The first-round playoff series between the Minnesota Lynx and Connecticut Sun has gone back-and-forth over the first two games, setting up for a winner-take-all Game 3 on Wednesday at Target Center with a trip to the WNBA Semifinals on the line.
After a blowout loss in Game 1, Minnesota bounced back in a big way in Game 2 to even the series at 1-1 and shift the series back to Minneapolis for at least one more game in front of the Lynx fanbase. Game 3 will tip off at 7 PM CT from Target Center and will be aired on ESPN.
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 — Minnesota 82, Connecticut 75 RECAP
- Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 20 — 7PM CT at Target Center (ESPN)
Before the Lynx and Sun return to the court with each team trying to advance and avoid their seasons coming to an end, the staff at Canis Hoopus put together a roundtable to get you ready for Game 3, looking at the biggest x-factor in the series-deciding game, what each team needs to do to come out on top, who will win and more.
Biggest X-Factor in Game 3
Scoring beyond each team’s two stars is likely going to determine the outcome of tonight’s win-or-go-home Game 3. While both head coaches have received excellent play from their respective star pairings, role players are going to determine how long runs last, one way or the other, and that is what has determined Games 1 and 2 so far.
Connecticut complementary players Bec Allen, Tiffany Hayes, Natisha Hiedeman and Ty Harris combined to shoot 14/19 (73.7%) from 3 in Game 1, then turned around and shot a combined 1/10 in Game 2. The Sun got 58 of their 90 points in Game 1 from players not named Alyssa Thomas or DeWanna Bonner and then got just 25 of their 75 Game 2 points from those same players.
Comparatively, Minnesota hasn’t gotten much by way of scoring from players not named Kayla McBride or Napheesa Collier. The pair scored 30 of the team’s 60 points in Game 1 and then a whopping 54 points of Minnesota’s 82 points on 22/42 shooting in Game 2. Lynx fans are surely hoping that will change as the series shifts to Minneapolis, where key bench shooters Rachel Banham and Bridget Carleton have combined to shoot 41.2% (40/97) from 3 compared to 33% (33/99) on the road.
Turnovers have been the story of the battles between the Lynx and Sun all season long and they have continued to play a large part in this first-round series of the playoffs. We’ve talked about turnovers a lot, but it’s hard to overstate just how big of a role they have played for Minnesota and the success and failures of the team on any given night. Turning the Lynx over is something we saw Connecticut do well in all four regular-season matchups, and that carried into the playoffs in Game 1, where Minnesota committed 19 turnovers resulting in 30 Connecticut points. In Game 2, the Lynx did a much better job in not hurting themselves offensively, finishing the game with nine turnovers resulting in six Sun points on the other end.
If Minnesota can limit the mistakes on its own end, this game will be a close one, If Connecticut has its way again defensively, the Lynx likely won’t be able to keep up and things could get out of reach in a hurry in Game 3.
The two big things that allowed the 30-point Game 1 blowout to occur were the Lynx turnovers and the Sun’s 3-point shooting. The biggest X-factor to me will be the latter of these two things. The 3-point shooting will be a huge deciding factor in who comes out on top in this winner-take-all matchup. The Sun shot 53% from deep in Game 1 and made 11 more 3-pointers than the Lynx. In Game 2, the Lynx had the 3-point edge, shooting 37.5% to the Sun’s 35.0%, and made two more of them than the Sun. This shows a clear trend in who has been able to take the win.
For the Lynx, it will come down to limiting the three pointers for the Sun and creating some of those shots for themselves. If they are able to win the three point battle or at least make it even, their inside offense could be enough to edge the Sun in this marquee matchup. If Connecticut comes back with a similar performance to Game 1, Minnesota will not be able to keep up.
The old adage remains as true as ever, as evidenced in game two: Basketball is a game of runs. Just when it looked like Minnesota was running away with an easy victory, the Sun roared back in a blink of an eye. I think the biggest X-factor will be something that can’t be measured in the box score. Who will be survive and counter after getting punched in the mouth?
The momentum battle in a win-or-go-home situation can be extremely volatile. Coach Cheryl Reeve has the edge in the playoff experience department and is more than capable of steadily guiding her team in a high stake game, but the Connecticut Sun roster clearly has the advantage over the young Lynx. I doubt this will be a single-digit deficit game the whole way through, so how many responses will we see and from who?
Player Who Will Make the Largest Impact
Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve and her veteran coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for the way they completely pivoted from Game 1 to Game 2. Minnesota used a ton of on-ball screens in Game 1 and struggled profusely with the Connecticut’s aggressive on-ball defense, which trapped and hedged hard on Lynx on-ball screens and dribble hand-offs (DHOs), like this:
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When the Sun do this, it leaves the back side and the rim exposed to to a 4-on-3 situation, provided their opponent’s guards move the ball quickly or split the double team. To account for this, instead of getting into offense with on-ball screens and DHOs, the Lynx utilized off-ball screens, specifically to get Kayla McBride open looks, at a much higher rate.
