When the Lynx began their season, starting off 2-3 was not part of their vision. But it also wasn’t ever out of the realm of possibility.
Their first loss came at the last second to the Los Angeles Sparks — a bitter rival that they’ve taken to a consecutive pair of intense WNBA Finals series. Even their loss last week to Washington wasn’t a complete letdown — the Mystics are a playoff team that acquired a top-five player in Elena Delle Donne in the offseason.
But Tuesday’s loss to the Atlanta Dream? That one was a bit tougher to handle. And the heartbreaking last-second fashion didn’t help matters.
The Dream are an improved team from a year ago, keeping most of their roster from the previous year and acquiring key 2017 Lynx bench piece Renee Montgomery in the offseason.
But past some reshuffling of the bench, the Lynx were the same team when they started the 2018 campaign. This was a game that they should — on paper, anyway — have won, and they certainly had opportunities throughout all four quarters.
There were only four lead changes throughout the game, and that’s because Minnesota had control for the overwhelming majority of the game.
The lead never ballooned for the Lynx, but the chances to close the game out were there. The Lynx led by at least eight points at six different points in the second half, including with just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
But every time the Lynx would build a lead — which, again, started gaining traction in the second half, which was coincidentally when Maya Moore started to heat up — the Dream would respond. While the Lynx made a variety of tough shots, the Dream got a good chunk of their buckets off open looks and second-chance points.
The former was how the game ultimately ended. When Angel McCoughtry began to set up the offense with 16.8 seconds to go — with her team down one — a hand-off to Tiffany Hayes brought a trap from Moore and Seimone Augustus.
Sylvia Fowles — who was guarding McCoughtry at the time — watched the play as it happened instead of keeping tabs on her assignment. This gave McCoughtry all the room she needed to take the lead.
The loss puts Minnesota in a position they aren’t used to being in. No, they haven’t lost consecutive games. No, they have yet to look truly bad or out of place.
And absolutely not, there is absolutely no reason for concern. This isn’t an uncommon thing for teams early in the season. With the majority of Minnesota’s roster playing for other clubs in the offseason, the roster is tuned and ready to play, but not always ready to play together.
This tough opening stretch isn’t an example of the Lynx suddenly forgetting how to play basketball, and it isn’t an example of the inevitable aging that all great dynasties eventually go through.
This is especially true with a bench as new and fresh as Minnesota’s. Danielle Robinson played big minutes off the pine, even serving as an offensive sub for Lindsay Whalen late in the game in certain spots.
She and Lynetta Kizer have both played big early minutes for Cheryl Reeve; and while some of those minutes have been stellar individually, their teammates haven’t always been ready for their skillsets.
Take Robinson, for example. She finished with six assists, but could have had more. She did a great job attacking the rim from the baseline and finding corner 3-point shooters. Those shooters missed a number of good looks she set up.
The Lynx looked like themselves in some situations but it hasn’t all come together yet. But if “five games is a stupidly small sample size” isn’t reason enough to relax, just look up at the banners the next time you go to the Target Center.
It’s the same players, the same coach and the same philosophy. This team is off to a rougher start than expected. But that’s all it is — a start.
Just wait for the finish.