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Lynx 86, Mercury 77: Minnesota Rallies Behind Sylvia Fowles For Big Win

With Syl pushing through her lingering knee injury, Moriah Jefferson and Aerial Powers stepped in a major way in the fourth quarter to keep the Lynx playoff hopes alive.

Minnesota Lynx v Phoenix Mercury Photo by Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images

After giving up a layup that extended the Phoenix Mercury’s lead to five points with 7:33 left to play, Minnesota Lynx Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve sensed her team was teetering on both ends of the floor. She took a timeout to calm down her team and remind them how many possessions they still had to take control of the game.

“Obviously we knew what we weren’t getting done. You know, we were given up just a crazy amount of 3s. We were disappointed in that,” Reeve said postgame about the message during the timeout. “We just kind of talked about what needed to happen over the next couple of minutes and then playing off our defense was gonna be really important, getting stops.”

In order to do so, Reeve made a pivotal switch to a zone defense.

“I think that’s probably what buoyed us with anything, as we gained some confidence defensively, we were able to get some stops.”

“When we went into the timeout, coach said we needed to come out there and score, and obviously we had some players that stepped up and made huge shots,” Lynx forward Jess Shepard said postgame. “AP came up huge in the second half.”

Minnesota Lynx v Phoenix Mercury
Aerial Powers
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Guard Aerial Powers — who did not start because of sore knee that forced her to miss Sunday’s win over Atlanta — re-entered, after Reeve called that timeout, with a simple mission: help Sylvia Fowles.

Powers did just that. After three made free throws from Kayla McBride, Powers scored two clutch buckets on the team’s first four possessions out of the timeout, a put-back and then a go-ahead jumper with 5:33 left to play.

Reeve’s team knew it was go-time. They responded to her timeout with a 9-2 run to retake the lead, 72-70, in exactly two minutes of game time, prompting a Mercury timeout.

“I can’t say enough about AP’s ability to come in and really help Syl. When it’s just all Syl it’s really really hard,” Reeve told Canis Hoopus. “She just was able to really get em up out of their stance, get leave their feet, right, and get to her sweet spot.”

“We all know that Syl’s kind of hurting so I gotta say we’re all pushing through to do it for her because no one wants their last season to not make the playoffs or not even have a chance,” Powers said to Canis Hoopus postgame, explaining how Fowles’ battling injury inspires her teammates. “Seeing her gut out what she’s going through. It all inspires us all to just keep pushing, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Fowles fought through immense pain all game in her right knee, to which she suffered a cartilage injury back on June 7 in a loss to the New York Liberty.

“Every once in a while [Syl’s] got a day like this where it’s pretty significant, o the point where we’re in a timeout and she’s popping some anti-inflammatory just to kind of calm things down a little bit,” Reeve said of Fowles’ condition. “It was a tough day for her. But she sees the finish line, so she’s gonna hang in there.”

Hang in there, she did. After receiving a perfect entry pass from point guard Moriah Jefferson, Fowles took the scoring baton from Powers.

Fowles’ pivotal and-1 breathed confidence into her Lynx teammates, given that they all fully understood what she was persevering through.

“I think it’s one of those things when you look next you and you have Sylvia Fowles, who has given you so much both as a player and as a person, I think you want to go out there every night and perform your best for her,” Shepard told Canis Hoopus.

“Obviously when you look over, you see her in pain, I think as a team, we know ‘Okay, we need to step up, we need to put her in positions that allow her to be successful.’ And obviously, Syl is a warrior. She’s fighting through everything and, you know, she’s giving us her best and she’s still dominant.”

Despite that, she had the full attention of the Phoenix defense, on her way to finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes of action. Mercury center Brianna Turner was determined to stay attached to Fowles in the dunker spot, and that opened things up for Powers to take advantage of it off the dribble.

Jefferson assisted on both baskets, but saved her best for last. The Lynx as a team have struggled all season to consistently throw entry passes over the top of the defense to Fowles, but picked a damn good spot to overcome that.

After she and her teammates spent the first 17 seconds of the possession looking for an opening to attack on the drive, Must-Win Mo rightfully put her faith in the greatest to ever do it, sore knee and all, to catch the most important pass of the Lynx season and finish before the shot clock sounded.

“She was in trouble there. Her body, just on time, on target kind of pass in traffic with what, like a second left on the shot clock?” Reeve told Canis Hoopus about the pass. “Syl had the where with all to, you know she’s gonna catch it, because that was one of those instances where she’s Megatron. She’s gonna catch that thing and have the ability on a really sore knee tonight to collect herself and lay it in.”

Reeve credited Jefferson’s confident fourth quarter — as a playmaker and a scorer — to Mo scoring her first field goal of the second half on a drive to the rim putting her in an aggressive mode.

If that pass didn’t display it enough, Jefferson had one more play left in the tank. The Most Improved Player candidate received a high ball screen from Fowles, and the rest was history.

After 20 lead changes and 11 different instances of a tie game, the Lynx finished out the game on a 22-9 run after that Reeve timeout with 7:33 to play, going on to win 86-77.

The Lynx are currently the No. 7 seed in the WNBA standings, meaning Minnesota would be a playoff team if the season ended tomorrow. But the Lynx are focused on controlling what they can control and letting the standings take care of themselves.

