When the Phoenix Mercury roll into town, it is an event. No, the rivalry does not burn quite as hot as it used to. No, Diana Taurasi was not in the building Thursday night due to recent surgery on her back that will keep her out for a large portion of the season. But the history between the Lynx and Mercury paired with the titanic matchup between Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles make their games feel extra important.
This one didn’t quite live up to that preceding hype. Both teams struggled mightily to efficiently score the ball. Also, the officiating was all over the place and created a choppy experience.
Phoenix immediately jumped out to a 9-2 lead causing Cheryl Reeve to call a timeout after only three minutes. Minnesota came out of that huddle a changed team. From this point to the 5:32 mark of the third quarter the Lynx would outscore the Mercury 38-15. Minnesota’s 16 point lead would sustain them for most of the second half as they held Phoenix at bay for most of the second half. DeWanna Bonner scored 10 of her game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter. She and the Mercury staged one last 9-0 run to close out the game but came up two points short after two tremendous defensive possessions for the Lynx.
Second Quarter Shutdown
The Lynx absolutely flummoxed the Mercury with their defense, especially in the second quarter where Phoenix shot 2-11 and only scored seven points.
The entire Minnesota starting lineup has been wonderful on defense all season. Fowles is the centerpiece rock in the middle. Danielle Robinson and Odyssey Sims are twin pests up top. Damiris Dantas and rookie Napheesa Collier fill in the gaps and crash the boards.
With Taurasi out, Bonner and Griner make up the Mercury’s main scoring threats. Fowles neutralized Griner for the entirety of the game, holding her to 1-3 shooting for four points and seven rebounds. Phoenix’s 56 points were the fewest they’ve scored in nearly four years. Reeve talked post game about slowing down Griner.
“Sylvia Fowles is really hard to play against. We were fortunate that Syl was able to get off a few more shots because they both defend each other really hard. I thought we gave Syl good help when there was a catch and I thought we protected the paint pretty well.”
Offensively, this was a rough basketball game. These two teams stopped each other all night long. Phoenix obviously isn’t as dangerous without Taurasi. If Griner gets taken away they are a much less versatile scoring team. Their offense is predicated on making three pointers. They have some of the best shooters in the league but the long ball was not falling for the Mercury. They connected on only 6 of their 26 long-range attempts.
Minnesota’s half court offense continues to grind to a halt far too often. The ball tends to stagnate with side-to-side movement kept to a minimum. On Thursday night Robinson and Sims consistently found themselves in the paint, yet were typically blocked or forced to throw up a prayer. Fowles has been good, and three point shooting has been better than expected, but as presently constituted, this roster doesn’t feature many players who can create their own shot. On one half of the floor there is still a lot of work to be done.
Karima Christmas-Kelly missed this game and will miss Saturday afternoon’s game with a personal matter. When fully healthy she may be the team’s second or third best player. It’s impressive they’ve won so many games without her.
The main reason Lynx/Mercury isn’t really a rivalry anymore is due to the series being a decidedly one-sided affair. Minnesota has won 11 of the last 12 regular season games and all five of the last playoff games against Phoenix.
On Saturday Lindsay Whalen will become the first player in franchise history to have her number retired. The Lynx will also play at nationally televised game against Los Angeles. The ceremony starts at 1:45pm, the game tips at 2:30pm.
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