The most exciting time of the WNBA season is upon us with the WNBA Playoffs tipping off this week as eight teams left standing while vying for a league title in October.
After missing the postseason in 2022, the Minnesota Lynx have returned to the playoffs following an impressive turnaround over the latter half of the regular season, concluding the 40-game regular season with a record of 19-21. The Lynx secured the sixth seed, setting up a best-of-three series against the third seed Connecticut Sun in the first round of the playoffs.
During the regular season, the Lynx and Sun faced off four times, with Connecticut holding a 3-1 advantage. Connecticut won 89-84 in Minneapolis on June 1, 89-68 in Minneapolis on June 22 and 79-69 in Connecticut on Aug. 1. Minnesota’s lone win of the regular-season series came July 30 during an 87-83 victory in Connecticut.
This opening-round series will tip off on Wednesday, with Games 1 and 2 taking place in Connecticut and a potential winner-take-all Game 3 shifting locations to Minnesota. Here’s the full schedule and broadcast information:
- Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 13 — 7PM at Mohegan Sun Arena (ESPN2)
- Game 2: Sunday, Sept. 17 — 12PM at Mohegan Sun Arena (ESPN)
- Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 20 — TBD at Target Center (ESPN)*
Before postseason play begins, some of the staff at Canis Hoopus got together to preview this first-round series, offer what it will take for both teams to come out on top, and what the result of the series will be.
What Did Regular Season Games Tell Us?
Jack Borman: The only concrete takeaways we can draw from the first four regular season games is the style in which these two teams will play. Connecticut is going to play very aggressive defense, pressuring ball handlers above the break and often sending two defenders at guards coming off the screen in pick-and-roll. Offensively, they’ll look to turn stops into points on the other end, and look to MVP candidate forward Alyssa Thomas to quarterback the half-court offense. Minnesota is going to share the ball, win the free throw battle, run everything through fellow three-time All-Stars Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride offensively, and play tough team defense aimed at slowing down perimeter stars.
Outside of that, there isn’t much to carry into the playoffs. Collier, Diamond Miller, Rachel Banham, Lindsay Allen and Jess Shepard were all in-and-out of the lineup throughout these games, and the Sun have gotten more used to playing without All-Star center Bri Jones, who tore her achilles early in the season.
“I look at three of the four games and say that we largely played them pretty well. And we’ve yet to have all of our players, Lindsay Allen, Diamond Miller and Napheesa Collier, and we’re still not going to,” Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve told me in a phone call on Tuesday. “Different games, so it’s really hard to know. Now we’ll have both Diamond and Phee, and then navigating the rest of it. So it’s kind of new for both teams, what we’re actually gonna look like.”
Mitchell Hansen: To be honest, these two teams matched up relatively well during the regular season, even though Connecticut held a 3-1 series advantage. Both teams were nearly even in almost every category — shooting, rebounding, pace of play, assist-to-turnover ratio and more — over the regular season, though the Sun hold slight edges in each of those categories.
The biggest thing that set the two teams apart comes on the defensive end, with Connecticut being a better team on that side of the floor than Minnesota. The Sun, with the second-best defense in the WNBA during the regular season, managed to force the Lynx into mistakes on offense in all four games which will be an important aspect of this series. Connecticut is talented offensively and Minnesota can’t forget about the Sun’s firepower in that area of the game, but if the regular season games showed us anything, it’s the fact that Connecticut has been able to force Minnesota into mistakes early and often, something the Lynx need to avoid if they want to have a chance at pulling off an upset.
Benny Hughes: The Connecticut Sun, to most, are in the second tier of teams and could be argued to be the only team in the weird middle ground below the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces but above the Dallas Wings. They are ferocious on the defensive side of the ball and cause a lot of mistakes by opposing teams — forcing them into 15.8 turnovers per game, second-most in the WNBA. This has been something that has plagued this Lynx team all year and needs to be rectified if Minnesota wants to move past the Sun. It is important to note that these teams have not seen each other in a while, with the last game taking place on August 1 — over a month ago.
The biggest thing that these first four games show us is that Napheesa Collier is unfazed by the tough Sun defense. While she only played in two of the matchups, she scored 30 and 21 points in those games, respectively. Like many other WNBA teams, Connecticut does not have an answer for MVPhee. Superstars show up when their teams need them the most and Collier has an opportunity to lead this team to a thrilling upset so long as she continues to play at the level she has all season, and potentially elevate it.
