The Minnesota Lynx and Connecticut Sun return to action in their first-round matchup in the WNBA Playoffs on Sunday. The two squads will tip off at 12PM CT from Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
After a blowout contest in Game 1, resulting in Connecticut overpowering Minnesota 90-60 to take a 1-0 series advantage, the Sun are on the verge of sweeping the Lynx while Minnesota tries to force a winner-take-all Game 3 on Wednesday at Target Center.
Here’s a look at the schedule for the first-round battle between the Lynx and Sun:
- Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 13 — Connecticut 90, Minnesota 60 RECAP
- Game 2: Sunday, Sept. 17 — 12 PM CT at Mohegan Sun Arena (ESPN)
- Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 20 — TBD at Target Center (ESPN)*
Before the Lynx and Sun return to the court to resume this series on Sunday, some of the staff at Canis Hoopus put together a roundtable while looking back at what went right and what went wrong in Game 1, what each team needs to do in order to come out on top in Game 2, and more.
Most Important Adjustment to Make
The Lynx have to find a way to create easy offense for Diamond Miller and Tiffany Mitchell in Game 2. They combined for five points on 2/12 shooting, turned it over a combined five times, and dished out only two assists. Both are integral pieces to the Minnesota offense playing with pace, effectively turning stops into points on the other end, and collapsing the defenses by using their quick first steps to get into the paint. Both players have struggled against the Sun this season, especially as scorers.
“Yeah, I think identity wise, you are who you are. Everybody’s got their play calls and actions. It’s really more of showing them opportunities that we had that we didn’t take advantage of, and ways that, like you said, they can help,” Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve told Canis Hoopus after practice on Friday. “[Connecticut’s] complementary players were helpful to them, and so, we’ve obviously got to be a team that gets a little bit more help.
Connecticut’s complementary players — Bec Allen, Tiffany Hayes, DiJonai Carrington and Ty Harris — combined to score 50 points, while their Minnesota counterparts — Mitchell, Miller, Carleton and Banham — poured in 19. That has to change if the Lynx want to be more competitive on Sunday.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. That was the biggest story for the Lynx in Game 1 and will be a very important aspect of being able to bounce back in Game 2 on Sunday in an elimination game. As we talked about in our preview before the series, Connecticut has a strong defense and has shown the ability to force opposing offenses into mistakes on their end via turnovers. Well, the Sun did that early and often in Game 1, forcing Minnesota into 16 turnovers which turned into 30 points on the other end. The Lynx need to limit mistakes on their side of things in Game 2 to avoid a sweep.
Another thing that will be key for Minnesota on the defensive side is being able to limit Connecticut from three, which took the game out of reach early on in the Game 1 blowout. The Sun finished with an impressive 16 threes on 30 attempts, while Minnesota managed to connect on just 5-of-25 threes. If that happens again, we could see another blowout on Sunday.
“They scored 30 points of our turnovers and 48 points from the three-point line. That’s 78 of the 90 points. We gotta take better care of the ball, but I think we’ve had to get more aggressive in getting down,” Kayla McBride said after Game 1. “It’s gonna be a collective effort, that’s what it’s been all season long. Everybody chipping in, everybody doing their thing. We gotta leave it all out there on Sunday.”
The most important adjustment to make from Game 1 to Game 2 is taking care of the ball. The Lynx had 19 turnovers in the game and the Sun scored 30 points off of those turnovers. That to me is more telling than the 16/30 that the Sun shot from beyond the arc in that game. Even if the Lynx do not play good perimeter defense that number is bound to regress from the 50+ percentage mark to something that is more consistent with the Sun’s season averages. This high percentage from outside the arc also goes back to the turnover issue. Many times throughout the game the Sun took advantage of the Lynx on their carelessness with the ball and those turned into open 3-point opportunities. Taking care of the ball is something that has been a challenge for the Lynx all season, but if they are able to cut down on the turnovers and not give the Sun easy runouts, it will help them to have a punching chance in this matchup.
Player Who Needs a Bounce Back Game Most
The easy answer here is Miller, but I’ll go with Collier. She was visibly upset on the podium after Game 1, in which she scored 14 points on 5/12 shooting to go along with six boards, an assist, two turnovers and a pair of blocks. Reeve said that no one in the Lynx locker room was harder on themselves or more disappointed in their own play than the three-time All-Star, who will be looking to find the rhythm she enjoyed against the Sun during the regular season. Collier scored 30 and 21 points, respectively, during the two matchups she played in.
“I told her, ‘It doesn’t feel very good.’ I said there’s more times for Phee that it feels great than it feels like it did after the Connecticut game,” Reeve said. “Phee is very smart. We got together a little bit, watched a little bit of video. She understands exactly what she needs to get done and how to get it done. And she’ll be a player that bounces back, for sure.”
