The energy was electric heading into the Minnesota Lynx season and home-opener against the Phoenix Mercury. Many of us were tuning in for tip-off just a few minutes after Sabrina Ionescu hit a bomb of a dagger to seal a win against the Indiana Fever - a crazy end to such a blistering paced game where both teams scored at least 87 points.
The Lynx, who had just handed Diana Taurasi just her 2nd loss in win-or-go-home situations, would be hosting the Mercury in a Commissioner’s Cup game. I was ready to inject more of that same energy straight into my veins.
Unfortunately the first half would be a cold shower in comparison to the Liberty-Fever game.
Both teams struggled mightily on offense (Lynx, 24 on 21.1% shooting to Mercury, 33 on 31.6%), especially given their lofty expectations for the season. In the first half, the Lynx struggled to get anything going as they played at a snail’s pace in half-court sets. At times, it looked like they were trying to remember who was even on their team.
"We probably tried to run too much slow it down, run this play."— Ricky Rude-Leo (@Y0Leo) May 15, 2021
It shouldn’t have been a surprise though. Kayla McBride, who just landed in Minnesota this week after wrapping up a Turkish championship (and MVP), was a surprise start. The other new starter, Aerial Powers, was also playing her very first minutes in a Lynx uniform after sitting out both preseason games due to rep management. Although the former absolutely looked in game shape early, the team itself still looked disjointed on both ends of the court.
*deep exhale*— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) May 15, 2021
it feels weird to finally tweet this and we've always wanted to tweet it so here it goes...
KAYLA MCBUCKETS. pic.twitter.com/GN2jIUo1CL
AP on slow start: "I think a lot of us was just thinking a lot. First game with each other and trying to be too perfect instead of playing in the flow. In the 2nd half we loosened up. Defensively, gotta try to get in PHX and let them run their stuff."— Ricky Rude-Leo (@Y0Leo) May 15, 2021
Meanwhile for the Mercury, although Taurasi was only able to put up 3 points, the rest of the team was casually strolling into the paint with little to no resistance. For the night, the Lynx were clearly outrebounded and outscored in the paint. Luckily, they were able to hang in there due to the ugly 3-point shooting from the Mercury, although both teams struggled.
However they’d both find their footings in the second half.
It appears whatever Coach Reeve said in the locker room seemed to press the right buttons. The ball began to zip around on offense and although the defense continued to struggle in the paint, AP energized the team with her energy and aggressiveness. Not only was she pouring in points, but the straightjacket she (and her teammates) put on Diana Taurasi resulted in a 3 of 13 night from the field. This was perhaps the play that changed the trajectory of the game:
Aerial Powers >>>>> all other super powers pic.twitter.com/A5GZAddzso— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) May 15, 2021
Jumping into the final moments of the game, after both teams traded leads in the 4th quarter, it looked like the Lynx would just be able to seal things. Coach Reeve drew up a beautiful ATO play which McBride smoked at the rim, but luckily Fowles was able to put right back in to go up 2.
PUT IT BACK WHERE YA FOUND IT, SYL pic.twitter.com/2H590WQIdq— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) May 15, 2021
After Brittney Griner split a pair of free throws and remain down 1, the Lynx would have a chance to close the door.
They did not.
After playing hot potato on a broken play, the ball ended up in Crystal Dangerfield’s hands who turned it over with 6.8 seconds remaining. The Mercury would find Taurasi streaking down the court and hitting just her 3rd (and final) field goal of the game, a vintage walk-off pull-up 3 to ice the game.
The problem was, the clock accidentally stopped after the Lynx turnover.
The zebras took a couple hours to try and figure out the clock situation which, fortunately for the Lynx, gave the home team almost enough time to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The replay review took roughly 12 minutes and 15 seconds.— Her Hoop Stats (@herhoopstats) May 15, 2021
FYI, Coach Reeve was told the clock stopped because a ref accidentally breathed into their whistle.— Ricky Rude-Leo (@Y0Leo) May 15, 2021
By the time Frodo was riding off into the Undying Land, Coach Reeve was informed that she would have just 1.1 seconds left for their final possession. She was understandably beside herself. McBride never got a shot off before the final buzzer and that was it. An extremely frustrating way to end a fun game, for either team. An early deficit coupled with poor paint protection was still too much for Minnesota to overcome though. Although there certainly a lot of positives to walk away with, it’s hard not to be a little salty about it.