“I understand it, and that’s what the standings say, but this this changes by the day, and so we’re not too locked in on that. We just wanted to come here and win this game because we know that we have to do to keep our hopes alive,” Reeve said. “Another win would be really helpful to our to our chances to be in the playoffs. But it is, you know, it’s a goal of ours. So each time that we get a little closer. The group’s really happy, but there’s still a lot to do and one way to go in a short period of time.”

Quick Hitters

A Milestone Night for Moriah Jefferson

Jefferson struggled to find the touch in the first half, scoring zero points on 0/6 shooting, but she didn’t let that stop her from finding a way to impact the game. She defended well at the point of attack and made plays for her teammates very well. The former No. 2 overall pick dished out six assists while turning it over just once in the first half. She replicated that performance with six more dimes and just one blemish in the second half, including four crucial assists in the fourth quarter, and made all three of her shot attempts.

When the final buzzer sounded, she had a career-high 12 assists to go along with six points and six rebounds in what was a brilliant performance in her team’s biggest game of the season. She also recorded her 500th career assist early in the third quarter.

Big Game McBuckets

With Powers again out of the starting lineup, McBride came out firing, taking four shots in the first quarter after taking six on Sunday. She continued that into the second quarter, scoring a team-high eight of the Lynx’s 20 points in the frame on 3/7 shooting, including 2/2 from deep.

The three-time All-Star is truly a wonderful fit next to fellow All-Star Napheesa Collier, whose off-ball cutting and posting up, and unselfish nature help create opportunities for McBride to get better looks. The Lynx offense is better when McBride has space to work with and be aggressive within the flow of the offense, so it should come as no surprise that she has been the biggest beneficiary of Collier’s return to the lineup offensively.

McBride is also more willing to be aggressive and play the passing lanes defensively knowing that Collier, who is almost always in the right spot as a help defender, is behind her to back her up in the event McBride cannot come away with a steal. The former Notre Dame superstar is tied for 10th in scoring in her last two games at 19.0 points per game and tied for fourth in 3-pointers made (six) on 42.9% 3-point shooting.

She finished with 18 points on 3/7 3-point shooting, five key free throws in the fourth quarter alone, a pair of rebounds, three steals, and was +24 in 31 minutes. They’ll need McBuckets at her best on both ends against a red hot Seattle Storm team on Friday.

Minnesota Lynx v Phoenix Mercury Photo by Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images

A Game to Remember for Jess Shepard

Shepard turned in her second-best game of the season in a monster effort during Wednesday night’s win. The former Notre Dame standout scored 15 points (including eight in the first quarter alone) on 4/4 shooting and a career-high seven free throws made, to go with 12 rebounds, four assists, a steal, and a block across a team-high 33 minutes, during which the Lynx outscored the Mercury by a team-best 27 points.

She saw Sylvia Fowles hurting and had the GOAT’s back, battling inside for rebounds and doing all the dirty work to keep Fowles fresh to make an impact offensively down the stretch.

Minnesota Lynx v Phoenix Mercury Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Another Good Step for Phee

Collier was more aggressive last night compared to her first outing on Sunday. She was decisive in taking shots, attacking inside as a scorer and on the glass, and made a few highly impressive rebounds in traffic.

She was a -11 in 21 minutes, but much of that can be attributed to playing in odd lineup combinations with bench players that struggled. The Olympic Gold Medalist made another 3, as her shooting has been a welcomed addition to a team that needs as much spacing for Fowles, Jefferson and McBride as possible.

Collier finished with 11 points on 4/6 shooting, five rebounds, and one assist in 21 minutes.

Her biggest test yet will come when she’s tasked with guarding MVP candidate and her former UCONN teammate Breanna Stewart on Friday night.

Playoff Picture / Up Next

The Lynx currently sit seventh in the standings and hold a 62% chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight.

As a reminder, eight teams make the WNBA playoffs. Minnesota has the same record as the Atlanta Dream, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury, but hold the tiebreaker over all of those teams, as well as the Los Angeles Sparks in the event they win out.

For all intents and purposes, Minnesota will make the playoffs if they win one of their final two games. If they end up needing to win both games, beating Seattle could ensures the Connecticut Sun will be playing for nothing on Sunday if the Las Vegas Aces defeat the Chicago Sky tonight in Sin City.

Lynx fans should be rooting hard for the Aces, who are without All-Star forward Dearica Hamby for the next 2-4 weeks with a bone contusion. Despite that, Las Vegas is currently a 1.5-point favorite at most sportsbooks.

Next up for the Lynx is a home matchup with the Seattle Storm on Friday night at Target Center. Fans can watch the 8 PM CT tip on ESPN2. Minnesota will hold a special postgame ceremony honoring the legendary Sylvia Fowles immediately following the game and that will also be broadcast on ESPN2.

From Lynx PR:

The on-court program will include remarks from Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, Minnesota Lynx and Timberwolves Owners Glen and Becky Taylor, USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley, Napheesa Collier, Lindsay Whalen, Lynx Assistant Coach Rebekkah Brunson, Lynx Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve and Fowles. A tribute video will feature game highlights and milestones and will also spotlight Fowles’ off-court community initiatives that she has championed throughout her time in Minnesota. Bally Sports North play-by-play analyst Marney Gellner will serve as the emcee. The postgame ceremony will also be broadcast live on ESPN2.

If Friday night’s game didn’t carry enough significance for Fowles and the Lynx, Fowles needs nine rebounds to pass current Lynx legend and current assistant coach Rebekkah Brunson for most rebounds in franchise history.