It was late in the desert in Arizona Saturday night. The Lynx had just finished a back-to-back, two-game sweep of the Phoenix Mercury with a 99-68 victory, one of Minnesota’s biggest road victories, ever.
Kayla McBride got in front of the camera to talk about her game. And in the time it takes her to catch a pass and shoot McBride turned it into a personal moment of reflection.
“I’m going to try not to be emotional,” said McBride, already battling tears. “Being here has been a blessing for me.”
Here is with the Lynx. Signed as a free agent during the off-season, McBride came to the Lynx from Las Vegas. And while nobody has said anything negative about her years with that franchise, you get the feeling listening to McBride the environment she has joined coming to Minnesota has been rejuvenating.
McBride had just finished off perhaps the best two-game stretch of her career. And not just the scoring –- she had 50 points on 18-for-26 shooting, making nine of 13 three-pointers in the two games. McBride scored at one end, shutdown Phoenix star Diana Taurasi at the other.
In two losses to the Lynx, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer made just four of 23 shots, including 2-for-12 shooting on three-pointers; Taurasi had as many threes made in the two games as she had technical fouls.
When she signed McBride, Reeve didn’t really know she was getting a go-to perimeter defender. “We didn’t have that on the roster last year,” Reeve said. “I didn’t know we’d be able to count on her in that way.”
But that’s kind of the point.
Always a shooter, McBride’s role with Las Vegas shifted as the Aces added A’ja Wilson, and then Liz Cambage. The Aces became an inside-out team. Maybe McBride became pigeonholed as only a spot up shooter. Perhaps that role got a little claustrophobic, a bit constricting.
But what McBride has found with the Lynx is, well, a blessing. To both sides.
The Lynx coaching staff – particularly assistant coach Katie Smith – has worked hard with McBride from the moment she joined the team just a few days after he season in Europe ended. The Lynx want her to shoot, yes. But they want her to set up teammates, drive when run off the three-point line, get into the lane, score in many ways.
McBride alluded to this after Saturday’s game, talking about how hard it can be coming to a new team. “After last year, people started saying maybe I wasn’t this, maybe I wasn’t that,” she said. “I wasn’t performing to my potential. Whatever it might be. To go into free agency, and have an organization like this really believe in you, and have your back, through ups and downs, it just feels good.”
There have been both. McBride’s first practice with her new teammates was in the morning shootaround prior to opening night. Since then McBride has had good nights and difficult ones. She scored in double figures in six of her first eight games, but then just twice in the next seven.
But the Lynx kept working with McBride and believing in her. “I’m being coached all the time, good times, bad times,” she said. “I keep grinding. Nights like these you understand why you have to go through the journey and why you don’t give up. I know exactly where I need to be.”
In Saturday’s victory McBride scored 21 points in the first half as the Lynx built an 18-point halftime lead. That included scoring 14 of Minnesota’s 37 points in the second quarter.
In a much closer 82-76 victory over the Mercury Wednesday, McBride scored 19 of her 26 points in the second and third quarters, during which the Lynx out-scored Phoenix 48-36.
Reeve, of course, wants more. Two good games? Great. Keep it going. Let’s have more ups, fewer downs.
But here’s the thing: McBride feels she’s on a team that does expect more, and believes she can bring it. More than once Saturday McBride talked about how much coaching she was getting. To start the third quarter Saturday McBride missed three straight shots. Reeve pulled her aside. No stern words. Just: Relax. McBride hit her next shot.
“I’m thankful to be with them,” McBride said of the Lynx. “Whether the ball goes in or doesn’t, I’m being coached. It’s an amazing feeling. Sorry I’m getting emotional. It means so much more to me than makes and misses. Just being able to be myself.”