“I’ll definitely be watching film to see what I can do better. Like I said, I was obviously disappointed in what I brought,” Collier told Canis after Game 1. “So you have to make an adjustment and to see where we can maybe get some easy baskets because the ones I usually make weren’t falling, how I can help the team in other ways. I’ll definitely be looking at that to see what I can do better.”
Collier has been nothing short of incredible all season, and her resilience is a crucial reason why. Since the beginning of July, Collier has followed up a game scoring less than 20 points by scoring 20+ seven times, including in six of her last seven opportunities. She is a tremendously resilient player who has the trust, belief and adoration of all of her teammates and coaches, and will undoubtedly be hungry to right the ship in Game 2.
If you count the entire season, Collier scored less than 20 in 15 games (not counting G1).— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) September 16, 2023
She came back with a game of 20+ in her next outing 12 times. Pretty remarkable how she doesn't let one off scoring night turn into two. Very mentally tough player
There are a few different players I believe need to bounce back in Game 2 to contribute outside of Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride. The players I’m specifically looking to are the three other players in the starting lineup: Diamond Miller, Dorka Juhász and Tiffany Mitchell. Cheryl Reeve said after Game 1 she expects the Lynx rookies to have a bounce-back performance after getting their first playoff experience last Wednesday, so look for them to be active early to try and get going. Mitchell being held scoreless in Game 1 also hurt the Lynx, so they need more out of the point guard spot as well.
“Diamond and Dorka, I don’t think the atmosphere was anything they weren’t sort of used to. They both played at a high level and we’ve been in arenas,” Reeve said after Game 1. “I think it’s more just the... I don’t necessarily think that Connecticut did anything they didn’t do in the regular season. Just, for whatever reason, I don’t know, maybe the idea that it was a playoff game.”
As we’ve seen this year, when others contribute outside of Collier and McBride, this Lynx team turns into a different squad and one that can beat any team on any given night. A balanced Minnesota attack oftentimes leads to a win, so I am looking for the supporting cast to step up on Sunday in Game 2.
The player that needs to bounce back the most is Diamond Miller. She had a relatively quiet outing in her first playoff game, managing five points on 2/9 shooting. While Phee did not have her usual high scoring outing in this matchup, there needs to be offense outside of her and K-Mac. Miller is the most capable player to provide that help. My preview had Miller as the most likely candidate to be that tertiary scorer and pick up some of the slack when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. She needs to channel those flashes of brilliance into an offensive effort to help out the Lynx offense. I know that is a lot to put on a rookie in her first postseason appearance but she is where this extra offensive boost is most likely to come from.
Lynx Will Win the Game If...
They turn it over 15 times or less and hold DeWanna Bonner to less than 20 points.
First and foremost, the Lynx cannot afford to put anymore stress on their defense with bad offense than the Sun would naturally place on them to begin with. 19 turnovers is unacceptable no matter the opponent, but especially against the team that converts mistakes into points better than any other in the WNBA. Getting cleaner looks and using more of the shot clock to slow down the Connecticut pace will be crucial.
As for Bonner, the five-time All-Star was terrific as a rebounder and playmaker, but put up quite a few ill-advised shots that bailed out the Lynx defense. They will have to continue to limit the damage she does while closing out better on shooters such as Allen, Hayes and Harris. Basic probability would tell you it’s highly unlikely that the Sun role players will put up 50 points and shoot 12/16 from downtown again, so focusing on Bonner while cleaning up defensively on the margins with close-outs and back-side communication on shooters will be key.
Minnesota will win in Game 2 if they can focus on balance and limit shooting itself in the foot, which has been an issue this year. As I mentioned above, a balanced Lynx team is a dangerous one when they are attacking defenses from multiple areas. That’s the first thing of focus in Game 2. The second thing is limiting mistakes on their own end, notably turnovers. During the regular season, the Lynx averaged 14.2 turnovers (tied for sixth in the WNBA) resulting in 16.7 points off turnovers per game (second-worst in WNBA). In four regular-season games against Connecticut alone, Minnesota averaged 16 turnovers resulting in 16.5 points per game for the Sun on the other end.
I also expect a big game from Napheesa Collier, who finished with somewhat of an underwhelming performance of 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting with six rebounds and two blocks in Game 1. The success of the Lynx often rides on how Collier is performing, so if she does indeed have a big game, that should make for a positive outcome for Minnesota.
The Lynx will win the game if Rachel Banham or Aerial Powers have a stellar bench performance. One of my keys coming into the series was the bench scoring. We all know that the majority of the offense comes from Collier and McBride but when one or neither of them are on the court the Lynx need that boost to come from the bench. The non-Collier minutes have especially plagued the Lynx offense as they do not have that consistent scoring threat to run their offense through. There will need to be times where Phee is off the floor and the Lynx cannot lose those minutes by a wide margin. They did a decent job of that last game but need someone off the bench to show up and show out to give them a spark on that end of the floor. I think that Powers and Banham have the highest potential to bring that and send this to a rubber match right here in downtown Minneapolis.
