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Sun 94, Lynx 84: An Opportunity Wasted

The Lynx didn’t bring defense to Target Center against the Sun in Minnesota’s most important game of the season.

Connecticut Sky v Minnesota Lynx Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

On a night where the Connecticut Sun rolled into Minneapolis without their best player — 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, who is recovering from COVID-19 — to battle with a Minnesota Lynx squad fighting for their playoff lives in a must-win situation, it was to be expected that Minnesota’s sense of urgency would be at a season-high.

Instead, the Lynx came out with the limited defensive intensity, as well as the turnover bug, and paid the price for it. The Sun carved up the Minnesota defense in demoralizing fashion, scoring 94 points on 55.2% shooting from the floor.

“I think the disappointing part is to see a lack of will, lack of movement, lack of play the scheme hard so we can figure out the right scheme. They did everything they wanted,” Lynx Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve said postgame. “They wanted to be in the paint, they were in the paint, they want to kick it out, they kicked it out. We don’t move with a great deal of confidence in what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Connecticut Sun v Minnesota Lynx Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Offensively, Minnesota was able to generate good looks — they shot 54.8% from the floor themselves — and put some good action on film before a rematch with Connecticut on Sunday.

“I thought overall, you know, we had we had decent movement. We were you know, pitching and sometimes chases, sometimes back cut, we were okay, there. [But] we gotta make shots,” Reeve said, before announcing a change we’ll see in Sunday’s game. “We’ll fix the starting lineup. We’ll do something different on Sunday. That first group has not been a very good group together. So we’re now going to look to do something different.”

Jess Shepard started in place of Damiris Dantas tonight — who is away from the team for personal reasons — and struggled to get it going. She scored two points on six shots and was not her usual self on the glass, grabbing only one rebound.

Beyond Shepard, the Lynx got solid contributions offensively from the other four; Sylvia Fowles, Aerial Powers, Kayla McBride and Moriah Jefferson combined to score 45 points on 19/30 (63%), but they just couldn’t keep pace with the torrid Sun offense, led by DeWanna Bonner’s 20 points on 8/12 shooting.

Connecticut Sky v Minnesota Lynx
DeWanna Bonner
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Head Coach Curt Miller’s squad played an extremely crisp offensive game that was fueled by beating perimeter defenders off the dribble, hitting unabated passes into the post, and effectively throwing skip passes over the back line of the defense for wide open 3s. Connecticut shot 10/21 (47.6%) as a result.

Minnesota just couldn’t string stops together at any point of the game before it entered blowout territory. The Lynx put up 25 points on 9/16 shooting (56.3%) in the third quarter, but the Sun lead grew by six, from 13 to 19.

Connecticut feasted in the paint, scoring 16 in the third alone on 8/8 shooting, and went 3/5 from beyond the arc; the Sun scored 31 points in the frame on 13/17 (76.5%), which sums up the night for the Lynx. Even when the offense rose to the occasion by playing with some pace, urgency and unselfishness, their defense wilted and the team did not look particularly impassioned or eager to play for one another on that end.

In an understandable move, Reeve benched the starting unit for the remainder of the game with 54 seconds left in the third after a Sun pick-six extended their lead to 22. The Lynx went on to give it away 17 times, with those 17 turnovers leading to 22 Sun points and 10 fast break points.

Despite the outcome of the game already being decided at that point, the fourth quarter produced some fireworks.

Newly-signed Lindsay Allen made her Lynx debut tonight, registering six points, four rebounds, and three assists in the fourth alone on her way to a line with nine points, seven dimes and four rebounds. The seven dimes are the most in franchise history for a player in her Lynx debut. Nina Milić joined Allen in the fourth quarter with 10 points and five boards, herself, in that frame.

Connecticut Sun v Minnesota Lynx Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

To put the cherry on top of a great night for Connecticut, forward Alyssa Thomas, who played 11 more minutes than any other starter, recorded her 10th rebound with 18.8 seconds left to complete a 15-point, 12-assist, and 10 rebound triple-double. Miller then immediately called a timeout so his team could celebrate her, with his team winning 94-84. They could later be heard across the hall in the middle of Reeve’s postgame press conference celebrating the first triple-double in Sun franchise history and 17th in league history.

“Isn’t that great? To have fun, to come to Minnesota and celebrate in our building. Ain’t that fun and exciting? First triple-double in their franchise’s history. Get to take a timeout on us and celebrate,” Reeve said after she was interrupted. “Not a good night for the Lynx, was it?”

To make matters worse for the Lynx, they are running out of chances to win games, climb the WNBA standings, and earn a spot in the playoffs to give soon-to-be Hall of Famer Sylvia Fowles an opportunity to close out her career with a ring. They have to face the Sun twice more this season, including again on Sunday, the day Jones is expected to return.

Currently, Minnesota is one game back of the ninth-seeded Phoenix Mercury and trail the No. 8 seed Dallas Wings by two games, after Dallas lost to the first-place Chicago Sky tonight. It won’t get any easier: seven of the team’s final eight games will come against teams in the top eight of the WNBA standings. Phoenix has three games left against teams outside the top eight, while Dallas plays five of its last 12 games against such teams.

Given the circumstances, the Lynx absolutely need to win on Sunday if they want to keep pace with the Wings and Mercury and give themselves a chance to give one of the game’s all-time great players a send off she so richly deserves. But the clock is ticking, the phone is ringing, and it’s uncertain if the Lynx can answer the call.