The Lynx got their 2019 season started off on the right foot on Friday night with an 86-79 victory over the Washington Mystics.
The important thing with preseason games is not necessarily the result, rather it’s the information that you can get from them. Everything should be taken with a grain of salt given that it’s preseason and this game was against a Mystics team missing Elena Delle-Donne, but it’s so valuable to see this team get up and down the court against high-level competition for 40 minutes and look so good doing it.
Ask head coach Cheryl Reeve or any of the Lynx players (probably any WNBA coach, for that matter) and she’ll tell you two of the most important things a team can do: play defense and rebound the ball. The early results on those fronts were very positive.
The Lynx held a ridiculous 37-19 advantage on the boards. They were absolutely relentless. Sylvia Fowles led the way with 10 and an impressive Jessica Shepard had eight. Additionally, they only allowed the Mystics four offensive rebounds. That commitment to finishing defensive possessions helped the Lynx hold the Mystics to just 42.2 percent from the field and 26.1 percent from three.
It goes without saying that Fowles looked amazing on Friday. She was almost overshadowed by a resurgent Danielle Robinson and a player who looks like she’s rediscovered her scoring touch in Odyssey Sims (read more about their night here), but Fowles was the engine that made things go. She finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes. She even hit a few elbow jumpers—she’s definitely expanded her range. Casual brilliance at its finest. It’s clear she’s in great form after a full offseason of rest. Seimone Augustus only played 10 minutes, but she looked comfortable and fresh as well.
While rotations are a little different in the preseason (Fowles and Augustus definitely could have played more), we got enough information on Friday to get a sense of how things have shaken out, at least for the time being.
Starting the game were Robinson, Augustus, Karima Christmas-Kelly, Damiris Dantas and Sylvia Fowles. Next off the bench were Sims, Napheesa Collier and Shepard who played with Robinson and Fowles. Lexie Brown was the second guard off the bench, and the Lynx used Dantas at backup center along with Jillian Alleyne. Shao Ting also played a good section of the second quarter.
Kenisha Bell came into the game with 2:08 left to thunderous applause. Her and Taylor Emery both hit free-throws to put the game on ice.
It’s too early to draw too many conclusions but put Shepard down as an early contender for the steal of the draft. For a rookie, she looked extremely comfortable on the court tonight. She showed good touch for the most part, though she missed a few from the outside, but more impressive was her rebounding and passing. She threw a couple dimes to her teammates after yelling at them to cut and anchored the second unit with her hard-nosed play.
It will take a little time for Shepard to get completely comfortable with the playbook, but the way she talks to her teammates and isn’t afraid to make the bold play is encouraging. Shepard is so strong and athletic she’s not going to get beat to many boards. Once she grabs rebounds, she’s always looking down the floor to initiate the break. Lynx fans should get ready to see a lot more of Shepard.
- Reeve is going to have a nightmare of a time making cuts. Several players fighting for their spots looked very good tonight. The roster will have to be trimmed significantly and there’s still the matter of Temi Fagbenle and Cecilia Zandalasini returning from overseas. The competition for spots is real.
- This team is going to run. It’s clear the Lynx bigs have been told to look up the floor when they get rebounds, and the team is so athletic that they often had players far up the floor before the defense could figure out what was going on. Lots of half-court passes. Fun stuff.
- Allyene was the star of the second quarter. She showed off a real rebounding acumen and a knack for positioning on both sides of the ball. She kept her head and made some great plays.
- Ting is legit. She has one of the weirdest-looking jumpers I’ve ever seen but it works for her! She’s also deceptively athletic in transition and has a shifty game in the paint.
- Dantas had a rough night. You see the potential—she’s has great size and moves and shoots smoothly—but there were just too many times she was out of position. She’ll improve.
- Christmas-Kelly was the only Lynx to hit a three tonight. The fact that the Lynx put up 86 despite that almost makes their offensive performance more impressive. Almost. They’ll need to perform better from beyond the arc to open up the floor for Fowles. They got some good looks, the ball just wasn’t falling.
- Watching Collier, you start to understand what Reeve means when she calls her a difference-maker. She had two steals and a few tipped passes—she’ll affect the game even when she doesn’t score a ton.
The Lynx take on the Chinese National Team next Tuesday in what should be a super fun showcase of international basketball. It’s a members-only affair, so call your reps and get those season ticket packages!