Facing off against one of the elite teams in the WNBA, Minnesota spent their final game before the All-Star break getting outclassed by Washington. The noon tip-off marked the Lynx lone afternoon home game this season. They celebrated their annual “camp day” event in which large groups of day-camping children fill Target Center.
The Mystics gave the kids something to scream about early on. Washington put their stamp on this game right away in the first quarter outscoring the Lynx 26-16. It was the Kristi Toliver show as she showed why she’ll be playing in Saturday’s All-Star game. Toliver had 14 of her season high 32 points in the first quarter. She literally couldn’t miss hitting all six of her shots in the quarter including 2-2 from three. That first quarter avalanche gave Washington a lead they would nurse all the way to the final buzzer. Minnesota actually outscored the Mystics over the course of the the game’s final three quarters.
It was a strange afternoon. From the unorthodox game time, to the thousands of shrieking children, to the way this entire game played out, the “feel” of this one never seemed to match the numbers on the scoreboard. Washington appeared to be totally in control but somehow allowed Minnesota to hang around and cut into the lead. Second chance points (19) and point off turnovers (20) were huge for the Mystics. Washington is just too good to lose when they have such big advantage in those two areas.
The Mystics offense has been head and shoulders above the rest of the league all season. They currently have a 107.8 offensive rating. The next best team is Connecticut at 98.9. That’s a big gap and when you watch Washington play you see why. Besides having two all-world talents in Elena Delle Donne and Toliver, they have created a team that has almost no weakness from a shooting perspective.
“That’s been the goal for the last couple years to put a team together like that,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said after the game. “Anything we did in the offseason was geared toward that. The trade we made for Powers last year. The encouragement for Shatori Walker-Kimbrough to keep getting better. Thats the way the game is going. Teams can cheat off you if you have people who can’t shoot. I thought it hurt us in the Finals against Seattle. They always had five on the floor who could shoot and we didn’t always have that. We learned our lesson. We still have to get better at it but we’re much better than a year ago.”
The difference between the Lynx and Mystics offenses is stark and was on full display Wednesday afternoon. Minnesota has only one consistent half court offensive player in Sylvia Fowles. She’s primarily a back to the basket scorer who needs an entry pass and a whole lot of spacing to be efficient. When the Lynx can’t score in transition or at the free throw line, it’s very tough for them to win the game, especially against an opponent of any quality.
“I don’t know you can only have two free throws in the first half. I don’t know how that happens. The officiating is different,” Cheryl Reeve said postgame. “Odyssey isn’t getting there. I will say that she could do more. She was averaging five per game. Syl only get two (per game). Phee gets fouled. Nothings being called in the paint. It was a big part of our offense in May and June. We went from being in the top two in free throw rate to the bottom, by a lot. We’re trying to be in the paint. Sometimes when you know they’re not calling them, it’s that’s tough decision, do you keep doing it? We need to find a way to get more (from the line) because they’re putting so much pressure on just being able to make shots. You’ve gotta find other ways. Our offensive rating is consistently under 100.”
Minnesota’s offense continues to be a work in progress. Even if they have more offensive creation on their roster they still are the worst turnover team in the league. That issue reared its ugly head yet again against Washington as the Lynx threw away 21 possessions resulting in 20 Mystics points.
They have ten days until their next game. A nice big break to reset and take time to figure things out. Also they’ll be adding two offense-first players to their rotation sometime in August. Seimone Augustus and Cecilia Zandalasini are both recovering from injury and should return to the team soon to provide some firepower.
Toliver’s 32 points were magnificent to watch. She’s a crafty veteran player who can get buckets in a number of ways. In a rare game where Delle Donne wasn’t super efficient scoring the ball, the Mystics greatly benefited from Toliver’s hot shooting. Her 32 points is the fourth highest scoring game by any player in the league this summer.
Lexie Brown scored a team-high 19 points off the bench. She notched more playing time than both Odyssey Sims and Danielle Robinson in this game. Her floor stretching ability is invaluable for the Lynx and post game Reeve said she would see more minutes after the break.
The camp day attendance of 17,934 was Minnesota’s largest regular season crowd in franchise history.
Lil Nas-X’s soon to be historic “Old Town Road” was only played once at Target Center during the game. Needless to say, it was the biggest sing-a-long of the day.
Napheesa Collier and Sims will participate in the first ever WNBA Skills Challenge at All-Star Weekend on Friday.
Regular season play resumes on Tuesday 7/30 but the Lynx don’t play again until Saturday 8/3. In the meantime, the (much needed) All-Star break begins now. Fowles, Sims and Collier will be in Las Vegas to play in Saturday’s game. The All-Star event continues to grow and this year should be fun. Tip off is at 2:30pm CT