Take a bow, Moriah Jefferson.
The Minnesota Lynx’s starting point guard became the first player in franchise history — and 10th player in the 26-year history of the WNBA — to record a triple-double.
A huge celebration at mid-court for Moriah Jefferson, who got her 10th rebound with 5.8 seconds left to give Mo her first career triple-double:— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) June 29, 2022
✅ 13 points
✅ 3/9 2PT | 2/5 3PT | 1/1 FT
✅ 10 rebounds
✅ 10 assists
✅ 2 steals
✅ +28 in 34 minutes
Think about that for a second. Think about all the legends that have worn a Lynx jersey. Six of the all-time greats on the W25 list have worn Minnesota across their chest, but Jefferson’s career night puts her in her own rarified air among the giants of the game.
While Jefferson understands the significance of the milestone coming in a 28-point win over the Dallas Wings — the team who cut her last month — she cares more about who she accomplished it with.
“It means the most that I did with the group that I did with because basketball goes away, but the feeling that I had with my teammates, how excited they were for me — which felt like they were more excited for me but I was at the time — that’s special,” Jefferson said in a heartfelt tone after pausing to collect her thoughts. “That’s something that you’re going to remember. You won’t remember your wins, all the wins, all the games or whatever, but the moments that you get with these people — these amazing people — and doing it with this organization. That’s what means the most for me.”
A selfless leader who rarely takes credit for her play and her impact on the team’s success, Jefferson was rightfully celebrated for her historic achievement upon her return to the locker room after conducting postgames interviews for Bally Sports North and the in-arena video boards.
“We were really happy for her.... It’s awfully special for Mo. Obviously, it’s a former team. There’s some motivation there.” Lynx Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve said postgame. “The team is really, super excited for her.”
During a Lynx timeout with 2:52 left, Jefferson had seven rebounds and was unaware of how close she was to securing a triple-double. So, naturally, Aerial Powers went up to Jefferson, grabbed her, and yelled at her with encouragement to go get three more rebounds.
Jefferson secured the final rebound with 5.8 seconds left, dribbled out the clock, and felt all the love.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so close... If she gets it, I feel like I get it.’ As a good teammate, you want to see your teammate get the triple-double, especially against her old team, because I know how it is,” Powers explained, wearing a big smile. “We’re all just so proud of her. And as you can see, our chemistry is way better. So we just want everybody to flourish.”
Powers led the charge in igniting a spark in her teammates from the jump. After a Damiris Dantas offensive rebound on the team’s second possession of the game, she smoothly crossed up her defender and rose to swish a mid-range jumper that got her going. Powers followed it up with three of the team’s season-high 12 triples and worked the crowd. She had her teammates engaged on both ends, feeding off the crowd and playing Lynx basketball.
“It’s huge. It’s fun. I mean, first of all, the crowd is amazing anyway, and then AP comes down and hits a couple 3s and she’s screaming and yelling at the crowd. It makes me want to do that. I’m not even a rah rah player, but I see AP doing that, and next thing I know I’m yelling,” Jefferson said with a laugh about Powers’ 13-point first quarter performance. “So it’s that type of energy, that type of effort that we need from her every single night and she was a big part of why we got out to the start that we did. I was super, super proud of her for that.”
13 points for AP in the first quarter— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) June 29, 2022
Minnesota rode the tidal wave of energy Powers created to a 33-11 lead at the end of the first quarter, but didn’t stop there. The Lynx only scored five points in the first 5:00 of the second quarter, but built their lead because their defense made up for their offensive struggles by holding Dallas to just seven points in that same span. That came in large part due to Powers’ work holding star guards Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey — who combined for 42 points in the teams’ first matchup last month — to just five points in the first 15 minutes of play, and Sylvia Fowles playing excellent defense in the paint, where she and Damiris Dantas altered shot after shot and held the Wings to 10/29 (34.5%) inside.
“She was just really engaged and pretty motivated. When you make shots, I mean sometimes it’s your night, and I thought that was the case for AP,” Reeve said. “But I’m more pleased overall with her one-on-one matchup with Arike.”
Powers said the coaching staff challenged the team ahead of the game with three specific statistical defensive goals to focus on, two of which Minnesota accomplished.
“We all locked into like the goals she set for us for each player, especially Arike, and even not letting certain people get offensive rebounds,” Powers explained. “I felt like we took a lot away from them. And they were just like ‘Whoa,’ and on their heels the whole game.”
Reeve and her staff took a different approach with how they framed the importance of defense to their players and it certainly resonated.
“The defense was a win, and that’s something, like I said, that coaches are really excited about,” she said. “As we told [the players], ‘If we told you that [defense is] what stands between you and the playoffs, would you play defense?’”
