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Sky 88, Lynx 85: Heartbreak at the Buzzer

The basketball gods answered Courtney Vandersloot’s prayer at the buzzer as the Sky defeated the Lynx 88-85.

Minnesota Lynx v Chicago Sky

Game Story

The Minnesota Lynx rode into Wintrust Arena on a two-game winning streak as a result of registering the WNBA’s best offense over the last five games, and sure looked like they were going to extend that streak to three before a valiant fourth quarter comeback was halted in dramatic fashion.

After the Lynx put on excellent six-second scrambling exhibition, Moriah Jefferson left Courtney Vandersloot to help on Emma Meesseman, opening a window of opportunity just wide enough for Vandersloot to throw up a prayer.

For the 3:41 of game time prior to that shot, Minnesota Head Coach Cheryl Reeve elected to close the game with lineup that did not include either point guard on the roster. With the Lynx down nine, Reeve made the outside of the box move, which she later said came in an attempt to find a group that could take care of the ball and exhibited a will to win. She found that in a unit that included Bridget Carleton, Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, Jess Shepard and Natalie Achonwa.

“I know that they were probably the players who had the most will in the game,” Reeve said postgame. “It would stand to reason that when you have that kind of will and energy and you’re trying to win, that you’re going to pay your butt off on defense. They did that for us. That’s the group I should have had out there at the end. That’s on me that I didn’t go back.”

(Reeve noted that Sylvia Fowles was not in the game because she had already reached her minutes limit — about 20 minutes — as Fowles is still recovering from a cartilage injury in her right knee).

A point-guard-less lineup was new for McBride, who drew a foul and hit three game-tying free throws with 7.6 seconds left.

“That was a first time thing... anybody can run any of our things, especially in transition and on makes. We were just trying to find a group that you know could put some stops together and then also stay efficient on offense,” McBride said. “We haven’t been practicing like that. I guess it worked out a little bit.”

After Carleton assumed the point guard responsibilities, Minnesota went on a 13-4 run to tie the game at 85, before ultimately losing at the horn.

“I thought BC did a good job just bringing the ball up,” McBride added. “BC is one of those players and those people that will just do anything that you ask her to do, and she’ll do it hard and do it well.”

Carleton made the biggest shot of the night to that point to pull the Lynx within one point with 11.1 seconds remaining, too. She finished with eight points, two assists, a rebound, and was a team-best +11 in 17 minutes.

Minnesota also found a good passing connection in that closing unit with Shepard and Achonwa, two extremely unselfish and gifted playmakers who are terrific at moving without the ball. They connected on a pair of dimes for easy buckets inside late in the game, and led the bench with a combined 25 points on 9/11 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds.

In the end, the Lynx comeback fell short, because the hole they dug themselves was too deep to climb out of. From the tip, the defending champion Chicago Sky made it clear they wouldn’t Cheryl Reeve’s squad get comfortable in the half-court.

Playing without their Head Coach James Wade (health and safety protocols) and leading scorer Kahleah Copper (back), Chicago ratcheted up their intensity and physicality on the defensive end over the course of the game and it paid dividends.

The Sky — who ranked second-to-last in points percentage of points scored off turnovers entering the game — turned the Lynx over 18 times and converted those into 27 points.

“Yeah, 18 turnovers, 27 points. You can’t win, especially against this team and the way that Sloot and CP move the ball,” McBride said. “Imagine if we cut that in half. We’re not looking at a game-winning 3. We’re looking at a dub right now.“

Reeve said pregame that pick-and-roll (PnR) decision-making (especially from the point guard spot) was the area driving the team’s offensive success of late, but it failed them tonight, partly as a result of Chicago’s aggressive, at-the-level PnR coverage.

“It was really disappointing from that standpoint. I just didn’t think we were very good at the point guard position. It just wasn’t very good for us tonight directing us and creating opportunities,” she explained. “When you shoot 58.9%, you should win a game. Our team hasn’t learned how to do that this year. How many times have we shot this year, better than 50% and lost? If we weren’t scoring, we were turning it over. That was tough.”

Minnesota Lynx v Chicago Sky
Sky PG Courtney Vandersloot

The Lynx struggled equally as much with the pressure the Sky were able to put on the rim. Chicago’s guards are excellent at without the ball and finishing in the paint, and both were on full display tonight. Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Rebekah Gardner and Julie Allemand combined to score 26 of the Sky’s 48 points in the paint on 13/20 (65%) shooting. Slowing the guards down inside was a key part of the game plan, but was still an issue.

“That’s what they do. Katie, as the scout, I know I wouldn’t have been able to keep it together if I were Katie Smith because a lot of the messaging was around what they were doing with ease,” Reeve said. “We talked about what direction they wanted to head, which was paint, and a lack of discipline on where your weight is when you’re trying to keep a player from catching it and getting beat easily backdoor. It’s, again, it’s a lack of understanding, defensively, to be great.”

Until the Lynx are able to piece together enough stops to catch up with their much improved offense, they won’t be able to get over the hump against playoff-caliber teams, such as Chicago, who execute at a high level in a half-court setting.

“We gotta learn how to be a team that can make plays at the end. Defensively, or offensively, but defensively [we have to] to make plays to win these kinds of games,” Reeve said. “That’s the next step for this team.”

As bad as things have gone for Minnesota, they are just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot after winning two of their last three games. Next up for the Lynx is a matchup with the Dallas Wings on Tuesday night at 7 PM CT, the first of a six-game, 17-day home stand. Fans can watch the game on Bally Sports North Extra and ESPN+.

Quick Hitters

A Night to Remember for Sylvia Fowles

Fowles, who was drafted second overall by the Sky in 2008 before becoming a three-time All-Star in Chicago, was presented with a recliner by her former team to celebrate her final season in the WNBA. The beloved center loved every second of it, testing it out with a smile before embracing Sky players.

Just minutes into the game, Fowles recorded her 700th block and became the fourth player in league history to achieve that milestone. She joins Margo Dyrek (877), Lisa Leslie (822) and Brittney Griner (716).

Tonight was Fowles’ 206th career game in a Lynx uniform. By reaching that benchmark, she passed Lynx Associate Head Coach and Hall-of-Famer Katie Smith (205) for fifth-most games played in team history. She trails only Seimone Augustus (370), Lindsay Whalen (283), Maya Moore (271) and Lynx Assistant Coach Rebekkah Brunson (261).

A Whole Lotta McBuckets

With her game-tying free throw with 7.6 seconds remaining, McBride eclipsed 3,500 points for her career.