It was an intense, emotional evening of basketball Thursday night. The combination of a hyper-motivated Mystics team, Lindsay Whalen’s second game returning to her college stomping grounds and a pregame WNBA MVP award presentation that moved Sylvia Fowles to tears all contributed to the atmosphere.
After a 101-81 blowout game on Tuesday controlled entirely by the Minnesota Lynx, Washington regrouped a put forth a better performance on both ends of the court in game two. The Mystics got off to a fantastic start outscoring the Lynx 25-19 in the opening frame. Both Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver set the tone early scoring ten and seven points respectively in the first quarter. They diced up Minnesota’s defense and found team mates for open looks. Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve explained the issues that plagued Minnesota early on.
“I thought our offense was bad. So we were in transition defense. They’re running their drag screens, penetrating, drawing and kicking and having wide open shots. We had a hard time with that.”
Washington made their own fortune in this respect by defending at a very high level. It was surprising to see a Mystics team not known for their ability to stop opponents truly muck up Minnesota’s offense. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Krystal Thomas and Natasha Cloud are fantastic defenders who put their stamp on this game on multiple occasions.
As impressive as the Mystics defense was, Minnesota successfully countered by feeding the ball to their newly-minted MVP and playing more efficient basketball. Fowles scored 10 of her team-high 25 in the quarter. The Lynx shot 70% and had nine assists on 12 made baskets in the second quarter which allowed them to pull within two points at the half.
The game’s intensity was taken up a notch after halftime. An initial 6-0 Mystics burst forced Reeve to call timeout a mere 90 seconds into the half. Coming out of that huddle, the Lynx looked like a different team finishing the quarter outscoring Washington 24-11 in the final 8:30 of the third quarter. Minnesota showed why they are the best defensive team in the league, daring anyone not named Delle Donne or Toliver to score. Mystics head coach Mike Thibault outlined how the Lynx were able to limit Washington.
“They decided because Kristi was coming open off of pick and rolls they were going to switch out and make her a driver instead of a shooter and try to deny the ball back to Elena. We ran some pick and rolls where Kristi was able to turn the corner but there was always a second defender. We depend on having more than two people score. They just dared other people to make shots. At some point it puts a lot of pressure on (Delle Donne and Toliver) to deliver.”
In the final quarter there were five lead changes as both teams battled to stay ahead. Crunch time belonged to Maya Moore and Whalen. They combined for 18 points, all coming in the final five minutes of the game. Whalen was as demonstrative and fired up as she’s been all season. This fueled the Lynx faithful in attendance to create some of the loudest home crowd moments of this season. After the game, Reeve summed up her point guard’s performance.
“Lindsay was unbelievable in the minutes that she played. She left it all out there. She found a way to will our team. Just all those hustle plays. Offensively, she really helped us with her aggression. She was just pretty amped up. She was just bringing it tonight. This was vintage Lindsay Whalen and it was really cool that it happened at the Barn.”
The Lynx now looked poised to complete a sweep of the Mystics Sunday in DC. This game seemed to represent the best total game Washington could possibly put forth. Minnesota is on the brink of yet another WNBA Finals appearance.
Cheryl Reeve was nervous about how her star center would play hours after being named MVP. “I was worried about a couple of things. One the emotions of it, two the jinx of receiving an MVP trophy, but Syl put that to rest and she was unbelievable.” Fowles finished with 25 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks and 4 assists.
Emma Meesseman has to play better for the Mystics to win. Her lack of scoring (2-7 for 4 points) was a big reason Washington lost this game.
The WNBA needs to change its policy on in-game official reviews. There are far too many situations that grind the game to a halt while the referees huddle around a screen at mid court. The league has enough issues getting people to watch their games without these lengthy reviews.
The Lynx go for the sweep. Game three takes place in Washington DC on Sunday afternoon. The game tips at 2pm CT and you can watch it on ESPN2.