Sun Will Win the Game If...
Their 3-point rate stays north of 40%. 30 of Connecticut’s 70 shots in Game 1 were 3-pointers (42.9%) and they connected on 16 of those 30 (53.3%). Minnesota grabbed an uncharacteristically high percentage of those 14 3-point misses (76.9%, per PBP Stats). If they had that 3-point rebound percentage in the regular season, it would’ve ranked second in the WNBA; instead, their 74.92% clip ranked eighth. WNBA teams shot 3-pointers at a higher frequency (35.3% of total field goal attempts) against the Lynx than any other team, and the Lynx’s inability to consistently clean the glass played a big factor in that. It is likely that the Sun won’t shoot a higher percentage from deep than they did in Game 1, but they have a higher number of capable shooters than the Lynx, and outshooting the Lynx from deep is a good recipe for success.
Connecticut will win Game 2 and sweep this series if it is able to continue to find success from three and on defense, two things that really hurt Minnesota in Game 1 and took the Lynx out of the game early. The Lynx have not been a very strong team from deep this year, so they aren’t able to keep up with the Sun when they are shooting the ball like they were in Game 1 with 16 threes. And it wasn’t only the fact that Connecticut found success from deep, but more so the spread-out attack in that area. Five different Sun players connected on two or more threes in the win to go along with five players in double-figures in scoring. That balance is tough for any team to have to deal with. As far as the defensive end, Connecticut locked down Minnesota on its end of the floor, holding the Lynx to 35% shooting and five threes with just two players in double figures in scoring. The mix of a balanced offensive performance and lock-down defense is what the Sun do best and what has led them to a top-three finish in the standings. If they replicate that in Game 2, this series will be over.
The Sun will win the game if they force the Lynx into tons of turnovers. While I do believe their 3-point shooting will regress to the mean, the turnovers will not necessarily. Connecticut has proven all season to be a great defensive team and force the opposing team into mistakes. The Lynx could not take care of the ball and that is what led to a lot of easy baskets for the Sun, which killed any kind of momentum that Minnesota gained. This is something that the Lynx have had an issue with all year and it cannot continue if they want to come back and pull off the upset. Connecticut thrives off of these turnovers and turning that into points at the offensive end. If the Sun is able to speed up the Lynx guards and force them to end possessions with turnovers instead of a shots, they will win the game and cruise on to the second round.
Who Will Win in Game 2?
I’ll take the Lynx in a close one. They stumbled out of the gates and still found a way to recover and take a lead early in the second quarter, before they let go of the rope. Minnesota is an incredibly tough, connected and resilient group, and those are all necessary attributes of a team that gets can steal a playoff game on the road, especially when facing elimination. Time and time again this season, the Lynx have been counted out, and Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride have led this group to wins that prove people wrong. Add in the coach with the most playoff wins in the history of the league and it’s hard not to at least see a Lynx path to victory. I had Connecticut to win 2-1 in the preview and I’ll stick with that.
Despite the success of the Sun that we saw in Game 1, I think the Lynx find a way to win in Game 2 to force a winner-take-all Game 3. With the hype, anticipation and maybe nervousness that a playoff atmosphere on the road can present — especially the first playoff appearance for some of the Lynx players — it’s not that surprising that Minnesota fell in the first game. Connecticut is an experienced team filled with veterans, so it was a little more battle-tested than Minnesota.
With that said, I think the Lynx find a way to figure things out in Game 2 and adjust to what took place in Game 1. I believe Minnesota will focus on limited mistakes on its own end and it’s not likely that we see Connecticut shoot the ball quite as well as it did last Wednesday. My prediction is the Lynx even this series at 1-1, setting up for one final game of the first round this Wednesday at Target Center for a trip to the semifinals on the line.
Even though it will be an uphill battle, I think the Lynx come back swinging in Game 2 and take a close one off of the Sun to force a Game 3 in Minneapolis. I would bet the veterans have been coaching the young talent since Wednesday’s loss and while they could have benign a bit over their heads in the first matchup, I think they will come back swinging in this game. The Lynx need to play a clean game and if they can prevent those turnovers that plagued their offense in Game 1 I think they will be able to pull this one out.
There is nothing to lose at this point in the series and Minnesota’s backs are against the wall. The one thing that has been most consistent this season for the Lynx is their grit, and that determination will serve them well in this Game 2 matchup. Getting the series back to Minnesota puts all of the pressure on the Sun, and that is where Minnesota can shock the WNBA world and pull off an incredible upset.