Lynx relying on role players as they find their way

Lexie Brown weighs her options during game play. NBAE/Getty Images photo.
Lexie Brown weighs her options during game play. NBAE/Getty Images photo.

The Minnesota Lynx have their headliners, who also double as All-Stars.

But what happens when Sylvia Fowles is swarmed by a double-team in the post, or when Odyssey Sims falls victim to a cold shooting night? Who then?

“For us to win games, everybody’s going to have to come in and do their job, one through nine that are playing right now,” guard Danielle Robinson said. “That’s just what it’s about. We practice this stuff. It’s not like anybody that came into the game didn’t know what they were going to do.”

The Lynx have leaned on Robinson’s steady scoring, flexibility from super-rookie Napheesa Collier to play a myriad of positions on the floor, as well as other great performances. And last week, one of those came from second-year guard Lexie Brown.

Brown scored 20 points against the Seattle Storm, her first double-digit effort in over a month. It quite nearly flipped a 21-point deficit into a comeback for the ages, and despite the ultimate loss, Brown was glad to make a meaningful contribution. One week later she did it again, coming off the bench for a team-high 19 points in their loss to the Washington Mystics to go into the All-Star break.

Coach Cheryl Reeve said the play of both Robinson and Brown has helped steer a team that came into the season without four of their starters.

“I think each of them have been playing their role, which is why we’ve been fairly successful to this point,” Reeve said. “We haven’t gotten a lot from our bench in recent games, so it was nice to see Lexie elevate and give us some production.”

Brown said Reeve has encouraged her to step up.

“I found myself turning down a lot of shots the last couple games,” Brown said after the Seattle game. “Coach just kept telling me, when I turn down shots, it hurts the team. I’ve been in the gym a lot the last couple of days. I’ve been shooting the ball really well in practice. I think that I just finally found a rhythm.”

To see Brown do what she’s meant to do, which is bring energy off the bench, was a welcome sight for Reeve, as well.

“That’s the silver lining in (the loss) – Lexie kind of broke out of maybe how she was feeling,” Reeve said. “She’s done a good job staying with it mentally and gave us a chance.”

Brown had been waiting in the wings throughout a lackluster rookie campaign with the Connecticut Sun. But ever since joining the Minnesota rotation this season following a draft-night trade, she’s been determined to get the most out of it.

“It was kind of like an elephant in the room,” she said of her recent mini slump. “(Coach was) just telling me to keep shooting, keep shooting.”

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and Danielle Robinson talk before a game. Chris Poss photo.
Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and Danielle Robinson talk before a game. Chris Poss photo.

The obligations don’t just fall on Brown, of course. Stephanie Talbot has been tasked with a larger role within the starting rotation, Asia Taylor has added post depth off the bench and Temi Fagbenle is feeling out her place on the team after her return from EuroBasket.

And no matter which five are on the court, Reeve has seen a determination about the bunch.

“They’ve had belief from the get-go,” she said. “There has not been a second thought about, ‘OK, certain players aren’t here.’ The ones that are here had a hunger about them. And two, this group plays really, really hard.”

It’s added up to an 10-10 record just past the midway point of the season, fitting the Lynx firmly in the heat of a crowded playoff race.

And this deep into their future, the storyline surrounding the team is no longer following who’s not there. Those who are present, from Fowles to Brown and everyone in between, are determined to blaze a new trail.

“They’re far more skilled, those great players, but this group plays so hard,” Reeve said. “So those two things: that they do believe in themselves – they do believe that we should win – and they play really hard. That’s been a good combination.”