The most bizarre game of the Lynx season took place Saturday night in Indiana. Minnesota looked fantastic in the first half and built a 20 point lead, only to come out of the locker room after halftime playing like a totally different team. To make matters worse, the lottery-bound Fever did not play their best player (Erica Wheeler) a single minute in the second half.
This game was Minnesota’s first in ten days. The break must have felt like an eternity for some players who were not a party of All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. The Lynx were the last of the league’s 12 teams to resume their regular season schedule post-break. They started off this matchup against the Fever looking like that rest was exactly what they needed.
Fueled by their strong defense and ability to score in the paint, Minnesota raced out to an 11-2 lead to start the game. Everything was falling for the Lynx and everyone was getting in on the action. The Minnesota front court was especially potent. Sylvia Fowles, Damiris Dantas, Temi Fagbenle and Napheesa Collier all were getting whatever they wanted and successfully put their imprint on the game. Fagbenle was particularly impressive as she made her first seven shots en route to a career high 14 points.
The Lynx defense was also on-point in the first half. Fluid switching forced Indiana into contested long shots instead of easy looks inside. Minnesota corralled Indiana’s All-Star point guard Wheeler away from the middle of the floor and into help coverage. The Fever appeared flummoxed and only had consistent success scoring via offensive rebounds and the occasional long-ball. Minnesota went on an 18-2 run midway through the second quarter and seemed to be in complete control. Despite some small Indiana runs to close out each of the first quarters, Minnesota shot 60% and led by 10 at halftime.
And then, everything changed.
The first sign that this would be a very different half was the “new” lineup fielded by Fever head coach Pokey Chatman. She benched her entire starting group save for Tiffany Mitchell and rolled with the players that finished those first two quarters so strongly for Indiana. This drastic lineup change worked wonders for the Fever. This group played with a greater sense of urgency and pace. They also cracked the code to defend the Lynx in the paint.
Both of the Fever’s Mitchells and Stephanie Mavunga found success against the Lynx defense in the second half. They combined for 29 points and four threes in the second half alone. Meanwhile Natalie Achonwa played her typical brand of irritating post defense and was a game-high +25.
As strange as it seems, the Lynx simply couldn’t defend the Fever reserves as well as their starters. Indiana was also boosted by a higher effort level on defense by this group. They turned the Lynx over 15 times in the second half which directly resulted in 21 Fever points. Fowles scored a team-high 17 points but was totally nullified in the third quarter where she only touched the ball once and did not score a FG. Simply put: whatever worked for Minnesota in the first half did not follow them onto the floor after halftime.
Chatman rolled the dice and won. Minnesota had an answer for Indiana’s best players but not some its reserves, so Chatman played the players who were successful, all-star status be dammed.
Suffice to say, this is a bad loss for the Lynx. Their record is now 10-11 and they’re fighting for a postseason berth. Any game on the road is tough, but their matchups against lottery teams like Indiana are few and far between. This one will hurt for awhile.
Odyssey Sims appeared to sprain her left ankle early on in the second quarter. She landed on someones foot and limped to the bench. Sims did return to the game briefly but did not play in the fourth quarter.
What a week for Wheeler. Last Saturday she was named WNBA All-Star MVP. On Wednesday she hit a game winning shot to put the Fever over the Sky. This Saturday she took a second-half DNP-CD in a game her team won.
Collier had a wonderful game on both ends of the floor. She continues to impress with her basketball IQ and steady nature. Collier does so many things on the floor that are traits of players many years her senior.
Prior to this game the Lynx were 123-0 when leading by 20 points. They are now 123-1.
The Lynx are going to have to figure out how to win on the road here in August. Four of their next six games are in enemy territory including Tuesday’s tilt in Atlanta. Tip off is 6pm CT.
Listen: BOB 106 FM