The Lynx have won a lot of games this season. They’re putting together one of the most dominant seasons in league history. Honestly, many of the wins have melded together in my brain. Some combination of Sylvia Fowles, the top defense in the WNBA, and veteran continuity are the key elements to most Minnesota victories. Thursday’s 69-54 home win against the Atlanta Dream was not like most Minnesota victories. This one will surely go down as one of the most memorable regular season games of the summer.
The Atlanta Dream came into Xcel Energy Center fresh off a major trade deadline deal acquiring Imani Boyette and Tamera Young from the Chicago Sky. Adding size at the rim with Boyette and a “three and D” type player with Young, the move was made with the near term in mind. The Dream are looking to improve their team right now and make the playoffs this season.
Thursday’s game was the second of three games these teams will play against each over the course of 11 days. That fact gives these games against the Dream a playoff feel, with both teams making adjustments and counter schemes. Atlanta fields a team full of athletic, physical defenders. They rank third league-wide in defensive rating (number of points a team allows per 100 possessions), and for three-fourths of the game showed why. Dream head coach Michael Cooper was pleased with his team’s ability to defend Sylvia Fowles for most of the game.
“We did a good job on the whole team, I thought our concepts were good, our schemes were good, (as well as) our pick and roll coverages. The job was to double team (Fowles) and make it very difficult for her to move. But she is such a powerful player. I liken her to a player like Shaquille O’neal, she’s just relentless.” Cooper said after the game.
Fowles admitted after the game that she was frustrated by Atlanta’s defense on her and the rest of her teammates.
“I think we were stagnant. We pretty much got what we wanted when we played them the first time so the second go around you expect for them to know your plays. I don’t think they just took me out of the plays they stopped our guards from getting the ball to pass it in.” Fowles lamented.
After three quarters of basketball it seemed as if Atlanta was on their way to the biggest win of their season. They had successfully forced Minnesota out of their comfort zone. Unable to enter the ball into Sylvia Fowles into the post, the Lynx settled for, and missed, a lot of long jump shots. The final 5:19 of the third quarter featured a 14-4 Dream run that put them up six points going into the final frame. To make matters worse, Lindsay Whalen landed awkwardly on her left hand and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Minnesota’s third loss of the season seemed to be looming large.
What followed was one of the most shocking quarters of professional basketball I’ve ever witnessed.
The Minnesota Lynx outscored the Atlanta Dream 23-2 in the fourth quarter. It was as if everything that preceded this quarter did not happen and two entirely different teams took the court to close out the game. Minnesota resolved its scoring issues by forcing 10 Atlanta turnovers. Most were of the live-ball variety and turned into nine fast break points for the Lynx. The Dream simply could not hold onto the ball or hit a shot. The later part of that sentence is meant literally as Atlanta went 0-18 from the field in the fourth quarter. The Lynx ability to turn turnovers into transition opportunities for points in the paint was exactly what Minnesota needed to get back into this game. But it was baffling to see the Dream unable stem the tide at any point in the quarter. Dream coach (and former Los Angeles Laker) Cooper was as surprised as I was.
“I’ve been in basketball and around basketball a long time and this was something new to see. Where a team only scores two points…you’ve got to credit their defense their ability to clog that paint, but a lot of it is our inability to settle down and hit an open shot. Turnovers will always kill you. When you’re throwing the ball away its very rare that you’re going to get shot attempts” Cooper said.
The stark difference in the game between the first three quarters and the final one was simply stunning. This was more than a come-from-behind victory, or an experienced team finding a way to win. This was a game that was flipped on its head in an extreme fashion.
Even at 20-2 the team is finding new and notable ways to win games.
Renee Montgomery essentially played the entire fourth quarter filling in for the injured Whalen and was key to the win. She had five points, five assists and three steals in the final frame alone. If the Lynx are without their starting PG for any period of time, they’re in good hands with Montgomery.
Dream rookie Brittney Sykes didn’t have a great shooting night in this particular game, but is on the shortlist for Rookie of the Year this season. She really gets after it on defense and the form on her shot looks incredible. Excited to watch where her career goes.
Atlanta’s two point fourth quarter was the second fewest points in a quarter in WNBA history. Chicago scored one point in a quarter against New York in 2011.
Cherry Berry is sponsor at Lynx games but they do not feature the same promotion in which the entire crowd gets free ice cream if the away team misses two consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter. I do not mind this.
The Lynx travel to Indiana to face the Fever on Sunday night. The game tips off at 5pm CT