Twelve days ago, the Minnesota Lynx earned their second win of the season against the New York Liberty, overcoming an eight-point fourth quarter deficit to steal the game 84-78.
Today, the Lynx won their third game of the season and nearly blew a 17-point fourth quarter lead, “stealing” the game with an almost identical 84-77 score.
Hosting the Lynx at home for a matinee game, the Liberty were fresh off a two-game win streak and were led by third-year sensation, Sabrina Ionescu. She had scored 20 points in back-to-back games and today was going to be no different, as she consistently torched Minnesota on all three levels, not even mentioning her passing. When it was all said and done, Ionescu led all players in this game with points (31), assists (7), and steals (3).
Luckily for Minnesota, they had Aerial Powers.
AP, who has looked like a much different player in the past six games, was equally aggressive on both ends of the court (More on that later). Powers was inserted back in the starting line-up after spending a couple games coming off the bench to provide a spark, and this move paid off right from the tip. Her energy was palpable even through the TV screen, and it certainly helped her teammates jolt out to a 7-0 start. Rachel Banham shared her thoughts on AP’s energy with Canis Hoopus after the game, “I always get a chuckle out of it because I’m so much not like that, so I’m like “Yeah girl! - Her energy definitely rubs off on us.”
The usual issue for Minnesota helped New York stay close in the game though: Turnovers. Six first quarter turnovers were killer early, but another 7-0 run in the second quarter helped keep the Lynx comfortably ahead. AP’s relentlessness on offense resulted in a 12-point period, building an 11-point advantage going into the half.
Minnesota takes a 46-37 lead at the break:— Leo S (@Y0Leo) June 5, 2022
~AP leads all scorers w/ 18
~MIN out rebounding NY 21 to 15
~Ionescu & Howard each w/ 14
~NY 2/17 from deep pic.twitter.com/bmlk0N66AJ
It looked like Minnesota was finally going to cruise to their first easy victory of the season as the second half began. Scoring on four of their first five shots of the period, the Lynx lead ballooned up to as much as 17 after AP cashed in five more points. Aside from a little run by six foot ten inch Han Xu and 4-0 spurt by Ionescu to close the quarter, it certainly felt like a 71-55 lead heading into the final period was more than enough. In fact, this would be the first time this season that the Lynx would hold a lead going into the fourth quarter.
Not so fast.
After Kayla McBride hit a triple to go up 74-57 with 9:08 remaining, a storm was coming. Fast forward just five minutes and nine seconds later, an Ionescu jumper would cap an unfathomable 16-0 with 3:59 remaining.
Fortunately for Minnesota, after a brief power outage for the Lynx leading scorer, AP would end a zero for five quarter by drawing a foul and sinking both free throws. She followed that up with a short jumper that took Kawhi-Leonard-type bounces on the rim before dropping in, answering New York with her own 4-0 run to get back ahead by two possessions.
The Liberty had run out of gas. The unit that got them back into the game puttered to a few late turnovers and missed shots. Bridget Carleton put the game above New York’s heads with a dime to Sylvia Fowles on one end, followed by a big block on an Ionescu three pointer on the other. Finally, almost mercifully, Banham coolly hit the final dagger that put the game completely out of reach for New York.
With the victory, the Lynx now “jump” from last to ninth in the overall standings and somehow remain just two games behind a playoff spot. Though this season has largely been disappointing from both an injury/availability and product perspective, there’s still plenty of time to right the ship. Coach Cheryl Reeve certainly feels as though her team is trending in the right direction.
Coach Reeve: "The last couple games, I've seen us look closer to how we want to look... That stretch in the 4th was the other scene that reared it's ugly heads... Shots went up and we were backpedaling... But overall we've been trending in this direction."— Leo S (@Y0Leo) June 5, 2022
- Aside from Aerial Powers’ obvious contributions in the box score - she finished with a career-high tying 27 points, seven rebounds, two assist, and game-best two stocks - it’s the passion and energy that she plays with that really makes her stand out. Coach Reeve harped on the fervor and confidence that AP has continued to play with despite her early season struggles. Comparing her first five games of the season to the last six, her scoring average has jumped from 8 to 17.5, rebounding from 3.6 to 5, free throw attempts from 3.6 to 6, and shooting splits from .246/.133/.588 to .413/.438/.889.
AP on energy: "I pride myself on the energy I give to my teammates. Rachel hit a big mid range shot... When she hit it, NY had to take a timeout, and she looked like she was upset about the last play... I was like you gotta look like that was the dagger that put them away!"— Leo S (@Y0Leo) June 5, 2022
Aerial Powers: "I have been more aggressive going to the rack... I'm an attack player... It opens up a lot more for me and I know it allows me to not think as much... I can get fouls, get teammates involved."— Leo S (@Y0Leo) June 5, 2022
Mentions she's over her illness from the "flu game" against LVA.
- Both Sylvia Fowles and Kayla McBride finished with 18 points of their own. It really feels like the “Big 3” of Fowles, KMac, and AP are starting to find a groove together.
- The Liberty only had two players who scored in double figures for them (Ionescu and Natasha Howard). Rebecca Allen, who got loose for 21 points in their last meeting, struggled with foul trouble tonight, finishing with two points on one of seven shooting. Center Stefanie Dolson also struggled with foul issues, finishing with a goose egg in 17 minutes.
- Today’s game was already the third time that Crystal Dangerfield has faced the Lynx this season. The 2020 Rookie of the Year helped the Indiana Fever to a win before being cut on her birthday, then came up short in her Liberty debut about two weeks ago. I wonder how many more times CD is going to face the Lynx, as Tuesday will mark the fourth.
- I was happy to see Jessica Shepard out there after suffering what appeared to be a broken nose in the last game. Though her box score numbers weren’t great today, she remains a positive when she’s on the court.
Both teams will lace ‘em up and run it back for a third time in about 48 hours. The season series against the New York Liberty comes to a close Tuesday 6/7 at 7:00pm CT as Minnesota looks to finish the sweep.