Minnesota is now above .500 for the first time this season.
Six weeks ago the Phoenix Mercury ruined Minnesota’s home opener with a game-winning, buzzer-beating shot from Diana Taurasi. That loss kicked off a four game losing streak to begin the season. Wednesday night in Arizona the Lynx looked like an entirely different team and evened the score with a revenge victory over the Mercury.
The evening started with Phoenix center Brittney Griner literally hitting every single shot she took. Combining midrange jumpers with post-up buckets, Griner shot a perfect 10-10 from the field on her way to 21 first half points. Sylvia Fowles scrambled around the court to provide her usual sterling brand of help defense, only to leave Griner wide open for clean looks at the rim. Mercifully for Minnesota, she was the only one consistently scoring the ball. The rest of Griner’s teammates were a paltry 8-27 from the field in the first half.
Meanwhile the Lynx countered by using their size advantage and bludgeoned the Mercury in the lane. Despite going up against the 6’8” Griner, Minnesota was able to pull her away from the rim and repeatedly score in the restricted area. This was due to players like Damiris Dantas and Napheesa Collier being guarded by much smaller Mercury defenders as well as the Lynx snagging 12 offensive rebounds in the game. By the end of the night the Lynx had scored 48 points in the paint.
Minnesota put the clamps down in the second half, making everything tougher for Phoenix. Fowles started playing Griner to shoot the ball and did a better job contesting her jump shots. With their red-hot center suddenly bottled up, the Mercury needed another player to step up and shoulder the scoring load. Nobody did. Taurasi was not effective and only had 10 points on 2-14 shooting. Skylar Diggins-Smith fared only slightly better adding 16 points on 14 shots. No other Phoenix player scored more than five points.
It’s very difficult to get anything going on offense when you’re held to exactly one shot per possession for the entire game. The Lynx won this game due to their work on the glass. They dominated the rebounding battle 39-22. Despite being fourth in the WNBA in rebounding percentage Minnesota has had some disappointing efforts in that aspect of the game thus far this season. That was not the case in this game as the Lynx put forth an entire team effort. Even the guard trio of Layshia Clarendon, Kayla McBride and Crystal Dangerfield combined to pull down ten rebounds.
“I thought we were getting it from all positions where we were seeking the ball”, Cheryl Reeve said postgame. “We just felt like if you give Phoenix multiple shots at it, they’re going to score. Any team you play, it’s a possession game. You want to make sure to end their possession. Layshia’s really helping us at that end, being physical and seeking the ball. Syl needs help. Phee needs help in there. A collective effort is what we’re happy with.”
In addition to snatching down boards and scoring at will in the paint, the Lynx were carried by a season high 26 point outing from McBride. Living up to her “McBuckets” nickname, Kayla hit five threes and notched 16 of those points in the second half. At one point in the third quarter she had 11 straight for the Lynx to boost their modest lead into something more substantial. This type performance from McBride has unfortunately been too few and far between. Minnesota’s offense is truly unlocked when she’s making it rain from deep. It’s a welcome sight indeed, but her team needs this kind of night to be closer to the rule, not the exception.
With three straight wins under their belts the Lynx have to be feeling better about their season. They’re getting consistent defensive effort and finding ways to play to their advantages on offense. The Fowles/Collier/Dantas starting front court is a lot for most opponents to deal with and the mismatches they create is bearing fruit. On Saturday these two teams will tip off against each other again. Can the Lynx continue their winning ways, or will the Mercury strike back and regain some of that opening night magic?
After waiving Rachel Banham on Tuesday Minnesota only suited up eight players in Phoenix. Having well-managed depth is always important, but in the WNBA where teams routinely only carry 11 players on roster, these are the stretches where it matters most.
Dangerfield had another tough night. Despite the relatively quiet night from Diggins-Smith, last year’s Rookie of the Year was outclassed by Skylar. It’s a bad matchup for Dangerfield and Diggins-Smith is one of the premier point guards in the league, but yet another reminder how far Crystal has to go.
Bria Hartley can’t return to the Mercury soon enough. They’re alarmingly bereft of perimeter creation. In a game like this when Taurasi doesn’t have it going Phoenix needs her additional scoring punch to keep them afloat.
A rematch! The Lynx will chill in Arizona for the next few days and then face the Mercury again on Saturday night. Tip off is set for 9pm CT and can be seen on Facebook.
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