The Start - Nneka vs. Napheesa
Tuesday night was the third time these two storied rivals faced each other within a 10-day period. The visiting Minnesota Lynx narrowly edged out the Los Angeles Sparks in both the prior contests so you knew LA was going to come out firing. After being held to a season-low 8 points by the Lynx just four days ago, former league MVP, Nneka Ogwumike, came out guns blazing. In fact, it took her just one quarter of play to surpass that total, notching 11 of her team-high 20 points in all types of ways.
The elder Ogwumike’s dominance helped the Sparks take an quick seven-point lead. Meanwhile, the Lynx looked like a team that was at the end of three-game road trip right from the tip, playing lazily and sloppily. In particular, Minnesota’s starting point guard, Tiffany Mitchell, was yanked just a few minutes into the game and received an earful from the coaching staff. Whatever was said to her must have gotten through, as she immediately responded with two pick-6s. Call that foreshadowing for what was to come later.
Offensively, it should no longer come as a surprise that Minnesota leaned heavily on the broad shoulders of Napheesa Collier. She battered the Sparks defense from the paint and midrange, peppering in shots over any defenders that tried to stand in her way. Phee notched 12 of her game-high 26 points in the first half, keeping pace with Nneka’s 13 first half points. She spoke to her recent scoring streak after the game, noting her pride in staying confident with putting the ball in the hoop from all three levels.
The Meat - A Rock Fight
Despite the individual brilliance of both team’s all-stars, it was mostly an ugly offensive display throughout the first half. Both teams were shooting below 43% from the field. The Lynx mustered up a 1 for 10 effort from perimeter while the usually sound Sparks offense committed 13 turnovers. It could have potentially been due to missing rotation players for both teams, but there was a brief sequence that summed things up near the end of the first half.
Tiffany Mitchell and LA’s Karlie Samuelson both dove to the floor to retrieve a loose ball. Instead, Mitchell inadvertently landed on top of the younger Samuelson’s and kneed her face into the hardwood floor, leaving her crumpled in pain for a bit. The very next possession, Dorka Juhász would snag a defensive rebound away from Nneka, but would be on the receiving end of an accidentally slap to the eye/nose area. It seemed innocuous at first, but it was bad enough where Juhász would exit the game due to concussion protocol and never reenter.
The second half began similarly. With Jessica Shepard still out with an illness and Juhász now out, the severely shorthanded Lynx went with a small-ball lineup. This forced Bridget Carleton to match up against the much larger Dearica Hamby and Chiney Ogwumike, but she would step up to the challenge. She nearly single-handedly stifled the Sparks game plan as they repeatedly try to attack Carl in the paint. The 6’1” wing clawed and battled both Hamby and Chiney to the point of maddening, not relenting a single inch. Then on offense, she created mismatches with her floor stretching ability, drilling three pointer after three pointer (Four on the night).
When asked about her success playing against fours, Carleton reiterated that it’s not her natural position nor was the job easy, but she prides herself on being versatile and doing whatever it takes to win.
The Finish - Decisively Defensive
The score would be all tied up at 49 a piece heading into the final period. It was already a defensive display as evidenced by both teams were held to 39% shooting entering the quarter, but the best was yet to come. A few early treys from both Los Angeles and Minnesota gave the false impression that the floodgates were about to open. Instead, it was more turnovers and gritty back-and-forth play. A Lindsay Allen three-point play would briefly push the Lynx ahead 60-56 with five minutes remaining, but Curt Miller’s resilient Sparks team would refuse to trail by more than a possession for the rest of the game. They snapped the deficit down to just a point after a Rae Burrell steal and uncontested layup to the dismay of an incensed Cheryl Reeve with 2:47 remaining on the game clock.
Then the Lynx made a collective stand.
It felt as though they collectively animorphed themselves into a swarm of hungry wasps on defense. They flew around all over court, closing out hard on their rotations while throwing timely doubles or chip blocks in the paint. Their effort would result in six, six, straight defensive stops to end the game.
The Sparks never scored again.
An absolute rock fight of a game where both teams shot under 40%, #Lynx clutch it out with 5 straight defensive stops - 67-61.— Leo S (@Y0Leo) June 21, 2023
⭐ Mitchell gets game-sealing steal (5 total)
⭐⭐ Carleton hit 4 triples while clamping paint
⭐⭐⭐ Phee leads game with 26 & 14 pic.twitter.com/UPyYCluT0V
Once again, the Lynx close out the Sparks on their home court for the second straight time this season and maintained their win streak in Los Angeles to five in a row. This would officially make it a 3-0 season sweep against their vaunted rivals which has to feel good for both the Lynx and their fans.
- Another dominant performance by Napheesa Collier. She put the team on her back offensively, totaling 26 points (12/20), 14 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 stocks. It’s laughable how good she is. Seriously, click here to vote for her as an All-Star now: on.nba.com/3PfwCGh
- It’s hard to overstate just how critical Bridget Carleton was tonight. Canis Hoopus witnessed multiple players draw the ire from officials as they continually complained about not being able to post up successful against the smaller Carleton. She also tied her career-high of four three pointers.
- Lindsay Allen drew praise from Coach Reeve post game for her leadership and ability to get into the paint. She dropped a game-high 8 dimes and was a key cog on both ends of the court.
- Though Nina Milić had some rough spots in this game that got Coach Reeve off her seat for all the wrong reasons, she still built on the momentum from her recent performances. She led the bench with 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. She will be called upon even further if either Shepard and/or Juhász has to miss anymore time.
- Coach Reeve didn’t have a particular update about Dorka Juhász or Diamond Miller’s status following the game. She did say she hopes Juhász will be available for their next game back at home on Thursday. Additionally, Reeve shared that Miller is progressing well and the training staff is pleased with her recovery so far, but there’s no official time table. Canis Hoopus spotted her prior to the game moving well without any braces or wraps on her ankle.
#2 pick, Diamond Miller, looking more and more spry out here. Still not in uniform, but no limp or brace on her ankle. pic.twitter.com/Hjj0BM8in7— Leo S (@Y0Leo) June 21, 2023
- The Lynx notched a season-high 12 steals (Credit Tiffany Mitchell for a career-high 5 steals) while also holding the Sparks to 37.1% from the field. This increases their record when holding opposing teams to under 40% shooting to 145-6.
This concludes Minnesota’s three-game West coast road-trip. They return home to host the second place (10-2) Connecticut Sun on Thursday (6/22) at 7:00pm CT. If the Lynx can steal one against a championship contender, they’ll have a ton of momentum going into a very soft part of their schedule (SEA, @SEA, @PHX, IND, PHX). That said, it’s feared that Connecticut’s All-Star center, Brionna Jones, may have suffered a serious injury in their win versus the Seattle Storm last night. Prayers up for Breezy.