In the first play, Reeve goes to a horns set where Phee enters it to Dorka Juhász before setting a screen that McBride curls off of to get into the paint. Then, the Lynx used different out of bounds setups to get their sharpshooter open from deep, where she shot 6/11 in Game 2.
Expect more of the same in Game 3, with McBride being the focal point of the Lynx offense, whether she shoots it or her gravity opens up more 1-on-1 opportunities for Collier, Tiffany Mitchell and Diamond Miller off the bounce. McBride went all 40 minutes in Game 2 and she’ll do the same on Wednesday if that’s what her team needs.
Napheesa Collier will be at the center of the success of the Lynx again in Game 3 and she will play a very big role, but a player who I think might have the largest impact is Kayla McBride. McBride has been outstanding for Minnesota this season, not only offensively and being able to help the team from anywhere on the court, but also with her defense. As I talk about more below, it will be key for Connecticut to get contributions from others outside of Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner. With McBride and her defense, she has the ability to limit that, along with being able to hurt teams on the other end with her offensive outbursts. I’m watching for McBride in Game 3 to step up in key moments like she did in Game 2. And I guess it also wouldn’t hurt if she connected on six threes again.
I am going to go with an obvious one here, Napheesa Collier. I know what you’re thinking — of course Phee is going to have the largest impact in this game. And of course you’re right. I still think it is important to point her out in this specific situation, however, because of the magnitude of the game. It is a do-or-die game that is winner take all. The players that have to show up in these games are your superstars. Phee has been doing it all season and she needs to continue to bring it if the Lynx want to have a chance in this one.
I expect to see a mammoth game from the All-Star that will go down in Lynx history. Whether Minnesota is able to pull out the win or not, Collier will be must-watch television on Wednesday night.
They hit on some of the usual suspects above. I’m going to go on a limb here and predict that a third Lynx player steps up offensively. We know what Phee and K-Mac can and probably will do. Tiffany Mitchell has had an up-and-down season playing point guard, but still had a number of big-time clutch performances. Rachel Banham’s 3-point shooting is always a threat to ignite a Lynx explosion. However, I think it’s time for the 22-year-old rookie to shine like her namesake.
Diamond Miller has really struggled through her first two WNBA playoff performances so far, to say the least. Her 23.5% mark from the field doesn’t deviate too much from how she fared against the Sun in the previous two regular season matchups (28.6 FG%), but she is just too talented to stay under wraps for this long. Sun Head Coach Stephanie White will rightfully hone all of her attention on the two Lynx stars so the opportunity for Diamond to slice Connecticut up in transition and with off-ball movement should be there.
Lynx Will Win the Series If...
Napheesa Collier is healthy. The Lynx superstar tweaked her SI joint (lower back) in the third quarter of Game 2 and was noticeably hampered down the stretch of the game. Collier’s teammates quite literally had her back, as McBride, Carleton and Banham made enough shots to hold off the Sun comeback attempt and force a Game 3.
Collier’s first half was one of the best halves of her career, as she completely dominated both ends of the floor, so it was a bummer that we didn’t get to see what a 100% Collier could’ve done over that full game. If she carries over that same level of play to Target Center, it will be hard for the Sun to slow her down. The Lynx all season have gone as Napheesa Collier has gone, and Game 3 will be no different, one way or the other.
This may sound obvious, but Minnesota will win Game 3 if it simply replicates what took place in Game 2 on Sunday. The Lynx did almost everything right in Game 2, which is why they ultimately came out on top to even the series. Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride did what they do best in leading the team, but Minnesota got contributions from others throughout the roster at different points in the game, from the energy early from the Lynx rookies to the timely shots from the second unit throughout the contest. Those aspects, paired with the fact the Lynx limited turnovers on offense and held the Sun in check from deep, was key to stealing a game on the road.
As mentioned in the preview to Game 2, if Minnesota can display a balanced attack and can get players to step up at points outside of Collier and McBride, as well as limit the mistakes on its own end offensively, the Lynx will be right there in this game.
The Lynx will win the game if they are able to play as a team and not make the moment bigger than it is. This may sound a little bit too simplistic but I don’t believe it is in this big of a scenario. The Lynx have the opportunity to play in front of their own crowd and with all the perks that come with that. The tendency when this is the case however, is to play more solo hero-ball to try and get the crowd excited and inject energy into the team. Never has that worked in the biggest of moments. Minnesota needs to slow it down, take care of the ball and take good shots. Let the chips fall where they may but if they are able to take a breath and stay collected, they have a darn good chance at pulling out the win.
I agree that the turnover battle is super key. Things really spiraled out of control in game one once the Lynx lost their composure on offense, leading to a ton of points off turnovers. Minnesota gave up 30 points off 19 turnovers. Minnesota lost the game by exactly 30 points.
