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But if the Lynx boast no stars on the level of a Cooper, Swoopes, or Griffith, they also carry no dead wood: Of the nine players who regularly hit the floor, all can shoot and are expected to do so in a system, Edwards says, that "gives everybody a chance to shine."
Theoretically, that fluid system is also a tactical advantage. "We don't have a set offense we run," Lloyd-Curry explains. "We don't say, 'The ball goes here and somebody cuts there, and then this happens.' Mostly we just read what the defense does: We get the ball, we look where people are, and we make it up as we go along. It's very difficult to defend against. But you have to have all five people working together. If you don't, it can look really bad." She snorts: "Really bad."
When the Lynx are clicking, their play is as beautiful as any alley-oop: At one point in the Utah game, the passing was so smart and precise, into the lane and out and in again, that the crowd applauded even though the shot failed. But when they aren't clicking... In the locker room after the Houston loss, starting guard Sonja Tate held her head in her hands. "We know we can beat this team," she said huskily. "That's why it's so frustrating, because I feel as though we beat ourselves. There was a lot of mental breakdowns. When you have half the people on the floor running one play, and the other half running another, you're not gonna get real good execution." Tate winced. "I'm just kind of devastated. I'm trying to think about what I could have done different."
What happens when team play dissolves is a kind of desperate atomization--players running down the court and throwing the ball up like so many Latrell Sprewells. And too many shots go clank (against Sacramento, the team's shooting percentage was .368). Playing as individuals, the Lynx hardly fool anyone.
Players tend to blame themselves for such breakdowns, rather than an opposing defense--or the strategic setup that requires such all-for-one cooperation. "Brian is a great leader," Lloyd-Curry says of the coach who drew her out of retirement. "He knows how to give us all the tools to make it happen. It's up to us whether we have the desire."
The desire, yes, but also the discipline to trust other players--and plays. Once, I saw forward Brandy Reed beat her defenders, catch a full-court pass and lay it in; twice, I've seen her hesitate, look behind her, and miss the same pass.
Actually, Reed is a perfect example of a habitually individualistic player who looks to be visibly benefitting from Agler's emphasis on teamwork. At 22 the youngest player to start a Lynx game, Reed is a crowd favorite: Like this year's number one WNBA draft choice, Washington's Chamique Holdsclaw, she runs on the dribble better than most of us walk, and her fakes are so real she is almost beyond fake. She hasn't shown the steady offensive excellence of Holdsclaw, and her defense has never been stalwart--which is probably why she was left unprotected by the Phoenix Mercury in this year's expansion draft.
"Brandy's always been a great one-on-one player," Lloyd-Curry observes, "but I think when she allows the other four people on the court to create things for her and creates things for them as well, she's gonna just thrive. She still has a lot of room for improvement, which she probably thinks is not good--I think it's good!" Lloyd-Curry crows. "I mean, God, what would you do to have that jumping ability! But I don't think she's ever been able to put it all together and play on a real team."
Back in the preseason, Reed admitted that she doesn't care for practice. "I just like to play," she said with a playful grin. Then she sobered up. "I need to learn how to use practice as a tool to help me get better. I have a lot of athleticism, but I have a lot of mental things that I need to learn about the game. I don't want to be limited."
Playing in a league like the NBA, Reed probably would have bumped around between teams, getting by on the occasional brilliant shot, never really improving. Playing for the Lynx--well, it'll be interesting to watch what unfolds. Will the system win, or will Reed refuse to bend? Maybe the team will reach some magic compromise between brassy talent and anonymous collaboration--something like what happened in L.A. last week, when Reed bagged 28 points to push the Lynx to their first road win.
These are the dramas of the women's game. At least in our town, for the present. As another male friend commented, the main excitement of women's basketball right now is that it is developing so fast. Today teamwork rules. Today you have female fans yelling, "It's okay!" to the defeated Lynx, like so many understanding moms. Tomorrow? As Lloyd-Curry puts it: "We make it up as we go."
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