Fever 84, Lynx 80: Statement Sunday

The Minnesota Lynx are tired of losing, tired of having to play short-handed, and tired of their inability to progress linearly because of how the injury bug has affected their lineup.

Head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve did not speak to the media after her team’s 84-80 loss to the Indiana Fever.

Guard Aerial Powers got the sense that opposing teams think they can roll over the Lynx and walk on the Target Center floor as predators instead of prey.

“We’ve been losing a lot of games. And for me, it was more of a statement because I feel like teams feel like they can just come in here and run over us and treat us however. And that’s not why I came to this organization. Our culture is more like when you come to [face] the Minnesota Lynx you’re scared to play us,” Powers said in an honest postgame answer about what angered her during that sequence.

“Right now, I just feel like we don’t have that edge. So for me to do that it was more for my teammates, myself to get us going… I feel like we need to come in more aggressive and let people know that we’re nothin’ to play with.”

Powers’ statement certainly got the crowd back into the game, but it rang hollow when the Lynx failed to score over the final 1:47 after re-taking the lead with a pair of free throws from Jess Shepard.

“We just couldn’t get a clean look. We had a couple of decent looks. Obviously the last play you can go back to the film and watch but we gotta get a rebound,” associate head coach Katie Smith said postgame. “But, we gotta find ways to get decent looks and try to put the ball in the hole. But at the end of the day, if we don’t score, they can’t score.”

It certainly appeared that forward Nina Milić was fouled, with the Lynx down one and 22.5 seconds left.

(video via @mntwins020733)

“Well, I think it was [an] obvious foul for me, but you know we can talk about the referees, but we are not looking for excuses in any case. We just, you know, it’s a one possession [game] so it could have been anything, not only that shot but like something before also,” Milić said after the game. “I think we gave up a lot of 3s and we have to get better in you know, by the end of quarters or by the end of the game when we get tired.”

She’s right.

Minnesota fell apart defensively in the closing moments. The Lynx failed to help the helper correctly on a play that led to a go-ahead Victoria Vivians 3-pointer with 1:29 left. Then, the Lynx failed to secure a defensive rebound with on a missed shot with 44 seconds left, resulting in the Fever killing an extra 10 seconds of clock.

“We have to get better to, you know, even if we’re tired, to just [concentrate] and execute better in those tough moments,” Milić added.

Milić certainly wasn’t one to blame for the outcome, though. She played the best game of her rookie year in the WNBA. The European veteran scored a career-high 23 points, including 13 in the third quarter alone, on 11/19 shooting to go along with six rebounds, and three assists in 30 minutes of action.

Indiana Fever v Minnesota Lynx

Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

On a night the Lynx were missing stars Sylvia Fowles (right knee) and Kayla McBride, a game day scratch with a right foot injury, they needed players to step up.

“It’s obviously for us a big handicap that we don’t have Syl and K-Mac. Syl is one of the best players and when when she’s in the paint when she gets the ball in the paint, she attracts defense and that opens other players, so it makes it easier for other people,” Milić explained. “And obviously, we didn’t have that today, so it was harder and we all had to give an extra effort.”

Guard Aerial Powers helped get Milić rolling in the third quarter with some nice passes on the drive and in transition, and the team made an effort to keep feeding their talented teammate.

“She did an amazing job making sure she rim-runned. Great, great fast break person, I look for her on the fast breaks, and just playing within the flow,” Powers said of Milić postgame. “I think she’s really tough when she gets down first and posts up, or whenever she posts up…And when we get the ball into her, I’m starting to realize like when she’s posting up it’s dang near two points every time.”

Powers finished with a career-high seven assists to three turnovers in what was a much better passing exhibition from her.

Indiana Fever v Minnesota Lynx

Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

“I think that the last couple games have been really good for AP. I think she’s aggressive but also is making the right reads,” Smith said postgame. “She’s got a physical presence when she drives…we need her to be aggressive and going in there and creating not only for herself and others and I think she’s done a nice job of that.”

The fiery guard has been largely fantastic as a playmaker in transition, but is responsible a growing share of the playmaking load in a more spaced-out setting without Fowles.

“I had some passes here to Nina and Jess from fast break that allowed my teammates to get some easy buckets and get some energy going. I think that was really it,” she explained. “Coach put me in some positions today that allowed me to drag some defense [out] and pass to my teammates, so I was trying to really focus on getting my teammates involved.”

As a result, Minnesota found a rhythm scoring in the paint.

The Lynx attempted only eight shots inside of four feet and shot 8/23 (34.7%) in the paint in Friday’s loss to Washington, but shot 23/38 (60.5%) inside of four feet tonight thanks to better off-ball player movement, increased screening, and unselfish play.

“There was an emphasis on screen angles, being aggressive. We knew we had some size advantages trying to post up some of the guards,” Smith said. “Nina, we’ve been talking about early post up, early post up feeds with Nina, DD, Jess, you know, ‘When they showed numbers, let’s try to get them the basketball.’”

Indiana Fever v Minnesota Lynx

Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite out-rebounding Indiana 36-30 (including a career-high 11 rebounds from Powers), out-scoring the Fever in the paint 48-40, as well as scoring more fast break points, points off turnovers, and more from the free throw line, the Lynx came up short simply because they couldn’t make enough 3-point shots.

Minnesota shot 3/7 from 3 in the first frame, but just 2/14 the rest of the way. Conversely, Indiana sank 10 of their 23 3-pointers.

Of course missing one of the best shooters on the planet in McBride is tough, but this is a recurring theme that is a result of the roster construction. There just aren’t enough shooters on the team and it makes offense tougher to come by.

Per PBPstats.com, Minnesota got a significantly better quality of shots (56% expected eFG% to 51%), but shot considerably worse than Indiana did (48.6% eFG% to 54.3%). The Lynx have made up for their lack of 3-point shooting by scoring from the free throw line at a better rate than any other team in the league, but the ability to make 3s at a consistent rate is more valuable in today’s WNBA.

Minnesota’s defense is going to have to continue to improve, as it evidently has over the last two weeks, if they want to make up for the lack of shotmaking and start turning close losses into close wins.

The 3-11, last-place Lynx won’t have much time to dwell on this one, as they have the Seattle Storm coming to town for an 8 PM Tuesday night showdown on ESPN.


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