All the other elements that add up to make this an intriguing Finals series:
Statistically, Indiana were still a pretty pedestrian team this season. Not quite on the level of Seattle or Washington, but getting there. However, they don’t feel like the plodding Fever team of old any more. Moving Catchings to power forward has made them more dynamic at both ends of the floor, adding an extra shooter who can handle the ball to their offense. Their defense is so active that it feels like they’re forcing the pace of the game even when they don’t have the ball, and it’ll be crucial for them to create some easy points off turnovers in this series.
But Minnesota typically play at a faster pace, leaking out for transition chances and taking shots earlier in halfcourt sets. While Indiana were comfortable running with Atlanta and Connecticut in previous rounds, if games in the Finals turn into end-to-end shootouts it’ll likely favour the Lynx. Minnesota’s real problems in the postseason came against Seattle, when the Storm forced them into low-scoring, halfcourt games without much penetration. Indiana have been one of the better teams this year at preventing fastbreak points from being scored against them – only narrowly behind Seattle in that category, in fact – while Minnesota led the league in fastbreak scoring. Indiana need to take care of the ball and work back hard in transition when necessary, both of which they’ve been solid at all year long.
As the above paragraphs suggested, this is all part of the same issue. Avoid giving the ball away, you keep the opposition’s transition chances to a minimum. That forces them into halfcourt sets, where it’s always more difficult to score, however talented you may be. Both these teams have done well in terms of avoiding turnovers over the course of the season, although Minnesota have had outings where they’ve been painfully sloppy with the ball. Continue reading
As with the Conference Finals, it’s hard to know quite what we’re going to get from the reserves on either of these teams. Firstly with Indiana, we don’t know exactly who they’ll have coming off their bench. If Douglas is out, either Shavonte Zellous or Jeanette Pohlen will likely slide into the starting lineup, and try to fill the hole. Either way, the depth of their bench would naturally be shortened. For the Lynx, the questions come from not knowing who might show up ready to produce, or who Cheryl Reeve will trust to play.
The Fever were one of the deeper teams in the WNBA in the regular season, especially early in the year. It seemed like Lin Dunn had a variety of options, each a little different, and could roll with whichever ones worked on any given night. That’s changed a little as the season’s gone on, and especially into the playoffs. Dunn’s shortened her rotation significantly, and sliding Erlana Larkins into the starting lineup has removed her energy and hustle as an extra boost from the sidelines. In the post Dunn now has Jessica Davenport, Tammy Sutton-Brown and Sasha Goodlett, but has typically only been using one of them in recent games. First it was Sutton-Brown, but it’ll likely be Davenport to begin with in the Finals after she showed a little form in the last couple of games against Connecticut. She’s a poor rebounder for someone her size, and her lack of mobility changes how Indiana play defense, but she can sometimes produce a run of positive offensive plays that give the Fever an added dimension. Sutton-Brown’s the veteran, the regular starter until Larkins took her place, and she’d be coming in as a calming influence or to provide some defense. We probably won’t see her on the floor unless Davenport’s a bust. We probably won’t see Goodlett unless someone’s winning by 20 in the fourth quarter. Continue reading
Interestingly enough, we’ve arrived at a Finals without a major low post scoring threat for either team. Minnesota have Rebekkah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who can both finish inside or knock down shots from mid-range, but aren’t exactly players you toss the ball to down low and watch go to work. Indiana have Tamika Catchings, who’s still more of a perimeter player offensively, and now Erlana Larkins likely to start at center. Larkins only became a starter in Game 2 of the Atlanta series, with Fever head coach Lin Dunn searching for someone who could give her team energy inside and rebounding effort. Larkins does exactly that, despite being undersized, and her efforts against the bigger names of Atlanta and Connecticut have played a big role in taking Indiana this far. The Fever started to use her as an offensive option a little more down low in the Connecticut series, making Tina Charles work at both ends of the floor, but Larkins still isn’t high on their list of offensive options. These posts are out there for a lot more than their interior scoring.
Brunson and McWilliams-Franklin are the base of the Minnesota defense. They’re the interior core that makes it hard for the opposition to score against the Lynx inside, both mobile and smart enough to be in the right places against their assigned matchups and to help against penetration. McWilliams-Franklin is the wily veteran who does nothing faster than it needs to be done. You notice her most when she’s off the floor, and gaps that weren’t there before seem to appear far more readily in the Lynx defense. Brunson is the athlete, a voracious rebounder who rises up for boards or chases down balls that seemed like a lost cause. She can also get out in transition alongside the guards, and has a mid-range jumper that she regularly knocks down. Augustus and Moore draw so much attention that it’s often Brunson left in space, and she’s more than willing to make teams pay. Continue reading
Where better to start our multi-part preview of the 2012 WNBA Finals clash between the Minnesota Lynx and Indiana Fever than with the most apparent mismatch? The Lynx start three Olympians on their perimeter – two wings who finished in the top-five in MVP voting this season, and either the best or second-best point guard in the world, depending on who you ask. Indiana have a point guard who struggled through much of the Eastern Conference Finals, a recently promoted Aussie combo-guard who didn’t even make her country’s Olympic team (ludicrous as that was), and a serious injury doubt over their best perimeter scorer. On paper, this is where Indiana lose this series.
Much of what Minnesota do revolves around their outstanding trio of perimeter starters. Lindsay Whalen runs the team with a steady hand, willing to quietly facilitate while the talent around her piles up points, but always capable of using her strength and physicality to bully her way to the rim. Even her shooting from outside has become a lot more accurate in recent years as she’s become more choosy about which shots to take. Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore are the top scorers and leading lights for the Lynx. Both can shoot with outstanding accuracy from outside, both can finish or pass on the break, and both scare the bejesus out of opposition teams when they show signs of getting hot.
Moore has the slightly more rounded package in that she’ll typically grab more rebounds and is more likely to pick up assists, but Augustus is a slightly more natural scorer and has developed into a solid perimeter defender, which makes her valuable at both ends of the floor. The Lynx will switch when necessary defensively, but it’s Augustus who’ll start on whichever perimeter player the Lynx are most worried about. Against Seattle it was Sue Bird, against LA it was Kristi Toliver – with Indiana, she might take Katie Douglas (if Douglas plays), but Brian January is also a possibility. Augustus is quick enough to stay in front of January but Augustus’s size and length could cut out passing lanes and make it more difficult for January to drive into the paint. Continue reading