Seimone Augustus is the first one to say the Lynx go into every game expecting to win, but she is also fully aware that making that a reality is a tall task.
“We didn’t expect to go undefeated,” Augustus said. “But we also didn’t expect to have the kind of game we had in Chicago.”
She was referring to Saturday night’s 100-76 walloping at the hands of a Chicago Sky team with the second-worst record in the WNBA.
Perhaps a letdown was to be expected. On Thursday, at Xcel Energy Center, the Lynx beat archrival Los Angeles on national television to improve to a league-best 13-1, matching their record after 14 games in 2016. Two days later? The Lynx allowed the Sky to shoot 59.7 percent, score 22 points off 20 Lynx turnovers, outrebound Minnesota 33-24 and have a 43-25 edge in field goals made. Maya Moore was held to eight points, all on free throws, breaking a seven-game streak in double figures. Center Sylvia Fowles had a season-low six rebounds, none on defense.
It was the first time the Lynx had allowed an opponent to score 100 points since July 2014 against Atlanta, and that game was a double-overtime victory for the Lynx. The last time they gave up 100 points in regulation came in August 2011 in a loss at Connecticut.
The good news: The Lynx had a week to analyze what the heck happened and fix it. The bad: Now Minnesota has a back-to-back, home-and-away, two-games-in-three-nights matchup with Phoenix that starts with a game in Arizona on Friday night. This is the same Mercury team that has the third-best record in the league (11-6) and has won four in a row since the Lynx beat it June 30.
“We lacked in certain areas and they capitalized on them,” Augustus said of Saturday’s loss. “It was an eye-opener. But it helps us to get ready for these last three games before the All-Star break.”
It was a difficult loss, but the sort of thing that has happened to the Lynx before. Minnesota started last season 13-0, winning the 13th game in a much-hyped game over Los Angeles. Three days later that streak ended in a rematch with the Sparks. Two days after that the Lynx went to Washington and got hammered by 24 points.
So yes, this feels familiar.
“I guess it’s normal,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said of a letdown after a big game, or a big streak. “I guess it’s a part of it. Though as a coach I think it’s an excuse and I don’t want any kind of crutch.”
But the game did expose some problems that had been creeping into Minnesota’s play. The transition defense was, again, suspect. Overall, on defense, the Lynx did not stay with the plan, and that allowed Chicago’s starting backcourt of Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley to combine for 37 points on 16-for-24 shooting with 16 assists.
“To be honest with you, some of the stuff that was exposed in that game is stuff that’s been happening in other games, but we were overcoming it because of our offense,” Reeve said. “It has nothing to do with athleticism, it has to do with execution with what we’re doing. It has to do with team defense. Stuff had crept in. You see it, but you don’t want to be a pain all the time. But when you get beat like that, that’s different.”
The loss and a week’s worth of preparation has allowed the team to refocus. Reeve has sold the next two games as a mini home-and-home playoff series with a strong rival.
It will only add to an already strong rivalry.
“Every time we play [the Mercury], first or last game, it’s a playoff atmosphere,” Moore said.