With only a week remaining in the 2017 WNBA regular season the Minnesota Lynx are trying to finish strong. After a pair of injuries to two of their captains (Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson), they’ve hit a relative rough patch in the season. For most of the summer it seemed that the Lynx would run away with the number one seed going into the playoffs, but due to their injury luck, they’ll need every last win to stay atop the league standings.
The San Antonio Stars have been the worst team in the WNBA all season long. Firmly in the middle of a youth-centric rebuild, they’ve actually underachieved the fairly low expectations placed on them this season. They started the season 0-14 and have gone 7-11 since then. Their uptick in winning has unsurprisingly coincided with head coach Vickie Johnson finally putting number one overall draft pick Kelsey Plum into the starting lineup.
The combination of an inconsistent-of-late Lynx team and an improving Stars squad could have been a recipe for an upset. San Antonio certainly looked determined to make that happen during the first quarter in which they won 23-15. But after that opening ten minutes the Lynx locked in, shored up their defense and outscored the Stars 74-47 in the final three quarters.
Maya Moore played her best two-way game of the season Friday night. She was dialed in on the offensive end, especially in the first half scoring 18 of Minnesota’s first 31 points of the game. Moore kept the team afloat as they struggled through the first quarter and helped them push the lead as the Lynx took control of the game in the second. Scoring from all over the court, Moore torched Stars guard Kayla McBride all evening. There’s nobody in the league better at attacking a close out than Maya Moore. She’s such a threat from beyond the arc that defenders have to close out long to her. She masterfully leverages that to get into the paint and either score at the rim or dump the ball off to an open teammate. Here’s a perfect example from Friday night:
That's 20 PTS for Maya Moore! pic.twitter.com/RgVjcsEBwd— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) August 26, 2017
On defense she’s just as talented but often operates in much more subtle fashion. Her versatility on the defensive end is unparalleled. She can defend bigger players in the paint and successfully manage pick and roll defense on the permitter with equal excellence. Moore showed you the whole package on Friday night.
Minnesota’s bench was wonderful for the second straight game. They scored 27 points and were able to extend leads in this game, exposing the large disparity in quality between these two team’s reserve units. Natasha Howard looked especially good in this game. She was a menace on the glass and on defense. Her athleticism and drive were unmatched my any player the Stars could throw at her. Jia Perkins also played very well off the bench for the Lynx in a return to the arena in which she called home for four years between 2011 and 2015.
The Lynx took care of business Friday night, but they’ll have to continue their winning ways if they want to hold on to the top spot in the WNBA. The Lynx/Sparks matchup in LA on Sunday night will be monumental in deciding the top two seeds for September’s playoffs. If the Lynx win on Sunday, they will essentially clinch the number one seed. If they lose to LA, Minnesota would likely need to go 3-0 in their final three games to finish the season as the best team in the league.
Lynx rookie center Temi Fagbenle has been buried on the bench all season, but received some rare minutes as the game hung in the balance on Friday. She played well on both ends and showed that she can be dependable when called upon.
Sylvia Fowles wore a protective mask in this game. Lynx radio play by play announcer John Focke described the situation as a “protective measure.”
Minnesota heads to Los Angeles for the biggest game of the regular season. You can watch the game on ESPN2.