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Stifling Defense Helps Lynx Cruise to Victory

A nationally televised matchup (ESPN2) between two foes ended exactly how the hometown fans wanted. Defense was the key.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- Phoenix dealt Minnesota its first loss of the season less than two weeks ago at US Airways Center. The Lynx were dominated 81-66, led by DeWanna Bonner's game-high 22 points. Tonight, the Lynx avenged that loss by defeating the Mercury at Target Center, 71-56.

The Lynx stifling defense proved too much for the Mercury to handle. At halftime, Phoenix was shooting 24 percent from the floor. As they swung the ball along the perimeter throughout the night, it seemed like the Lynx were deflecting just about every pass that wasn't a post entry feed to Britney Griner.

By the end of the game they increased that number to 33.3 percent, but that's almost never going to get the job done.

"I read your articles that were written," Cheryl Reeve jokingly opened the postgame press conference with. "One of the writers said, 'the Lynx better find their defense like now,' and we did. I thought we had a great defensive effort." Later, Reeve said, "I thought that was the best game we've played this season from a defensive standpoint."

Hard to argue with that assessment. Phoenix turned the ball over 20 times on the night and rarely could make a string of passes to rotate the defense enough to find open looks. What's even more impressive is the rarity in which the Mercury have games like tonight. Entering the game, Phoenix was averaging 12.57 turnovers per game, the second fewest in the WNBA.

Devereaux Peters played 22 minutes off the bench and had a huge effect on the team's defense. She blocked four shots on the night, and nine in the last two games, and it became obvious that her play on the defensive end inspired the team. Entering the night, she was repping a defensive rating of 87 through 102 minutes of play.

Only Reshanda Gray (86) had a better DRtg on the Lynx, but logged only 21 minutes in 6 games, making Peters' number that much more inspiring. "She's a very smart defender, a very timely defender," Reeve said. "For Dev, it's just a continuation of what she's done for us this season."

Offensively, Maya Moore brought her three-ball to the party tonight, finishing four of five from deep. She scored a team-high 21 points and added six assists and five rebounds in 35 minutes. She was all over the court, basically doing whatever she could to win the game.

"You can't hold Maya down," Reeve said. "Maya's human and so some of the stuff that she's had to hear over the last few weeks kind of gets old. I just thought Maya had a way about her today that kind of said that she's kind of sick of hearing the other stuff... like, what's wrong? She was really engaged defensively, flew around and got deflections, she had five steals, obviously made a couple three's."

"I was really proud of her for hanging in there," Reeve concluded.

Lindsay Whalen added 21 points in 33 minutes. She was her usual self offensively, finishing 8-13 from the field and controlling the tempo, which seemed to be higher than usual. The Lynx pushed the ball in transition all night long, consistently putting the pressure on Phoenix early in the clock. Staying away from a halfcourt game, given Griner's unbelievable ability to protect the rim, was the right move.

Rebekkah Brunson, also known as "The Machine," played Griner physically all night. Simply put, she made it tough on Griner, she didn't back down from the challenge, and finished with her usual double-double, 14 points and 13 rebounds.

DeWanna Bonner gave the Lynx all sorts of problems once again, leading the Mercury with 18 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. She seems to give the Lynx a headache every time they play -- she's very long and causes difficult shots for Moore. But tonight Moore was too good to be contained, even as Griner, the 2014 WNBA Defensive Player of the year, returned to the court for the first time this season after missing the first seven games of the season due to a suspension issued by the WNBA.