Key Matchup to Watch
Jack Borman: Diamond Miller vs. DiJonai Carrington
Few players possess the game-breaking speed, transition prowess and knack for making energy-infusing plays in important moments that Miller and Carrington each bring their respective teams. Furthermore, they are both capable of being the No. 3 scorer and an important defender, too. However, Miller and Carrington also are susceptible to fading into the background of star-driven teams.
The player that wins this matchup — in terms of who makes the greater positive impact for their team while on the floor, not necessarily a 1-on-1 matchup — will very likely be on the winning team when this first-round series comes to a close. Miller will wreak havoc if she can defeat advantageous matchups on the back side of an over-aggressive Sun defense, while Carrington will beat the Lynx in transition after steals or live rebounds, and look to make catch-and-shoot corner three’s if Thomas or Natisha Hiedeman attract multiple defenders in the paint.
Miller’s impact is primarily felt through scoring, but she has struggled against a strong Connecticut defense. The No. 2 overall pick has scored 20 points on 6-of-21 shooting (28.6%) and nine turnovers in her two games against the Sun this season, but does have eight assists, so could also be a factor as a playmaker. After a blistering July, in which she won a very well-deserved WNBA Rookie of the Month award, Miller has averaged 10.7 points on 39.0% shooting and has scored in double figures six times in the last 14 games. The good news for the Lynx is that two of those have come in team’s last two games, scoring 35 points on 14-of-21 shooting (66.7%), so they’ll surely be hoping their exciting rookie can keep it rolling in the playoffs.
Mitchell Hansen: Napheesa Collier and DeWanna Bonner
There are a few different matchups I’m keeping an eye on in this series, the first being the battle between Collier and Bonner, two players who have been key offensive producers for their respective teams during the regular season. From the Lynx side of this matchup, Collier has been playing as steady as Minnesota could have hoped all year long, finishing the regular season fourth in the WNBA in scoring while playing at an MVP-caliber level. Collier has also performed well against Connecticut this season, averaging 25.5 points in two outings against the Sun. Collier will have to step up again if the Lynx want to have a chance to upset the Sun and will only have to lead Minnesota offensively but also try to lock down Bonner on the other end of the court.
The other matchup I’m intrigued to watch is the rookie Dorka Juhász against the talented post group in Connecticut. With Jessica Shepard still not at 100%, Juhász will likely see an expanded role again, a spot she has thrived in with consistency and play-making ability in multiple areas of the game. The reason I am keeping an eye on this matchup is first to see how the rookie performs under the pressure and challenges of the postseason. Secondly, I’m curious to see how she can try and limit the star duo of Bonner and Alyssa Thomas, and even Olivia Nelson-Ododa coming off the bench. If Shepard isn’t able to play much, or even at all, Juhász is going to have a big challenge to lead the Lynx in the paint on both ends, all while making her first postseason appearance along with fellow rookie and teammate Diamond Miller.
dorka juhasz is a known connecticut killer. big playoffs from my hungarian sister i feel it.— go tennis!!! (@probablyatypo) September 10, 2023
Benny Hughes: Dorka Juhász vs. the Connecticut front-court
The key matchup that I am keeping my eyes on in this series is Juhász vs. the Sun’s talented front-court. Connecticut’s top scorers, Bonner and Thomas, headline an impressive front-court, and they are all more than capable when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. With the status of Jess Shepherd unknown beyond Game 1 (and even with her playing a significant role) the Lynx will need someone to slow down these powerful offensive forces coming from the opposing side. This is where the UConn alum can leave her mark. Juhász has been great this season, rebounding and defending at a high level and providing the Lynx with some much needed size in the paint. When facing a team who has great forwards as the Sun do, it is a place where Juhász can help the Lynx sway the tide in their favor. Minnesota’s postseason hopes will be in for a rude awakening if they cannot keep this trifecta under control.
