You can’t blame Minnesota fans for looking ahead to the conference finals, and it would be a stunner if the Lynx lost this series, but the Seattle Storm and Brian Agler will not go down easily, despite a huge talent disparity.
Seattle has been healthy all season, so the players know their roles and are in command of the very physical system, so even if the Storm lose in two, the Minnesota wins won’t come easily.
One reason is that Seattle will do its best to disrupt the flow of the Lynx offense with its wear-you-down defense, and the Storm really have nothing to lose if the whistles blow steadily for 40 minutes. The best outcome is a slow-down game with lots of contact, which gives Seattle a chance to win late, and the worst outcome is a bad loss – which is pretty much what everyone expects anyway.
So don’t look for this series to be pretty in any aspect – and look for Minnesota to be tested.
Temeka Johnson is a pretty good point guard. She shoots pretty well, and though she turns the ball over a little too much, she’s been in the league for a while and knows what it takes to win. Against most point guards in the WNBA, she doesn’t give up much, despite her size – but Lindsay Whalen isn’t most point guards. Whalen, in fact, is in the MVP discussion, and even though she’s not a three-point threat, she just might be the best point guard in the world. So, clearly, advantage Minnesota.
For Minnesota, categorizing either Seimone Augustus or Maya Moore as the shooting guard as opposed to small forward doesn’t really make that much sense, but we’ll put Augustus here. She definitely qualifies on the “shooting” aspect, as that’s the best part of her game, but given her size and talent, her minor deficiencies in other areas are easily overlooked. Tanisha Wright has had a nice season for Seattle, but has turned the ball over more in 2013 than in any other year. But even Wright at her peak is no match for Augustus. Advantage Minnesota.
Shekinna Stricklen has emerged as the starter for the Storm, but that’s only because Noelle Quinn has regressed. Stricklen is not a good shooter, averages fewer than one assist a game and is not a particularly good rebounder. She is a decent defender, but she’s not going to slow down Maya Moore, who is another Lynx in the MVP talk. Moore has been, is and will be one of the best players on the planet, and even the return of Lauren Jackson in her prime wouldn’t be enough to stop her from doing what she does. Huge advantage Minnesota.
Speaking of “in her prime,” it would have been fun to watch Tina Thompson at 27 go against Rebekkah Brunson at 27. Tina would have prevailed, most likely, but the athletic Brunson is the kind of defender who always gave Thompson the most trouble. But Thompson is 38, and Brunson 31, so it’s going to be tough for Tina to put together two or three strong games – and Seattle needs her to score and rebound for the Storm to have a chance to win. Even though it would be no surprise if Thompson goes off one game, over the series, the advantage belongs to Minnesota.
Camille Little is a better free-throw shooter than Janel McCarville. She’s also two years younger. Sadly for Seattle fans, that’s about it for statistical advantages, though Little is the better defender. McCarville, however, is on a perfect team for her talents. She will make open shots, play with intelligence and is happy (apparently) to be part of a very good team. Little hasn’t been able to do much against Minnesota so far this season, and that’s unlikely to change in postseason, so once again, advantage Minnesota.
Let’s put it this way: Monica Wright would probably start for Seattle, moving Tanisha Wright to small forward, and Devereaux Peters would get big minutes relieving Tina Thompson. Storm reserves Noelle Quinn and Alysha Clark would barely see the floor for the Lynx – though Quinn can have big games and Clark has worked her way into a WNBA career. Again, advantage Minnesota.
Brian Agler and Cheryl Reeve are two of the quality coaches in the WNBA, and in this matchup, look for Agler to be the more imaginative. Reeve, however, doesn’t have to wave a magic wand to move the Lynx to the conference finals, so it may appear that Agler is doing more. Reeve, though, just needs to stay out of the way and let talent determine the outcome. Even.
Though Minnesota is obviously the heavy favorite, don’t be surprised if Seattle bangs its way to one win with hard work and physicality. Also, even though Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson haven’t played, the Storm have had good health during the season, and have settled into their roles. Still, the Lynx would have to work at it to lose this series, but expect a loss before Minnesota wins in three.