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Lynx disappoint down the stretch in loss to Liberty

In a battle of the two best teams in the WNBA, the shorthanded Lynx failed to execute down the stretch in a frustrating loss to the New York Liberty.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Lynx had every opportunity to win this game. They were within one possession of the lead for the last two minutes of the game, they got stops on defense, but just could not find a way to close the gap. The offense became stagnant, and several sloppy turnovers eventually spelled the end as they lost 75-71 to the New York Liberty.

This game was not a late-season clash without meaning. The winner of the game would clinch the #1 seed in their conference, as well as clinching a decisive edge in the tiebreaker between the two for the #1 overall seed. The Liberty (22-9) now hold a 1.5 game lead over the Lynx (21-11), and by virtue of sweeping the two games between the teams this season, hold the tiebreaker.

The first half was the Maya Moore show. Listed as probable going into the game after suffering a nose injury in Friday's win over Indiana, she wasted no time getting into the flow of the offense, and was the Lynx's entire offense. By her first break near the end of the first quarter, she had 12 points, and seemed to be hitting every shot she took.

The downside, of course, is that scoring was lacking from the rest of the lineup. Sylvia Fowles and Renee Montgomery started to make some noise during the second quarter, but Moore led all scorers with 16 going into halftime, at which point the Lynx led by four. However, New York's two offensive threats were both off and running, as both Tina Charles and Epiphanny Prince had 11 points at the half.

As the third quarter hit, everything went wrong. These two teams entered as the two best defending teams in the league (by defensive rating), and while New York looked the part, the Lynx fell apart after halftime. "We didn't guard a single thing in the third quarter," coach Cheryl Reeve said after the game. From the start of halftime to 3:49 in the third, the Lynx were outscored 22-8. A run at the end of the third closed the gap to four points, but the damage was done.

In the fourth, the Lynx were often within one possession, but could never tie or take the lead. They were never out of the game, but at the same time, they were never all the way back in. The last few possessions ended in sloppy turnovers or heavily guarded shots, mostly by Moore.

The score was 73-71 Liberty at 2:36 in the fourth. The Lynx's offensive possessions for the rest of the game: turnover, turnover, missed layup, turnover, turnover. In five possessions, they registered one shot. They got stops all but once (with twelve seconds left), but they could not even find a shot.

The Lynx are obviously not at full strength. Would the offense at the end have been as turnover-happy with Lindsay Whalen at the helm? Unlikely. Would another scoring threat from Seimone Augustus have helped the burden on Moore, Fowles and Montgomery? Absolutely. But the reality is, the Lynx need to have a full lineup to compete against the rest of the best teams in the WNBA, and they're running out of time to get healthy.

Other Notes:

  • Tina Charles was an absolute monster in this game for the Liberty. Charles finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks, two of which came on the same possession against Fowles. Fowles ended up with a decent night herself (19 points and 9 rebounds) but Charles was a nightmare matchup.
  • The Lynx starters are going to be sore tomorrow. Of 200 possible minutes, the Lynx starters played 179, almost 90%. The total stats between Tricia Liston and Devereaux Peters, the only two bench players: 21 minutes, 3 points, 1-5 from the field (1-1 from 3), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block.
  • While the rebounding numbers at game's end were close (31-28 advantage for the Liberty), the Liberty bossed the boards for most of the game, especially during periods when Fowles sat. The Liberty had ten offensive rebounds (five from Charles) and nine second chance points.
  • The playoff picture is still relatively settled for Minnesota. A win in either of their last two games against Seattle or a loss in either of Phoenix's final two games will wrap up the #1 seed in the Western Conference. They likely face a tricky first round matchup against the Los Angeles Sparks and the white-hot Candace Parker.
  • The Lynx's final home game of the regular season is on Tuesday evening at 7:00pm at Target Center. The crowd was incredible for this game. I was floored by how loud it was whenever the Lynx went on a run. If you haven't been, take advantage of the opportunity to see this team.