They didn’t just play defense; they were historically active on the glass, too. Minnesota tied a franchise record with 53 rebounds (a new record for most in a regulation game in franchise history) and set a new season best in second chance scoring (25). Five Lynx players registered at least six rebounds, led by Natalie Achonwa’s 13 (!) in just 18 minutes.
“Give the players a lot of credit. You know, we talked about what was standing between us and being successful was our defense and rebounding is a big part of that,” Reeve said. “Our effort was exactly what we needed. Our effort and our focus on what we were doing.”
The connectivity Reeve’s team displayed tonight — buoyed by a collective focus on their set goal — rose to a level we hadn’t yet seen with this group. On every shot, every stop, every 50/50 ball, the bench was fired up cheering for the players on the floor, and it made a tangible impact on the final score, because that can demoralize an opponent, especially when they enter a hostile environment.
Reeve noticed that, too.
“The beginning was really rough. I mean, we’re a much, much better team. We’re collectively more interested in each other than maybe what we were in the beginning. That’s been a massive step for our team,” she explained. “I think we’re finally finding our footing. This is the culture and this is the team that we want to be in that regard, and we do think it translates into winning.”
That culture, the Minnesota Lynx DNA, is the gold standard. It took significant work and buy-in from the players — amongst themselves — to right the ship.
“Our leadership, our captains, a lot of internal talks. Just everybody just trying to figure out ‘Okay, what do we need to do to win collectively?’ And honestly, all of us just buying in and listening to coach,” Powers said in a pensive tone. “I just feel like we’re finally getting the ball rolling. It’s a little late, but maybe this is the best situation where we’ll pick up towards the end and take off. You never know.”
Reeve and her players understand that if they want that culture to pay championship dividends and send Fowles out with another ring, a heightened sense of urgency is required with five straight home games on the way, including the next two against the best team in the WNBA.
“It’s time to make our move,” Reeve said pregame, understanding the significance of the six-game homestand in front of her team.
A 28-point home win and the first triple-double in franchise history is one hell of a kick off a run to the playoffs.
“So imagine we keep getting the ball rolling and what we could become,” Powers said. “All we need is a number by our name. I think especially with [the way] the playoffs are set up, we’re gonna be fine.”
History Needs to Make More Room for the GOAT
Sylvia Fowles moved into third place on the Lynx’s all-time career steals list (270) with her first steal of the night. Health permitting, the soon-to-be eight-time All-Star will likely move into second place (needs 285) by season’s end.
This comes after the four-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year became the first player in WNBA history with to register at least 6,000 points, 3,500 rebounds and 700 blocks in a career.
Payback Sent, Payment Received
Something that shouldn’t be lost in Jefferson’s historic night is the fact that she was waived while on a protected (guaranteed) contract. This means the Wings are still footing the bill for every penny of the contract they waived her from — which carries a $180,200 salary, more than any other player on the Dallas roster, according to Her Hoop Stats.
Getting paid by your former team to drop a triple-double on them has to feel incredible.
By the way, at present, the Dallas Wings are paying Moriah Jefferson nearly three times as much this season as she's being paid by the Minnesota Lynx. #WNBA— Richard Cohen (@RichardCohen1) June 29, 2022
If Jefferson can continue her stellar play as the starting point guard, she’ll stand to secure a healthy, long-term contract extension in Minnesota.
Forwards Leaving Their Mark
Since Achonwa’s return from injury, she and Jess Shepard have been a two-woman wrecking crew at the forward spot.
Most recently in Sunday’s loss to Chicago, the pair combined for 25 of the bench’s 38 points on 9/11 shooting, 11 rebounds, two assists and a steal in 43 minutes between them.
Tonight, They picked up right where they left off. Achonwa corralled a ridiculous 13 rebounds, a steal and a block in just 18 minutes, while Shepard dropped eight points, six rebounds, a steal and two blocks in her 19 minutes of action.
Achonwa continues to make outstanding reads as a passer, infusing pace and setting an unselfish tone with the reserves while she’s on the floor.
Of my favorite skills amongst the Lynx players, Natalie Achonwa's passing may be top 3 on my list.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) June 29, 2022
She is such a talented playmaker. The queen of the backdoor pass always finds teammates when they're open, and is so good at hitting the extra pass.
Great to have her back healthy
Shepard continues on the glass like she has all season, continually making plays like this one, imposing her strength and refusal to quit in order to get her team extra possessions and second chance points.
They may not get the same attention that their teammates do, but they are incredibly impactful in support of an all-time great like Fowles.
Next up for the Lynx is a Friday night showdown with the first-place Las Vegas Aces in Downtown Minneapolis in the first of a two-game set at Target Center this weekend. Fans can watch the game, which tips off at 7 PM CT, on NBA TV and Bally Sports North Extra.