Lynx top-notch at both ends of court

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Lynx had the WNBA's best record this season and are two victories away from the league championship, so you can assume they haven't had a lot of low moments in 2013.

But there actually was a stretch in August when Minnesota lost four of five games, and coach Cheryl Reeve wondered how her squad's mojo had slipped away. The fourth of those losses was at Atlanta, the team the Lynx are facing now in the WNBA Finals.

"If you look at those four losses, our defensive numbers were the worst since when I first took over in 2010," Reeve said. "It gave me the recognition that I wasn't spending enough time on it. In shootarounds, I was spending a lot of time on offense and probably neglecting defense, because I just assumed we were in good shape there.

"So that was a light bulb for me: I'm not emphasizing it enough. Because it's not what you teach, it's what you emphasize. So the emphasis returned. Our shootarounds now go 90 percent defense, 10 percent offense."

And yet in games, the Lynx are anything but 10 percent offense. They've scored 80 or more points in eight of their 14 games since that Aug. 20 loss in Atlanta. That includes their 84-59 victory Sunday over the Dream in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.

Their only loss in that stretch was a one-point defeat in Los Angeles in a September game that was meaningless.

Thus, here you have the essence of the Lynx these past three seasons, each of which has resulted in a trip to the league finals. Minnesota is a highly skilled offensive team that can be a blast to watch distribute and score the ball. Yet the Lynx still play defense at a championship level.

"It's a hard thing to do; I know it's been a huge challenge to me," third-year pro Maya Moore said of how she and the Lynx have kept up such high standards at both ends of the court. "Not that I didn't have that mindset in college at Connecticut, but it's been challenging defensively because I'm playing the 3 more than I ever did. Making that adjustment from guarding 4's in college to guarding some of the best athletes in the world at the [small forward] position.

"Seimone [Augustus] helped me out a lot my rookie year, and even the last two years, by guarding the toughest offensive players on the other team a lot of the time. This year, I've gotten a little bit better. She's helped me to stay lower in my stance, and now I have more experience. It's really gratifying to see it play out in our defensive numbers. You can see how locked in we are, the communication."

Moore said that even late in the season, when the Lynx had back-to-back games in Seattle, they were still in practice "really, really getting after it on defense. This might be a time when you might be resting, because we already knew we had the No. 1 seed. But working on defense like that is just a part of us."

That is not the case for all teams with offensive players of this caliber. Not now, nor through the history of the WNBA, even with teams that have won the league championship. Some of them have been noticeably stronger at offense or defense. The Lynx's aptitude at both -- when Minnesota is at its best -- really has made this group stand out.

Augustus has averaged 18.7 points in her seven years in the WNBA. Moore has averaged 16.0 in her three seasons. Lindsay Whalen, who has averaged 12.3 points in 10 seasons, is also one of the best point guards to have played in the WNBA, with 1,722 career assists (a 5.2 average).

These are not just "good" offensive players; they are Olympians who are some of the best you're going to see. But they all have fully committed to being reliable defenders.

"It's not something every player wants to do," Moore said. "But I think it comes down to having a really competitive nature. We don't want to be known only for one thing; we want to max out our potential. I think it's easier to do that because we love our team."

Meanwhile, their coach, who is more known for her defensive mindset, has a not-so-hidden secret.

"If you really drill down into me …" Reeve said of her basketball gray matter, "I'll deny this, but …"

Then she started laughing, hesitating to say it out loud, "Because I don't want the players to read it and think something's different."

No, there is absolutely no change in mantra for the Lynx: Defend, defend, defend. But the more nuanced reality is, Reeve actually has grown to love coaching offense, too.

"That was acquired when I got to the WNBA," she said. "I developed a fascination with some NBA stuff, and as I moved through the years in this league. Our offense takes talent and skill. Defense takes heart and determination. You've got to want to do that."

Moore said it's an up-and-down-the-lineup mentality that the Lynx have. Whalen agreed and said, "It's all starts with Coach, and her setting the tone from the start of the season.

"We have a lot of people who take pride in their defense. We know it's the reason we've been good the last three years. I really feel like we have people who all buy in. Rebekkah Brunson sets the tone, Seimone uses her length really well. Maya has gotten a lot better on defense, and I feel like I've improved. And [Monica Wright] is a great defender."