.
“Short of getting fined for anything, there were a lot of free throws taken in that game – 46 for Minnesota, 32 for us,” said Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors. “You know, I just really don’t understand some of the things that were being called. Not to say that they were wrong, but there were a lot of things that I disagreed with. But that’s part of the game.”
Reeve also said she thought the game was called a little tight, but still fair.
“It favored us in the second half,” Reeve said. “When I saw the crew I actually had an idea that it would be called a little more closely. They called everything. They established it and the players didn’t adjust. I think that’s important on both sides that the teams recognize how the game is being called, and neither team did.
“I think the frequency of calls helped us have Lindsay Whalen on the court for the full second half,” she continued. “Ordinarily we need to sub for her, but the stoppage of play helped her stay on the court.”
Wednesday night’s announced attendance of 15,124 was the third-largest total in Lynx history, behind Game 1’s total and Lindsay Whalen’s first game back in Minnesota as a member of the Connecticut Sun in 2004.
The total pushed the Lynx over 200,000 tickets sold for the season, the first time in team history that Minnesota’s eclipsed that line.
“[The Lynx] are putting on a beautiful showing for our fans here in Minneapolis and for all Minnesota, and the fans are showing it back with their enthusiasm,” said Lynx owner Glen Taylor, the only owner in the history of the franchise.