Entering Saturday’s matchup with Indiana the Minnesota Lynx already had their playoff fate decided. Win or lose they would be the fourth seed and avoid a first round single elimination game on Tuesday. But that didn’t mean that their regular season finale was rendered meaningless. Minnesota was on a season-long three game losing streak and needed to right the ship, get back on track defensively and restore morale.
They ticked all three of those boxes in part due to a career night from Rachel Banham. The former Golden Gopher notched a career high in points (29), assists (10), FGM (10), FGA (14), three-pointers made (seven) and minutes played (33.5). She was electric shooting the ball and creating open looks for others all night long. With Crystal Dangerfield getting the night off for rest, Banham stepped up in a big way as she earned her first start in a Lynx uniform. She was beyond capable at running the offense, initiating pick and roll and passing the ball on time and on target to her team mates. Banham is also a lethal off-ball threat who demands her defenders attention even when the action is happening on the other side of the court. She has a special knack for scrambling during loose ball situations to get open and behind the three point line for ultra-efficient catch and shoot opportunities.
This game caps off a regular season that saw Banham improve her stats across the board. She had a career high in just about every metric. Saturday’s fireworks aside, she doesn’t have the defensive chops to be a starter on a great team, but is more than capable at being a great third guard off the bench to provide a huge offensive punch.
Defensively the Lynx looked more like themselves again, albeit against a much worse opponent than they’ve faced during their losing streak. The Fever came into the game already eliminated from the playoffs and played the game accordingly. This isn’t to say that it was a blowout or that Indiana did not play to win, but there was a nonchalant vibe in the energy and effort put forward by the Fever, especially in the second half when they fell behind by double digits. Minnesota’s defensive rotations were a lot tighter and they limited Indiana to only 26 points in the paint, a far lower number than teams had been putting on them in the last two weeks. After the game Cheryl Reeve talked about what she was looking for from her team in their final game before the playoffs.
“Unequivocally playing well. Gaining some momentum defensively. We had a spirited shoot around. We identified some things that they’re not realizing that they’re not doing. We carried that into the game. We were very pointed in the things we’re trying to be better at. We wanted to play better and obviously win the game. I think we got a little bit closer.”
Now Minnesota shifts their focus to the playoffs. But first they’ll have a massive four day break. The Lynx played nine games in the final 16 days of the season. Finally they’ll have some time to rest up and practice, two things that have been in short supply this summer. The Lynx have shown that they can play high level basketball and win without Sylvia Fowles, but her return remains a huge question that will have major implications on the length of Minnesota’s upcoming postseason run.
Napheesa Collier put forth her typical stat-stuffing outing. The second year player had 23 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. Reeve rested Dangerfield but had no problem playing Collier over 37 minutes. Collier will lead the WNBA in minutes per game for the second straight season.
In addition to Banham’s 10 assists Damiris Dantas added eight of her own. Minnesota had their second best assist night of the season with 29 helpers.
Playoffs! Minnesota doesn’t know who they’ll face yet. Tuesday’s first round games will determine their opponent. It seems likely that it will be either Chicago or Phoenix. The game will take place Thursday. Tip off is 6pm CT.