Lynx in command midway through seasonJuly 9, 2012
The defending champion Minnesota Lynx reached the midpoint of the 2012 WNBA season with a commanding 13-4 record and first place in the Western Conference. At times they made it look easy while slicing up their opponents like a knife going through melted butter. Other times, they struggled to the finish line but maintained the poise and scrappiness that made them the defending champs.
Through July 6, they lead the league in five of 12 statistical categories: Points per possession (108.90); Points in the paint (37.63); Second chance points (15.81); Fast break points (14.56) and Points in the paint – defensive (26.13). Of the remaining statistical categories, only two categories – Defensive second chance points and Defensive points off turnovers – they rank their lowest at seventh place. The remaining five categories finish in the top five.
Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve has this team focused on one thing, and one thing only – winning. They focus on one game at a time knowing that will lead to the opportunity to earn another WNBA championship. After the team lost to Connecticut, the third loss in a row, Reeve reminded her team that they are known as a team to overcome adversity.
“Forget this week,” she said. “I told them when we win, that’s the first thing we say is this is not over with. You get an hour to celebrate. Well, same thing. You get an hour to sulk. We got to get ready. This is a tough league. You’ve got to turn it around and be ready.”
“We’ve faced adversity. When was the last time we faced adversity like this?” she asked. “That’s what I told them. They were the team that faced adversity. For us, we’ve been spoiled a little bit. Now we’ve got some adversity. It’s all in how you handle adversity that determines how you come out of it. I’ve got a great group of players so I know we’ll be okay. It’s just a matter of when.”
With 17 games complete in six weeks, Reeve does not buy fatigue as being a large factor. She points to the fact that the Los Angeles Sparks have played more games than they have in the same amount of time.
“I don’t know. I haven’t felt that way,” Reeve said when asked if fatigue was a big factor in the losing streak. “I guess it’s one of those things that if you really sat down and thought about it, I think there’s some mental fatigue. But every team – L.A. has played more games than we have, so I’m just not going to be somebody who looks to that as a problem.”
Lynx guard Seimone Augustus admits that fatigue is a factor in the Lynx recent performances, but like Reeve, doesn’t use it as an excuse.
“We’ve been doing this for years. We have a lot of players that have been around this league for awhile so we know that the run is like,” said Augustus. “Of course, everyone’s body at this point is feeling the fatigue, but we’re professionals and we have to play through the physical pain. We have to get over it mentally. We’re not going to make excuses when we’re fatigued because this is what we do. This is our job.”
Reeve admitted that she felt that the team played frustrated during the recent stretch, especially when they had good looks but the shots didn’t fall.
“We got frustrated. We played very very frustrated,” said Reeve after the Connecticut game. “We make one pass and somebody would shoot it instead of just playing through it and moving the ball around.”
Lynx forward Maya Moore agreed that she and her teammates have played frustrated lately.
“I think at times, in all three games, knowing that we can be so much better and wanting to be better in the moment,” said Moore. “Taking that frustration, using it to focus in and figure out a way to bounce back from it. The fourth quarters of these last couple of games were a tribute to our will to fight and win and come back. It’s just a matter of keeping it for 40 minutes. We need to keep going, just keep going. There are too many good players, and deep down there’s still a whole lot of fight still left. We see glimpses in quarters and halves maybe. It’s not easy. Pulling together four great quarters – it’s not easy.”
Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin knows that the team is playing really hard right now.
“Sometimes when you play too hard, you don’t play smart. I think everyone just wants to win so bad, wants to break it. Coach came in and said, ‘We don’t need any heroes.’ I think we all had the hero complex. The mentality was, ‘I have to win it myself with the next play.’ I think that’s what our issues were,” she said.
Now that the team has faced adversity for the first time all season, Moore believes the team will use it to their advantage. Two more games, both Camp Day games against the Tulsa Shock, are all that are on tap this week before the Olympic break, which will give the team an opportunity to refocus.
“I think last year people that that it was just easy for the Lynx, but it’s not,” said Moore. “This year is showing you – at least this phase of the season is showing you – that it’s really hard to maintain a winning record in this league. Game after game, it’s just something that we’re going to have to take and learn from and store away for some motivation.”
She added, “Every game is huge in our mindset. The next game that we play is the biggest game for us. We’re still going to keep going and move forward, however that looks. We know that if we continue to stay together and not let tough nights like this tear us apart or make us go backwards. You can let it hurt you, or you can let it make you better. I think this team is absolutely going to take this week and let it make us better.”
At the midpoint of the season, the Lynx have shown that they are a talented and mature team that is focused on winning. The Olympic break will be used to heal, rest and refocus, especially with two post players, Jess Adair and Devereaux Peters both injured. When they come back next month, they’ll resume playing inspired Lynx basketball and continue their “Road to Repeat.”