WNBA rewatch: Lynx pull away from Liberty

New York likely loses Brittney Boyd for season to Achilles injury

Maybe Sugar Rodgers likes playing the Lynx. Tina Charles and Brittney Boyd spent a portion of the first half in foul trouble. Rodgers allowed New York to hang around despite a 22–6 Minnesota run out of an early timeout.

Rodgers had 19 at the half and 20 for the game. She really hurt Minnesota from beyond the arc with four threes. Let’s take a look at how she got those looks, and address what the Lynx did with her in the second half.

The Lynx sent a double in the back court midway through the first. They selectively deployed this same pressure in their opener against Chicago. Tina Charles caught on the run and found Rodgers all alone in the ball side corner. If anything, you’d probably want to force a cross court pass to Shavonte Zellous at the opposite wing.

This is great play design for an under out. Rodgers throws it in, then it’s screen the screener from there. That initial screen is for Tina Charles, which will put the defense on high alert. Kia Vaughn then frees up Rodgers. The ball was inbounded to Vaughn. Rodgers’ defender is partially occupied with the Charles action and Vaughn’s defender is busy herself guarding the ball.

Zellous got a back screen from Charles and caught it in the paint. The defense collapsed, and Zellous made the right read to hit Rodgers in the corner.

That’s a big time shot in transition. In hindsight, you’d like to get an arm’s length away from her sooner. Better communication can help cover up the 1st and 3rd threes. That final one is a matter of recognition, and the entire league has now scouted that under out play from the 2nd clip and will expect it when they play the Liberty.

All eyes were on Tina Charles. The Liberty weren’t feeding her much at all on the block. When they did, the Lynx sent a second body at her:

That was almost a bucket the other way. In the second half, Charles backed in once from the elbow to draw Lindsay Whalen over. Charles gave it right back to Brittney Boyd for a floater:

If you want to split hairs, New York should have tried this more. Let Charles back in and drive it from the middle of the floor where the reads are easier and the passing angles are more direct.

You can see a whole bunch of game occurred between those to clips. New York just wasn’t looking to force feed Charles. Coach Bill Laimbeer revealed to Holly Rowe in his between quarter interview that his star has been sick the last couple days.

Charles was setting more ball screens instead, not a bad choice. Her gravity and improved jumper will keep her defender close, giving the ball handler a better chance of finding an angle to attack downhill.

To kick off the second half, Rodgers and Charles ran that pick and roll from the top. The Lynx switched it, then Seimone Augustus comes all the way over to trap. Sylvia Fowles rotates over to cover up Charles on the roll.

Kia Stokes rotates high to give Rodgers a release valve and hits the jumper. Assuming Minnesota wanted to double the ball there, they’ll live with that outcome. Rodgers had no shot at getting off a 3 to continue her hot streak and Charles was accounted for rolling into the paint.

The Liberty could really do some damage with Rodgers-Charles pick and rolls if they can put enough shooting around it. Rebecca Allen logged 9 minutes in her season debut and went 1–2 from long range — she will help their spacing.

Remember Minnesota’s 3–21 3PT shooting in their opener? The team responded to go 9–21 as 7 different players hit one, including Rebekkah Brunson. This is Brunson’s 14th season; she has attempted just 15 threes in her career — does that mean she needs to wait till 2019 to take another one?

Just jokes. Brunson and the Lynx have been putting in work to improve their outside shooting. That paid off Thursday night. The bench shot 5–13 on threes, good enough to make any coach happy. And Maya Moore is still Maya Moore. She pushed the Lynx lead to 14 with this one:

Then she quieted the ensuing 7–0 Liberty run with this one:

Minnesota ended up with a very balanced scoring attack. I mentioned the contributions from the bench. Each starter also finished in double figures. Lindsay Whalen accounted for 8 straight points to spark a 17–2 Lynx 3rd quarter run.

Giving up easy buckets can be just as deflating as a run like that one. Realizing you’ve been sealed off by Sylvia Fowles, then being forced to watch a lob go right over your head has got to be maddening. Forget about sending a double. Fowles did her work so early that she wouldn’t have to think about a second defender entering the picture.

She has already won the minute you step over her that high up the lane line. That gives too much room to drop in a pass, and Fowles can maneuver to finish on either side if a second defender comes across.

Ditto. This becomes even more effective when she’s doing it in semi-transition before your defense gets set.

Inital pick and roll doesn’t go anywhere. Fowles is setting up for that ball reversal as her defender focuses on the ball a tad too long. Perfect pass by Brunson.

All things considered, New York defended this action pretty well. Stokes doesn’t adjust her angle in time to prevent the lob.

In closing, it was tough to see Brittney Boyd go down with that Achilles injury. One of my biggest takeaways from opening weekend was the advantages that she can create with her quickness and burst. Boyd stepped up in the second half as Rodgers cooled, allowing New York to survive that 17–2 Lynx run.

It was Boyd who gave them a lead before that run:

Minutes later she tracked down her own miss, crossed Brunson, and finished a tough reverse:

Then there was what I call a ‘zoom’ handoff with Tina Charles:

That’s a scary action that you won’t always see coming. Any quick guard and a forward with shooting range can get good looks up in transition before the defense sets to see it coming.

We’ll have to wait and see how the Liberty play moving forward without such an important player. Charles and Rodgers will be counted on to create even more. Opponents will make it tougher for them to catch on the move in advantage situations.

The Lynx proved that they are still great on both ends of the floor. Their ability to go on runs is special — they’ll get out and run and they execute their sets to make you pay with what you choose to give them.

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