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Lynx use strong three-point shooting for quick start to WNBA season

At the start of the third quarter in Sunday's game at Atlanta — the Lynx's second game in two nights and their third in four — here is the offensive sequence that pushed the Lynx's four-point halftime lead to 17:

Alanna Smith hit a three-pointer off a Bridget Carleton pass;

Napheesa Collier hit a three from Courtney Williams;

Williams drove for consecutive midrange jumpers;

Collier hit another three, this time from Kayla McBride;

McBride hit consecutive threes, both coming from Collier.

It was a 19-6 run that turned a close game into a 70-53 lead and gave the Lynx an edge in the eventual 92-79 victory. Of those 19, 15 came on five three-pointers, all off assists and generated by three players.

It is a sequence of just under 3½ minutes that shows how differently the Lynx (4-1) are playing this year heading into Wednesday's showdown with defending champion Las Vegas (3-1) at Target Center.

"It's personnel-driven," said McBride, who made her first nine shots, her first six threes and all five of her free throws while scoring 31 points Sunday. "The people we brought in are locked and loaded. They can stretch the floor."

The Lynx enter Wednesday's game leading the league in three-point shooting percentage (.386), third in threes made (10.2) and fifth in threes attempted (26.4) per game. No previous Cheryl Reeve-coached team has ever averaged more than 6.8 made and 21.5 attempted.

A lot of that is because of the roster Reeve had during the Lynx's title years, filled with potent midrange shooters such as Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus. The last two titles were won with Sylvia Fowles, a dominant, traditional center.

Basketball, of course, has changed as well, with more teams spreading the floor and taking more threes.

McBride is largely right. Much of what Reeve and the Lynx did during the offense was driven by a desire to defend better, both at the perimeter and at the rim. But, by trading for Natisha Hiedeman and signing both Smith and Williams, the Lynx also got more players that can stretch the floor. It's a rather long list that includes McBride, Carleton, Collier, Smith, Hiedeman and Cecilia Zandalasini.

But there's more. Even with the new faces, this team has jelled quickly and played unselfishly. The Lynx lead the league in assists per game (24.4).

In Saturday's 84-67 victory over New York, the Lynx got assists on 26 of 32 shots, made 14 of 28 three-pointers, getting two or more from Carleton, Zandalasini, McBride and Smith. On Sunday against Atlanta, they got 23 assists on 31 makes, made 13 of 29 threes, getting multiple threes from McBride, Smith, Collier and Carleton.

The Lynx never had multiple threes from four players in a game in 2023.

"This might be the best team I've had in the last four or five years at moving, sharing, making the extra pass quicker," Reeve said. "Their selflessness has been really good."

No Reeve-coached Lynx team has finished higher than sixth in the WNBA in threes attempted per game or higher than fifth in threes made. That was in the bubble season of 2020 when, with Fowles injured, the Lynx took 21.5 and made 8.3 per game, shooting 38.5%.

Opponents, of course, are going to adjust. Smith, who has made 11 of 17 threes so far, isn't going to continue to be left alone outside. McBride is probably not going to continue to shoot better than 51% on threes. Smith will get more closeouts, McBride even more attention.

But the team's willingness to share the ball and hit the open player should serve it well.

"When we went on our run in Atlanta, we were spreading it out," McBride said. "It wasn't one person doing it. It was a little bit of everybody. It's been a lot of fun."