An electric Target Center played host both to Pride Night last night in a wonderful celebration of the Twin Cities’ LGBTQ+ community, and a thrilling 45-minute slugfest between four of the W’s very best frontcourt players and two of its most talented teams.
The Las Vegas Aces / Minnesota Lynx matchup was headlined by podcast co-hosts and 2021 Tokyo Olympians Napheesa Collier and A’ja Wilson, and the two did not disappoint.
The back-and-forth from the 2020 All-WNBA selections began from the tip. But, while Collier scored nine points on 3/4 shooting and 3/3 from the free-throw line, and Wilson — the reigning MVP — added 11 points on 4/8 shooting and 3/3 from the free-throw line of her own in the first frame, it was Sylvia Fowles — an MVP in her own right — who set the tone for the rest of the game.
Fowles wrestled with Liz Cambage for positioning nearly every trip down in the first quarter and often found herself victorious, giving her teammates a great target to hit with entry passes. She finished the first quarter with a cool eight points on 4/5 FG, all of which were assisted, came in the first four minutes of the game and helped Minnesota get out to a 18-9 lead mid-way through the quarter.
exactly how Coach drew it up pic.twitter.com/dlCKEZO3HS— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) June 26, 2021
Lynx Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve said before the game she wanted to see her team improve with throwing entry passes so that they can take full advantage of the walking 6-foot-6 mismatch they have inside.
“There’s many, many times that Syl is open and we don’t execute getting her the ball in terms of the location of the pass, the height of the pass,” Reeve said.
“If Syl is asking for it, having a normal game, and she’s doing her thing, you don’t have to run plays for her, she’s just going to be someone that’s going to be burying you for position. You gotta be mindful that that’s where the ball should go. She’s shooting better than 60% from down there.”
Collier stepped up to the plate in regard to throwing entry passes in the first half. Four of her game-high six first-half assists were entries to Fowles, who dazzled a packed house at Target Center by dominating Cambage inside with her footwork and soft touch.
“We work on [entry passes] every single practice, so I’m glad it’s transferring over to the games, because it is something that we work on a lot,” Collier said postgame, wearing a face of relief. “Obviously we have some good post players on our team, so we want to be able to get them the ball. So it’s something that we’ve been focusing on.”
After the Lynx threw a terrific first punch, the Aces adjusted. Head Coach Bill Laimbeer turned to pace-pushing point guard and 2021 3-on-3 Olympian Kelsey Plum to ignite a spark. The 2017 No. 1 pick did just that. She shot up the floor like a rocket to create semi-transition opportunities for herself and her teammates, especially Wilson and Dearica Hamby, two very athletic forwards that can run the floor with her. In large part due to Plum’s dynamism, Las Vegas closed on a 15-8 run over the final 4:12 to tie things at 26 after the first quarter. It wouldn’t be the last time Plum would ignite a clutch run, either.
End 1Q: Lynx 26, Aces 26— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) June 26, 2021
Collier: 9 pts, 3 reb, 3 ast
Fowles: 8 pts, 2 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl
Clarendon: 4 pts, 3 ast
McBride: 3 pts, 1 reb
Wilson: 11 pts, 2 reb
Cambage: 6 pts, 4 reb, 1 ast
Hamby: 4 pts, 1 reb, 1 stl
Plum: 2 ast, +7 in 4:12
LVA ends on a 15-8 run.
Team stats ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/VFnyJCXgBb
The Las Vegas momentum carried into the second quarter. The Aces got out to a quick three-point lead fueled by forcing turnovers on entry passes that led to easy buckets, much to Reeve’s disliking, who called a timeout. Her team responded quickly with a 7-0 run to retake the lead.
During the run, Layshia Clarendon found their stride with a couple of mid-range jumpers in the screen and roll game, which was a glimpse of what we would see from him later on in clutch time. With Cambage playing drop coverage, she went around screens and pulled up, taking what the defense gave her. Considering Minnesota has at times struggled to consistently make in-rhythm jumpers, that gave her squad a big lift.
In the second quarter, the Aces’ offensive rebounding became a big story. Wilson and Cambage combined for three offensive rebounds that led to five Wilson points to regain momentum.
Going into the break, Minnesota trailed 48-44, largely because they couldn’t keep Wilson off the glass or in front of them defensively.
HT: Aces 48, Lynx 44— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) June 26, 2021
Wilson: 19 pts on 7/16 FG, 6 reb, 2 stl
Hamby: 11 pts
Cambage: 9 pts, 8 reb
Fowles: 16 pts on 8/10 FG, 4 reb, 3 stl
Collier: 12 pts, 6 reb, 6 ast
Clarendon: 8 pts, 5 ast, 0 TO
MIN: 0 OREB, 0 bench points, 54.3 FG%
LVA: 8 OREB, 13 bench points, 46.3 FG% pic.twitter.com/wYJRJz3k52
Out of the break, Reeve made an adjustment to play more of Collier on Wilson, and it worked beautifully. The Lynx forced several turnovers on Aces entry passes and Wilson was clearly frustrated, to no fault of her own. Collier explained postgame what it took to slow her down.
“She’s such a good player and when she gets the ball, she’s going to do dangerous things for us. [The key] is just trying to make sure that doesn’t happen,” she said. “So, really trying to get around and making it as hard as possible for her to catch the ball, because like I said, once she does have it, it’s not good for us.”
