The Minnesota Lynx have been here before.
The defending WNBA Champions lost their first game of the Finals last season at home against the Indiana Fever.
On Sunday afternoon, the Lynx suffered a last-second loss to the Los Angeles Sparks, 78-76. While many teams would be panicking after losing their first game of a best-of-five series, Minnesota has a veteran and experienced group who knows that there’s 160 minutes left of basketball to be played.
Heading into the series and looking at the matchup between these two squads, one thing greatly stood out. The amount Los Angeles relies on their starters to pull out victories compared to how much Minnesota does is absolutely something to consider and examine.
Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve has said that this is the deepest team she’s coached and for very good reason. During the regular season, Minnesota had eight players average six points or more per game. Los Angeles only had six players put up six points or more per contest.
Due to the convenience of having such a deep bench, the Lynx had nine players notch more than 400 minutes played throughout the season. The Sparks only had seven players on their roster register 300 or more minutes played.
With that being said, and looking at how Minnesota can improve going forward in the Finals, the Lynx will need their bench to contribute more than they did in Game 1.
In a combined 45 minutes, five non-starters for Minnesota tallied: eight points on 4-for-12 shooting, three boards, four assists, one steal and five turnovers.
Outside of the non-Olympians, Renee Montgomery, Rebekkah Brunson and Natasha Howard were the three most effective players for the Lynx during the regular season.
Montgomery, a WNBA Champion who is a fire-cracker off the bench, averaged 7.5 points and 2.8 assists per game during the regular season.
“I think she’s had fun in her role,” Reeve said. “I’m sure she’d like to play 30 minutes and maybe she could have somewhere else, but I think what she really valued was this group and how they go about their business. Winning is fun to be a part of. I think Renee has kind of the led that perimeter group of that second team, she’s the voice. Renee has a great understanding for what’s happening and what needs to happen. She’s been their leader and it has been invaluable to us.”
Brunson, a decorated All-Star and four-time WNBA Champion, is really the unsung hero of this team and put together an underrated season, averaging 7.4 points (47.7 percent shooting), 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists per contest.
“She has so many players around her that get so much more attention than she does,” Reeve said. “I think she’s fueled by her desire to be successful and how much she knows that her teammates value what she does. Everyone here that’s a part of this thing knows what she brings to the table. I think that for her, she’s always been that kind of overachiever if you will, that just plays really hard, she’s the epitome of when you play hard great things happen.”
Howard, a promising young forward with playoff and Championship experience, has seemed to get better as the year went along and put up 6.7 points (57.4 percent shooting) and 3.6 boards per game.
“We’re thankful to have players who can come off of the bench and produce because some games we (the starting five) haven’t been at our best and they’ve come in and been our source of energy, points, whatever we needed,” Reeve said. “Natasha in that Phoenix series got going for us in game three and basically kept us going, kept us afloat throughout the series and she does that, she has moments where she’s getting deflections, she’s making hustle plays, she’s getting rebounds and defensive stops and that’s what we need.”
If there is one aspect of Tuesday night’s battle to keep an eye out for, it’s the performance of Minnesota’s non-Olympians. If the Lynx are able to get a solid outing from those specific players mentioned above, along with other non-starters who see the court, Minnesota will be heading to Los Angeles with the series all tied up.