That said, I also believe that the perimeter shooting from both teams may be indicative of the result. I gave the world’s largest eyeroll as Tiffany Hayes banked in a three-pointer to open the series, not knowing it was foreshadowing of the incoming avalanche from deep (16/30 in game one). Cheryl Reeve was able to make necessary defensive adjustments, as well as a regression back to the mean from Connecticut, as the Sun fell back to Earth (7/20 in game two). If the Lynx can continue to force their opponents to shoot contested two-pointers while the aforementioned Miller, Banham, or Mitchell contribute from perimeter while not screwing up defensive rotations, then victory could be at their fingertips.
Sun Will Win the Series If...
Their role players make a combined five 3-pointers. Not only did the Connecticut’s ancillary scorers not make 3s, they didn’t really take them, either. Bec Allen and DeWanna Bonner attempted 16 of the team’s 20 fires from deep in Game 2 after players outside those two shot 15 of the team’s 30 3-pointers. Expect the Sun to shoot more than the 20 3-pointers they took in Game 2; if Hayes, Hiedeman and Harris are each able make a couple of triples, the Lynx could be in trouble.
Connecticut will win Game 3 and take the series if it is able to get going from deep like we saw in Game 1 and if it can get some contribution from the supporting cast outside of Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner. In the first game of the series, the Sun were able to get that contribution from their second unit and the starters outside of Thomas and Bonner, which resulted in a balanced attack that was tough for the Lynx to stop. In that 90-60 win in Game 1, Connecticut’s starting unit outside of Bonner and Thomas tallied 35 points while the bench pitched in with 23 points. In the Game 2 loss, they finished with 16 points with the bench adding nine points.
If the Sun can attack the Lynx from multiple areas and also get hot from deep like seen in the first game, connecting on 16 threes, Connecticut will come away with a win to advance to the semifinals.
The Sun will win the game if they are able to speed up the Lynx and force them to play that individual basketball that I talked about earlier. Forcing Minnesota into bad shots and turnovers is the best way to take them - and the crowd - out of the game. The Lynx need to recognize this and actively counteract it if they want to win. If they are unable to do that then their dreams of an upset will be quickly squashed and the Sun will cruise into the next round.
It should be obvious to everyone that Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride are plans A, B, C, D, and probably E, on offense for Minnesota. Through games one and two, they’ve scored 84 of 142 Lynx points. That’s 59.2% of their entire production. In fact, they’re the only two players who have scored in double-digits for the Lynx. If Stephanie White can bottle up even one of these two in game three, I have a hard time seeing the home team advancing. Coach Reeve will have to get creative on how to adjust to White’s defensive adjustments.
Who Will Win in Game 3?
I said in our initial preview that the Sun would win the series 2-1, but that was based on a prediction that the Lynx would win Game 1. The Sun don’t have much rim protection and I think the Lynx found something with how many off-ball screens they ran as a means of both getting McBride open 3s, as well as getting players like Collier, Mitchell and Miller going downhill into the paint. That shifted some of the playmaking load from Mitchell and Banham to Dorka Juhász, who played a pivotal role as a passer (team-high six assists and just one turnover). Juhász wasn’t phased by pressure in Game 2 and won’t be in Game 3, either, which should help the offense again operate somewhat smoothly. Overall, you have to like Minnesota’s chances at home.
I’ll go with the Lynx in another tense, back-and-forth battle, 77-73.
Minnesota has looked impressive at points against Connecticut, both during the regular season and here in the postseason. When the Lynx are working as a unit and limit their mistakes, they are tough to beat. With that said, I think the Sun bounce back after falling at home in Game 2 and put together a more complete effort on the road in Game 3 to edge past Minnesota to claim the series. I do think this game will be close, likely coming down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter, and I also believe the Lynx fans will have Target Center rocking which will make for a tough road environment. You can never count this Lynx team out and they will fight to the very end, but I believe Connecticut will right what went wrong on Sunday to come away with a win in Game 3.
Screw all of my predictions, screw what everyone is thinking from this game, screw seeds and what should happen. The Lynx are winning this basketball game. I know what it all looks like from the outside and what the statistics say but there is something that cannot be measured in statistics that this Minnesota team has — heart. With all the ups and downs in the season, they have always been able to play with grit and energy, I think that serves them well in this situation. If they hit a couple shots and keep that gritty determination that they have worked so hard to cultivate, I think they are able to give the Sun problems that will lead to their eventual elimination. The Target Center will be loud as can be and will be waiting to erupt at every good play Minnesota makes. Keep that crowd in it and play with pace and energy and I think the Lynx pull off the upset.
This season should be your usual reminder that you just cannot count the Lynx out. By now, you know about the 0-6 start to the season. You probably recall many pundits predicting the Lynx barely making the playoffs before the season started. Instead, the Lynx nearly clinched homecourt advantage in the first of the round playoffs. They returned serve after getting smacked by 30-points in game one. Target Center is rightfully considered one of the most raucous crowds to play in front of. I’m expecting the young Lynx to ride the energy of a packed house and continue to shock the world.
Minnesota uses a big second half to edge out the Sun, 71-68.