The Lynx have made it nearly impossible for the Aces to make any type of entry pass in this third quarter.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) June 26, 2021
Minnesota has forced 8 TOs in the quarter, alone. Las Vegas is up to 13 for the game.
Phee stepped up to the plate defensively in the third, but she wasn’t alone in slowing down Wilson. Jess Shepard was excellent in her return to the floor from an adductor strain that sidelined her for three weeks. She battled very well with Wilson at the elbow, making it tough for her to do anything once she caught the ball, and also grabbed four rebounds, all of which came in big moments.
Fowles was also excellent defensively in the third, holding Cambage scoreless in her 7:42 of play in quarter. The 2021 Olympian also rotated very well on the back-side to prevent Wilson from getting shots off.
Heading into the fourth, the Lynx held a six-point lead, 69-63, thanks to Collier’s play. Wilson had just three points in third, while Phee had nine of her own, largely from the free-throw line, where she was 7/8 in the quarter.
Napheesa Collier is dominating reigning WNBA MVP and her podcast co-host A'ja Wilson here in the second half.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) June 26, 2021
Phee is making everything nearly impossible for A'ja on the catch and on offense is giving her buckets left and right.
Collier has a game-high 23 points on 6/10 FG.
The referee pendulum swung the other way in the fourth, which Reeve was none too pleased about after the game.
Las Vegas was 2-of-15 from the floor, yet won the quarter 19-13 because they were a whopping 15/17 from the free-throw line. Wilson and Cambage were aggressive in getting to the rim, without a doubt, but simply could not score the ball without getting a whistle first. Neither player had a made field goal in the quarter, and the Aces didn’t make a field goal until a Plum layup broke the ice with 2:40 left in regulation.
“We needed to keep them off the foul line. We couldn’t get that done. They seem to be able to get every whistle. They just have a knack about them to get to the foul line,” she said. “...The last five, six, seven minutes, all they were shooting was free throws. They weren’t getting field goals. It was all free throws.”
Plum once again ignited a spark for Las Vegas down the stretch. Fowles missed a shot inside that would’ve made it an 11-point lead with 2:46 to play, but instead, Wilson boarded it and got it ahead to Plum, who sprinted up the floor for a tough layup. She followed it up with creating another transition opportunity resulting in two free-throws and then an and-1, making it a personal 7-0 run to get the Aces back within two with 1:36 left.
Two more A’ja Wilson free throws tied it up with two seconds left and the Lynx limped into overtime after failing to score in the final 3:11.
In OT, it was Layshia Clarendon’s world and all of us at Target Center were merely living in it. The former WNBA All-Star got Minnesota on the board in the period’s first possession and followed it up with a second mid-range J on to re-take the lead. That rhythm they found in the pick-and-roll in the second quarter was crucial to him taking over in OT.
Clarendon scored or assisted on six of the eight Lynx points in overtime and sealed the game with their IQ on the final possession. The game and shot clock had a difference of three seconds, so Clarendon let the clock bleed all the way down and fired up a rainbow to both kill as much clock as possible and give her teammates a chance to corral a miss. Fowles got the tip out, and the Lynx held on, 90-89, in their most thrilling victory this season.
Collier had nothing but praise for Clarendon postgame, who finished with 20 points on 10/15 FG, to go along with seven assists.
Phee on Layshia Clarendon's impact down the stretch in OT:— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) June 26, 2021
"It was awesome. The things that Lay did for us, especially in [overtime] were huge. Keeping the defense honest, because they're packing the paint at that point, and hitting those shots, it was just a momentum changer."
Both Phee and Syl thought that tonight was an inflection point in their season, considering the ups and downs they’ve seen thus far.
Napheesa Collier on if tonight was a signature win that can define where the team goes:— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) June 26, 2021
"Definitely. Vegas was the top team on offense, especially. We did some really good things on defense. It shows that we're right there even though our record may not reflect it."#CantTameUs
Sylvia Fowles on if the win tonight was a big confidence boost:— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) June 26, 2021
"Most definitely... when I bring that momentum, they follow... this young team is amazing. and I can't think of how we're going to be. Once we get everything figured out and we're clickin' on all cylinders."
If there’s anyone who knows what it’s like to be clicking on all Sylinders (I’m sorry, it was right there), it’s the former WNBA MVP, who finished with a ridiculous stat line of 30 points on 12/20 FG, 14 rebounds, four assists, four steals and four blocks in 40 minutes.
Per @WBBTimeline on Twitter, Fowles made WNBA history as the first player:
- To produce a stat line like she did tonight
- To record 172nd double-doubles in a career (extending her own record)
- To have back-to-back games of 25+ points, 14+ rebounds and four-plus blocks
Have a night, Sylvia Fowles. The greatest center in WNBA history continues to show us, 14 years after she introduced herself to the W, that there’s nothing she can’t do. And, man, am I grateful she’s doing it in a Lynx jersey.
Game Notes - from Lynx PR
- With Fowles (30), Collier (23) and Clarendon (20) all scoring 20+ points in tonight’s game, it marks the seventh time in Lynx history that three players register 20+ points in the same game. The last time this happened was September 1, 2017, vs Chicago (Sylvia Fowles – 27, Renee Montgomery – 21 and Maya Moore - 20).
- With Fowles’ second steal of the night she moved into fifth on the Lynx ranks for steals, passing Lindsey Whalen (224).
- Minnesota held Las Vegas to 38.5% shooting from the floor. Since the 2011 season, the Lynx are 124-4 when holding an opponent to 40% or less from the floor.