Jack Borman: Bridget Carleton
When Carleton plays at least 15 minutes, the Lynx are 11-7. When she doesn’t, Minnesota is 8-14. If you increase that threshold to 20 minutes, the Lynx record jumps to 7-1. Now, some of that is because of the Lynx winning handily and not playing starters as much, but it has more to do that when Carleton plays, and plays well, the Lynx operate more efficiently on both ends of the floor. Much of that hinges on her shooting; when Carleton makes at least two 3-pointers, Minnesota is 6-1, and they are 13-20 when she makes one or fewer. If she plays at least 15 minutes and shoots at least five 3-pointers per game, I like the Lynx chances of winning this series more. She could also see time guarding Bonner, too, which is going to be as pivotal of an assignment as any Lynx player has in this series.
Mitchell Hansen: Napheesa Collier
My biggest x-factor in this series for Minnesota is Napheesa Collier. The Lynx have and will go as Collier goes, meaning she is the most important player to helping Minnesota to an upset in the first round. Although a lot will ride on the success of Collier, the Lynx have taken off to another level when others have contributed along with Collier. Players like Kayla McBride, Miller and Juhász need to feed into the balance of the Lynx offensively to offer another threat or two for the Sun to have to pay attention to on defense.
When it comes to the team in general, the key x-factor for the Lynx in this series is turnovers. Connecticut is one of the best defensive teams in the WNBA, also doing an impressive job of forcing turnovers while being active on that end of the court. In the four regular-season games, the Sun forced the Lynx in 16 turnovers a game, which resulted in a large chunk of points offensively that gave the Sun an edge in nearly every contest. If Minnesota wants to pull off one or two upset victories, it is going to have to limit shooting itself in the foot via turnovers.
Benny Hughes: The Lynx bench
The X-factor in this series will be the Lynx bench and the scoring (or lack thereof that they can provide). The story all season has been that when Collier is out of the game, where does the scoring come from? The bench scoring has been a bumpy ride for Minnesota and they need to find a source for scoring from their non-starters if they have any hopes of sticking with the Sun. When Rachel Banham or Bridget Carleton catch fire and can provide that Minnesota becomes tough to beat. I also have a bold prediction that Aerial Powers - who has been in and out of the rotation all season - will get some significant minutes in at least one of the games (if I had to bet I would pick game 2). She has the ability to make shots at a high rate when she’s on point, and in the lone win the Lynx picked up against Connecticut she scored 14 points.
Lynx Will Win the Series If...
They find a way to limit the damage that Alyssa Thomas inflicts. Thomas has been superwoman for a Sun squad successfully fighting to retain their place amongst the WNBA’s elite without Jones, one of the league’s top centers and an integral piece of what Connecticut does on both ends. She is deservingly in the thick of the MVP conversation, as she leads the Sun in minutes, rebounds, steals, free throw attempts and makes at the rim.
“I think we haven’t done as good of a job as I’d like to on that matchup. We’ve tried different things. None of them have worked,” Reeve told Canis.
“We’ve just talked about, with AT, obviously she’s going to impose her will at both ends of the floor and can we match it and can we try to reach that level? Take away the easy stuff, take away the o-boards, take away the stuff in transition, again off of poor offense, and try to keep her in the half-court setting and see if we can kind of hold our ground a little bit in some of the stuff that she’s doing.”
Expect Minnesota to use Juhász, Collier, Milić, and Shepard (if she can play) on Thomas defensively throughout the series. All have defended her at points throughout the teams’ first four matchups, and bring different qualities to the table as defenders. I’d look for the Lynx to limit Thomas as a playmaker as much as they can, forcing more of that burden onto secondary creators in Hiedeman, Hayes and Harris so that they can lock in on Thomas and Bonner off the ball. If the Lynx can keep Thomas near a 2.0 (or below) assist-to-turnover ratio, they have a damn good chance at winning this series.
The Lynx will win this opening-round series if they can have a consistent threat outside of Napheesa Collier step up in more than just one game. As I mentioned in the x-factor portion above, Minnesota becomes a multi-dimensional team and a much harder team to face when defenses have more to focus on than just Collier. Whether it’s the same player or different players at different moments in the series, that additional option only opens up things for Collier and others on offense, which helps the entire team. Minnesota could also win this series if it is able to limit hurting itself with turnovers and/or if the bench can step up to lift the team with the starters on the bench.
The Lynx will win the series if Diamond Miller can play that tertiary scoring role and do so efficient. I could definitely hammer home the point about the bench again but I wanted to go in a different direction. With Collier and McBride playing terrific basketball as of late, Minnesota needs that third option to give it to when Phee is out of the game or K-Mac goes through a cold shooting stretch. This is where Miller should be able to help out. She has shown flashes all season of being a threat on the offensive end but the efficiency has not always been there. If she is able to continue to shoot the ball well in this series it could be the game-changer that the Lynx need to defeat the Sun.
