This weekend’s pair of “home and home” games between the Lynx and Mercury were supposed take on a playoff series-type of feel. Instead, due to an injury to Brittney Griner and rest for Diana Taurasi, the Mercury brought a very different team to Minnesota for Sunday’s game than the squad the Lynx beat on Friday in Phoenix.
Phoenix’s MVP candidate Griner suffered a left knee bone bruise and right ankle sprain on Friday night. She’ll be out three to four weeks. 2017 All Star starter and WNBA all-time leading scorer Taurasi stayed home in Arizona as a tactical resting measure due to the Mercury wrapping up a stretch of five games in ten days. Their absences left Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello with 10 players on her roster. None of whom were a member of last year’s team.
Somehow, with their two best players inactive, Phoenix was able to play as well as they had all weekend in the first half of Sunday’s matchup. The Mercury were fantastic on defense in that half controlling the boards and mucking things up in the lane for Sylvia Fowles. Minnesota seemed to be caught off guard as they were forced into lots of contested perimeter jump shots instead of playing the reliable inside-out offense that has powered them all season. Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve recalled what troubled Minnesota in the first half.
“Phoenix is a good defensive team, they’re physical, they protect the paint well. Obviously coming off the game where we played out there we knew each other’s plays very well. They were effective in limiting Syl’s touches, made it hard for her. We got really stagnant trying to throw it into her, we needed to do a better job playing around her.” Reeve said.
After shooting 34% from the field, only hitting 10 shots and being down 42-38 after one half, the Lynx came out of halftime a totally different team. Minnesota cranked up their defensive intensity, forcing five turnovers and also racking up countless deflections in the quarter. They started the third with a 9-2 run and closed with a masterful 18-2 advantage to end the frame. Those points were spurred on by a renewed commitment to defense according to Maya Moore.
“Just being more focused on helping each other and being aware of the players who are trying to get hot. Playing off of our defense, and getting stops in a row allows us to go on those runs.” Moore said after the game.
It was a balanced offensive effort as six Minnesota players scored at least nine points. On a night where their starters struggled to shoot the ball, the Lynx received a huge scoring contribution from their bench. Reserves Renee Montgomery, Jia Perkins and Plenette Pierson combined for 33 points off the bench, which is a season high mark. Perkins and Pierson were especially potent off the bench hitting a combined 3-7 three point shots, totaling over half of the team’s made threes.
With or without their all star players, Phoenix can’t seem to figure out how to beat Minnesota. The Lynx have now won 12 straight games against the Mercury dating back to 2015. These two teams have consistently been at the top of the western conference for the last five years and seem to match up against each other in the conference finals or semi finals annually. The one-sided nature of their head to head win/loss record is hard to ignore. The rivalry is dead.
Mercury guard Yvonne Turner had a career high 18 points. Her long-range shooting was huge off the bench for Phoenix.
Minnesota is now 3-0 against Phoenix this season which means they win the regular season series. The Lynx also have won the regular season series against three of the four teams directly beneath them in the standings (CON, PHX, WAS).
10,022 people attended Sunday’s game at Xcel Energy Center. That’s the highest attendance number of the season for the Lynx.
Former Lynx and Gophers center Janel McCarville sat court side wearing a University of Minnesota Lindsay Whalen jersey. Many players greeted her on the court after the game.
Wednesday afternoon against the Dallas Wings. It’s the Lynx first and only home noon tip off this season.