The X-Factors: Monica Wright and Tiffany Hayes
Atlanta’s slogan for the playoffs reads: “Teamwork makes the dream work!” That theme was true in the path to the Finals for both the Dream and Lynx. While both teams have standalone stars, each team wouldn’t be in this place without the supporting cast, specifically the X-factors.
Each team has a spark. That one player behind the stars that really puts the team over the edge in order to win the big games. For Minnesota that energy lies in fourth-year guard Monica Wright and for Atlanta it's in Angel McCoughtry’s go-to shooter, second-year guard Tiffany Hayes.
These teams are where they are today because of the improvements made and the tenacity that these two possess. Now, let’s look at what makes these two the X-factors for their respective teams.
Wright plays with some of the best stars in the league, sharing the court with the “three to fear” -- Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen. Outside of those three, Wright has become a strong force. She’s been able to adapt to any role and any situation that she’s thrown into.
It’s clear by looking at her stats that something has changed since the last time she was in the Finals back in 2011. This season she’s put up her best numbers since her rookie year in 2010—averaging 9 points per game, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists. So far in the playoffs she’s at 7.3 points per game, 2.3 rebounds and .5 assists, which are higher than her numbers from the last two years.
While her stats have improved, where she really stands out is in her will to fill in at any time and wherever needed. This has been her goal and has become her role for the Lynx this year.
“I’m trying to fit in to whatever role or whatever’s needed because every game is different,” said Wright who finished second in the 2013 WNBA Sixth Woman award race. “You never know what might happen during in the course of a game. And to be a bench player you have to be very adjustable and you have to be ready whenever your number is called and pretty much be ready for anything.”
Tiffany Hayes has quickly adopted this mentality. In only her second year in the league, she’s become a key piece in the Dream’s playoffs run. Her numbers have also increased since her rookie year. In 34 games played in 2012, she averaged 8.6 points per game, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists. In 2013, she’s played 23 games, sitting out 7 games due to knee surgery. Still, she’s improved her numbers to 11.3 points per game and 3.7 rebounds. And in the playoffs, she’s made a big statement, averaging 13.6 points per game and 5.8 rebounds compared to last year’s 4.3 and 2.3, respectively. And she posted 18 points in the crucial game 3 against Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, plus 23 in game 1 of the Conference Finals against Indiana.
Hayes credits her improvements this year to her time off when she was injured. During that time, the Dream lost six of seven games, which shows how important of a factor she is to the team. Hayes took advantage of that time off to go to the gym and work on her shot in order to help her team win when she was healthy. But besides just helping her team with her improved stats, Hayes has found her role as that spark of the team.
“When I was the sixth man, my goal was to come in and be a spark and now I’m being it as a starter,” said Hayes who was voted as the league’s third best sixth woman behind Wright. “I just have to make sure that whoever’s out there starting the game is starting it off right. So people coming in off the bench are coming in with the same intensity.”
And now both X-factors are ready for this moment in the spotlight of the Finals.
For Hayes, her teammates have contributed to that.
“It’s really my teammates building my courage and encouraging me to take it to the hole and nobody can stop you…it definitely builds your confidence and makes you play a lot better.”
Wright’s adaptability throughout the regular-season helped her prepare for the Finals series.
“I’ve been able to practice a lot doing that [filling in wherever needed] all season long and kind of prepared myself for this moment.”
And what’s going to lead to holding that trophy championship in their hands?
According to Wright, “It’s mostly going to be about the X-factors, who wants it more, and who wills themselves to get there.”