The Start - McBride Dialed in Early
On a night where the Minnesota Lynx could officially punch their playoff ticket after missing the postseason for the first time in 12 years, they hosted the last place Phoenix Mercury, who are last in the standings and entered on a seven-game losing skid. Team captain, Napheesa Collier, addressed the crowd pre-game to acknowledge their dedication on Fan Appreciation Night. If that wasn’t enough motivation to get a victory, the Lynx also had an opportunity to close with 1.5 games of the #4 seed, Dallas Wings, who lost in overtime to the Indiana Fever
Veteran Kayla McBride (23 pts, 2 rebounds, 4 assists) was shot out of a canon early.
She poured in nine of the Minnesota’s first 13 points without shooting a single three pointer. Her offensive contributions were buoyed by a feisty team defense that held Brittney Griner (17 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists) to zero field goals made in the first period. A six-point Lynx lead would be short-lived though.
The Meat - Tug-of-War for Control
The Mercury, who essentially have nothing to play for but lottery balls, would punch back. Former Lynx starting point guard, Moriah Jefferson (32 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists), put Phoenix on her back and was scintillating on offense, keying a 14-0 run that bridged the first two quarters. The normally active home crowd were taken out of the game as Minnesota looked out of sorts, culminating in a Kadi Cissoko banked in triple that gave the visitors an eight-point lead.
Who would have guessed it was a rookie that would right the ship? No, not number two pick Diamond Miller. It would be 16th pick, Dorka Juhász (10 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 stocks), who would inject energy on both sides of the court for the Lynx. She uncharacteristically took matters into her own hands, aggressively attacking the rim while effectively battling BG in the paint on defense.
just gonna squeeze right past ya. ♀️ pic.twitter.com/UAItGXUf2v— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) September 3, 2023
The Lynx bench also came to play, led by super friends Bridget Carleton (6 points, 4 rebounds) and Rachel Banham (7 points, 5 minutes). Their timely contributions helped pull Minnesota to a 41-41 tie by the time the halftime buzzer sounded. The Mercury were held to just 26.3% shooting from the field, but survived with a sizeable free throw and turnover advantage.
The Finish - Grinding Phoenix Down
Coach Reeve must have had some strong words for her team in the locker room because they came out of the blocks fast in the second half. In three straight possessions, they went straight at the cup as if an eight-time blocks leader wasn’t looming in the paint. KMac, who spent a considerable amount of time on the bench after her hot start due to turnover issues, started quickly again as she splashed in five more points. This opened the floodgates for Minnesota, as everyone on the team continued to find success against an injury-depleted Phoenix team. Before you knew it, the Lynx had built up a 13-point lead and they never looked back.
another BC three for ya pic.twitter.com/x4jQcKkOCu— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) September 4, 2023
Jefferson continued to display her mid-range mastery on her career night, but it was no match for the total team effort of the Lynx. Minnesota notched 28 assists which was a season-high. The bench dominated with 21 big points. McBride and Napheesa Collier (22 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 stocks) combined for 45 points. In a night full of incredible performances, Juhász was the star, nearly notching a triple-double in front of her former college teammates, Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, who were there in attendance to cheer her on.
Coach Reeve was interviewed by Alex Zappa courtside after the game and duly noted that the nay-sayers who doubted the Lynx entering the season were the team’s motivation for clinching another playoff berth. Right as Zappa was mid-sentence to ask Reeve about becoming just the third coach in WNBA history to win 300 games, she cut him off.
She walked off with that comment on a remarkable achievement for the best WNBA coach of all-time. Guys, gals, and non-binary pals: The Lynx are back.
The Lynx get four days off before they head out to visit the ninth place Chicago Sky on Friday (9/8) at 7:00pm CT. The Sky are next on the chopping block to get eliminated from playoff contention, but are desperately trying to usurp the Los Angeles Sparks for the final postseason spot.