Sun Will Win the Series If...
Their supporting cast significantly outplays that of the Lynx.
“I think that’s what playoffs come down to, too, is like, there’s going to be so much emphasis on the big three, the starters, and then here comes Ty Harris, who lit us up last game. Here comes Carrington, who has done it all season, has been a really good player off the bench and is probably a really strong candidate for Sixth Player of the Year,” Reeve told Canis on Tuesday.
“It’s hard, but those are the players that end up being the difference. We certainly talked about those players and we try not to overdo, like, ‘Hey, these guys are gonna get theirs anyway. Let’s just make sure that we don’t let them have a big game.’ You can’t let Carrington have a big game. You can’t let Ty Harris have a big game, which is what happened in some of those games.”
Six Sun players have scored at least 17 points in a game against the Lynx this season, so the potential for the Lynx defense to struggle is there. They haven’t had McBride, Collier, Juhász and Miller available for all of contests so far this season, though, so that obviously has lowered the team’s defensive ceiling in those matchups. Mitchell, Miller, Carleton, Banham, and Juhász will be very competitive as a collective defensively, but if they can’t match the offensive contributions of Hiedeman, Hayes, Carrington and Harris, the Sun could cruise to the second round.
The Sun will come away with a series win if they can continue their trend this season of being a strong defensive squad and if they can take the Lynx out of games early. Connecticut can be a lock-down defensive team and one that is relentless in that area of the game, oftentimes causing mistakes, frustration and struggles to opposing offenses. It will also be key for the Sun to get out in front of the Lynx early, something that has been an issue for Minnesota at various points of the year and could take the young team out of games while not being able to recover. And of course, if Alyssa Thomas carries her historic and MVP-caliber year into the playoffs, that obviously helps.
The Sun will win the series if they shut down Kayla McBride. Too many times this season has Phee been left on an offensive island and received very little scoring help from her teammates. We know that Collier will score but she needs a Robin to her Batman. When the Lynx have looked good this year, K-Mac has been that Robin. She has the capability to be a lights out shooter and scorer alongside Collier. When she hasn’t, and when the bench scoring has been an issue along with it, Minnesota just does not have enough firepower on offense to compete with the Sun.
Jack Borman: 2-1 Sun
I’ve said all year that the Lynx are incredibly tough and cohesive as a team, which allows them to play at a level greater than the sum of its parts on paper. And that’s a highly-important attribute of teams that find success in the playoffs. But the Lynx haven’t played consistent enough basketball against high-quality opponents all year long, and don’t have their half-court orchestrator in Lindsay Allen. She would be missed when matching up with every team, but especially against Connecticut, a team whose defensive foundation is making lead guards uncomfortable. Not to mention that Minnesota will be without Jess Shepard for Game 1 at minimum, which is a big blow considering you need as many strong players as possible to battle Alyssa Thomas inside. But this Lynx team is too tough, too united and too proud to not earn a Game 3 at home next week. If it gets to a winner-take-all game, anything can happen...
Mitchell Hansen: 2-1 Sun
Minnesota has played well over the second half of the regular season and is worthy of winning at least a game in the first round of the series, but I believe Connecticut will be too much for the Lynx to deal with, though I don’t think it will be a two-game sweep. I predict that the Sun will take Game 1 on Wednesday, with the Lynx battling back to take Game 2 on Sunday and force a winner-take-all Game 3 at Target Center on Sept. 20, a game that Connecticut will come out on top in to advance to the semifinals. Regardless of the outcome, the postseason experience Minnesota will gain in this series and knowing how to deal with the challenges of a playoff series will be very beneficial moving forward.
Benny Hughes: 2-1 Sun
While nothing would make me happier than to predict a Lynx upset, I think too many things have to bounce Minnesota’s way to make that happen. The lack of consistent bench scoring is a major issue and if Collier and McBride aren’t firing on all cylinders the entirety of the game I think that they get drowned out by a talented Connecticut team. While I do think Minnesota makes it interesting and wins game two (and to get real specific I think that is a result of someone on the bench having a great game) I cannot see them taking two off of last years runner-up.