AP: "I think we're all salty about this game because it came down to the end."— Ricky Rude-Leo (@Y0Leo) May 15, 2021
- Game ball has to go to Kayla McBride. As mentioned earlier, she literally got off a plane from Turkey some 48 hours ago and jumped into the starting lineup. KMac was often the best scoring option for the Lynx and also provided solid defensive intensity, finishing with a 16 point, 6 rebound, 2 assist, and 2 block stat line. Coach Reeve was quick to praise her preparation as to why she had confidence getting the sharpshooter right into game action.
KMac on stepping in: "It was actually a lot of fun. Coach has been keeping me in the loop while I was overseas. I was excited to play and be here. She said just be myself and do what I do."— Ricky Rude-Leo (@Y0Leo) May 15, 2021
Kayla McBride is a true professional. Love the vibe she brings and I think Coach Reeve was spot on when she said her and AP are a great balance.— Ricky Rude-Leo (@Y0Leo) May 15, 2021
Perfect mix of confidence and business-like mentality, with energy and enthusiasm.
- The bench scored exactly 1 field goal the entire night. One. That’s 1 more than me! They went 1 for 8 and there’s not a lot of silver-linings there. The lone basket was a Rachel Banham 3 that gave the Lynx a quick early 4th quarter lead. None of them had a positive +/-. Speaking of the bench...
- Natalie Achonwa had a season-debut to forget. Brittney Griner and Brianna Turner form as one of the most difficult frontcourt matchups to deal with so it’s hard to be upset with her play, but Achonwa did nearly foul out in just 12 minutes while getting beat several times on the boards. She’ll certainly have better days ahead, although the Napheesa Collier’s absence (Overseas duty on track to return in a week or 2) was never more evident.
- Even though this was an unfortunate start to the season, there’s so much to be confident about moving forward. It’s been a handful of years since the Lynx have had this much talent on the wing. Reeve was going to McBride and Powers late in the game with great results. Additionally, the energy that’s on this team is palpable. I love what Aerial Powers brings both on and off the court and I have a feeling she’s going to be a fan favorite soon, if not already. AP finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocked shots, and a big ‘ol flex.
AP on playing with KMac for 1st time: "I'm not gonna lie, I was a little winded. Thank god I have the staff that I do, getting me in and out. In the 2nd half I got another wind and more focus. We didn't want to lose our 1st game. I love that Kayla's here."— Ricky Rude-Leo (@Y0Leo) May 15, 2021
AP on playing at TC: "I really liked it, it was crazy. Last time I played in the bubble there was nothing. When I came out, you could feel the energy... Honestly I just had the biggest smile on my face. MIN has the best fans & I used to love playing against them because of that."— Ricky Rude-Leo (@Y0Leo) May 15, 2021
- I expect Sylvia Fowles to have much better nights ahead, as she shot just 5 of 12 with 4 turnovers to boot. The improved perimeter play will surely open things up for her sooner than later.
- Crystal Dangerfield and Damiris Dantas will need to be better as well, if the Lynx truly want to get to championship #5 this year. Although a quick glance at the box score shows CD was tied as the 2nd/3rd leading scorer with 17 points on 50% shooting, your starting point guard can’t commit that final turnover. I’m captain of the CD Bandwagon so this is also just some tough love from me. Meanwhile DD had a stint in the 3rd where she scored 5 of her 7 points, but looked overmatched for most of the night.
- BG and BT combined for 30 points, 22 rebounds, and 6 blocks on 14 of 23 shooting. That’s tough.
The Lynx have 3 days off before they travel to New York and face off against Sabrina Ionescu’s Liberty on Tuesday, May 18th @ 6pm CT. How many more game-winners are we going to get??? (Don’t answer that)
As usual... SUPPORT WOMEN’S SPORTS!!!