Minnesota Lynx forward Natalie Achonwa ended her postgame media availability by passionately echoing a call to action with tears in her eyes: it’s time to bring Brittney home.
United States citizen, daughter, wife, two-time Team USA Olympic Gold Medalist and Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detailed in a Russian prison for 124 days.
“It’s a call to POTUS, to our VP, to the White House to bring her home,” said Achonwa, the treasurer of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA). “She’s an Olympian and an amazing competitor. As much as I hate playing against her, it feels wrong being here in Phoenix and not [playing against her]. So, I think it’s important. Write that. Write that before our win, that they need to bring Brittney home.”
The Associated Press reported on Monday that Griner and her wife, Cherelle, were scheduled to have a call this past Saturday through the United States embassy in Russia to celebrate their fourth anniversary, but the call was never connected because the embassy’s phone line was not staffed.
Her wrongful imprisonment is emotionally impacting her sisters in the WNBA, too. They carry that weight with them every time they stand over the BG42 symbol on every WNBA court before checking into the game, especially in her home arena in Phoenix.
With Brittney and Cherelle on their minds, in their prayers and in their hearts, they continue to bring awareness through We Are BG shirts in coordination with the WNBPA and UNINTERRUPTED, speaking out in interviews and on social media, and through educating the public on Griner’s case through WeAreBG.org.
One day spent wrongfully imprisoned is too many. It has been 124 days since BG was wrongfully detained in Russia.
It’s time to bring Brittney home.
The Minnesota Lynx ended a five-game losing streak with a dominant defensive performance in an 84-71 victory, marking the team’s 10th consecutive victory in Phoenix against the Mercury.
Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve was pleased with the steps her team took turn defense into offense.
“It’s gonna be the latter because it does translate, when you’re able to play off misses, everybody knows that,” Reeve said when asked if she enjoyed her team’s offensive break out or stout defensive performance. “Since 2011, we’re 135-5 when we hold our opponents to below 40%. So that will always be my favorite stat.”
Minnesota played off of misses well tonight because they rebounded extremely well. Teams that shoot 3s at a high rate have given the Lynx issues not only because of how they stretch the floor, but because of how they convert long rebounds into extra possessions and, in turn, points. Reeve’s squad registered its best defensive rebounding night of the season by percentage (81%), turned Phoenix over 17 times and scored 20 points off those turnovers, led by Kayla McBride’s career-high-tying five steals.
The team started to play to closer to that identity once Achonwa entered the game with 2:31 left in the first quarter. It marked her first minutes since the team’s second game of the season on May 8, when she suffered a right hamstring strain that sidelined her for the next 14 games, during which she rehabbed tirelessly in order to get back on the court.
“From setbacks and from a mental and emotional standpoint, [my recovery] was really hard. I worked really hard this offseason to come in ready in training camp and then two games, three games and to get hurt was really heartbreaking for me and really hard through this process,” Achonwa told Canis Hoopus. “So I’m just really thankful for my teammates and for Cheryl and especially Chuck [Barta], our athletic trainer, for getting me back here. And it’s always sweet when you get to get a win and a team win on your first game back.”
Especially when she shared the court with fellow Notre Dame alumna and high-level passer Jess Shepard, Achonwa made a point to do what she always does: move well without the basketball, make quick passes, and infuse the offense with a contagious flow.
“Natalie’s impact on the game was what we always say about Natalie. The pace that she does things [with], the intensity [she brings], the intentional nature to what she’s doing. She gives us great flow when you’re playing with her. She directs really well,” Reeve said postgame. “ I told her she was the player of the game. Her play was really pivotal for us.”
Alongside Shepard, who brought down 13 rebounds to pair with five assists and countless great passes, Achonwa made sure the ball found players where they are comfortable attacking from, especially McBride — her former Notre Dame teammate.
“It was great to have Ace (Achonwa) back because she’s a ball mover and that’s what you saw a little bit more of, moving the ball side-to-side. So I was really, really happy. I know she’s had a long road to be back out there with us, so that helped a lot. It was great to have her back out there,” McBride said after the game of Achonwa’s impact.
McBride struggled to find her scoring in the first quarter, but responded with eight points in the second as a result of the unselfish, flowing environment Achonwa worked to create on the floor out of the high post.
“The history between Kayla and I, we played together since we were 17/18 years old in college. So I think being able to come back to that and have that connection, and I know I remember coming up the court, I was like, ‘Moriah, run 21 throw me the ball and tell K-Mac to go back door!’ because I knew it was going to be open,” Achonwa explained to Canis Hoopus. “We’re able to play a different game when I’m in there and able to distribute the ball.”
McBuckets went on to finish with a team-high 18 points on 7/11 shooting.
“Jess Shepard, DD, having them back in the rotation fully and healthy and even building Ace back into it, it helps us so much because that’s what we’re used to. We’re used to the ball coming through the top of the key or the elbow and us being able to play off of that,” McBride told Canis Hoopus postgame. “That’s when it becomes fun.”
Achonwa also found a good rhythm with backup point guard Rachel Banham, whose 3-point shooting, unselfish playmaking and active off-ball movement pair well with Achonwa’s high-post passing, hand-off game proficiency and quick decision-making. The good news for the Lynx is that those two figure to play a significant chunk of their minutes together, so that connection will only grow over time. The two led the bench collective to a second consecutive game with at least 30 points.
The Canadian National Team standout finished with 12 points on 5/6 shooting, six rebounds, two assists, one steal, and registered a +5 mark in 18 minutes off the bench.
Minnesota was also powered by arguably its best point guard play of the season.
Starter Moriah Jefferson led the way with 12 points — including a back-breaking 3 in the fourth quarter — to go along with nine assists to only two turnovers in an efficient, complete outing from her. Jefferson broke down defenders and drove along the baseline before making a flurry of terrific passes to cutters off her drives for easy buckets. That style and level of play unlocks so much good offense for the Lynx and will continue to drive winning if she is able to sustain it as her comfortability in the offense grows.
“It’s impossible to feel connected and in a rhythm until you’re actually in the trenches with people,” Reeve said about Jefferson overcoming inconsistent play, despite feeling at home in Minnesota from day one. “So, now we’ve got that going for Mo. Our synergy, between me and Mo, I know now where she needs to be challenged and pushed and to be better and she’s tough. She’s mentally tough. She’s been physically tough. I mean, she’s not the biggest player on the court, but she puts her body on the line... Obviously her play has been really important for us.”
Banham only netted one assist, but made several good reads that set the defense into scrambling situations and made life easier for her teammates as a result. Her shot versus pass decision-making has been excellent for most of the season, which is not a surprise given how she thrives in spacing and the confidence that room to operate gives her.
Together, they had just two live ball turnovers and set an unselfish tone that led the Lynx to drop 24 dimes on 28 made field goals, built off strong pick-and-roll performances against Seattle and Las Vegas.
“Again, we’ve been finding success in our pick and roll game. ... It’s been good offense for us. And I think we’re just really starting to understand where the opportunities are,” Reeve explained to Canis Hoopus. “I thought we’ve been pretty connected overall, like you said minus the first quarter. This is how we’ve been playing and so I’m really happy for our locker room for it to translate into a W for us.”
Minnesota will look to continue their unselfish, connected play on both ends of the floor on Thursday night on the second leg of a home-and-home with the Mercury at Target Center. You can view the game at 7 PM CT on Bally Sports North.
A milestone night for Damiris Dantas
The beloved Lynx forward eclipsed 1,500 points and 600 defensive rebounds for her career in tonight’s win. She scored eight points, including a pair of important 3s, and corralled seven rebounds in 23 minutes.