With an Indiana Fever loss on Tuesday, the Minnesota Lynx clinched their 10th straight playoff appearance before their tilt against Chicago even tipped off. And while a decade of qualifying for the postseason (second longest streak in league history) is something to celebrate, the Lynx were focused on sweeping the season series with Chicago and improving their position in the league standings.
The Sky entered the game with the WNBA’s best offense. Led by MVP candidate Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago excels at ball movement and cashing in on open shots. On Monday Vandersloot broke the WNBA’s single game assist record as she dimed up her teammates 18 times. Meanwhile Minnesota hangs their hat on defense. Even without the services of Sylvia Fowles, the Lynx have held steady with the third best defense in the league thus far. On Wednesday night, that defense won out as Minnesota forced Chicago into a whopping 23 turnovers. A few could be chalked up to mental errors by Sky players, but the Lynx perimeter pressure was constant thought out the game and Minnesota turned 16 steals into 14 fast break points. Crystal Dangerfield had three of those steals and talked after the game about the Lynx defensive effort.
“That’s what we wanted to do as a team. Fly around and make them make another pass, get a hand on it, tip it around and see if we could come up with (the ball). It was a credit to our team defense overall.”
With their stout defense and some hot three point shooting Minnesota built up an 18 point lead early in the third quarter and appeared to be fully in control of the game. But the high-octane Chicago offense would not be deterred. The Sky battled back to take a two point lead in the fourth quarter and turned the game into a nail-bitter. Despite the fact that the Lynx field one of the youngest rosters in the league, they continue to win close games and play calm and collected in the clutch.
“(it’s about) how you respond to giving up a lead. Some teams would fold,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said postgame. “This team has a sense of like ‘ok that hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to, but now we’re going to focus on this.’ How you treat each other when the shit hits the fan determines so much. I believe that’s what positions us (to be successful). We believe in each other and when we go back out onto the floor we’re not pointing fingers and blaming. We’re talking about how we can win the next possession and I’m really proud of the group for that.”
Damiris Dantas was outstanding for Minnesota yet again. Fowles has missed eleven of the sixteen Bradenton Bubble games forcing Dantas to play out of position as an undersized center. It seems like she’s finally gaining confidence and consistency in that role. She scored a career high 28 points Wednesday night. The Brazilian was a perfect 5-5 from three, and also had seven rebounds and three steals. It was Dantas who stemmed the tide of the late Chicago run, hitting a big three to put her team back on top after the Sky had taken the lead. She then switched onto Vandersloot on the game’s final play where the Lynx only led by three points, and successfully forced the All-Star point guard into a turnover. With or without Fowles, Dantas gives Minnesota a versatile, jack of all trades big who has quietly had a fantastic season in Florida.
Cheyenne Parker was a force for Chicago. The athletic big gave Minnesota fits both inside and outside as she scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds off the bench.
Former Lynx assistant coach James Wade has his team playing at a high level offensively but they lack the defensive punch to be taken seriously in any playoff series. The return of Azura Stevens and Diamond DeSheilds could change their fortunes.
Napheesa Collier had a quiet night scoring the ball hitting only three of her nine shots, but of course she filled up the rest of the box score anyway with nine rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals.
Dangerfield doesn’t look like a rookie out there. She excelled again in clutch time with a big and-1 layup and pull-up jumper out of the pick and roll. The league’s rookie of the year award is hers to lose.
The win clinches Minnesota’s 10th-straight winning season. It’s easily the longest such streak in WNBA history. The next-best consecutive winning seasons streak came from the OG Houston Comets from 1997-2003.
The Lynx will continue to keep their winning ways going as they face off against Dallas on Friday. Tip off is 7pm CT.
Watch: Fox Sports North, Fox Sports Southwest, Facebook