Leading by one heading into the under-three-minutes media timeout, the Minnesota Lynx had a decision to make. They could dig in, tap into any ounce of energy left in the tank and pull out an eighth consecutive victory, or succumb to the problems that have plagued them all season: turnovers, allowing offensive rebounds, and lack of ball movement on offense.
“Protecting our home court is so important to us,” Napheesa Collier said after the game. “I think [the key was] just recognizing that there were three minutes left, we were tired, and that we had to push through and give it our all... to leave it all on the court those last couple minutes.”
Push through they did.
“In the closing minutes, I just told them, ‘Hang in there. We’re going to break through offensively’ because I thought defensively we were hanging in there, especially in the fourth quarter” Head Coach Cheryl Reeve said.
Over the final three minutes, Minnesota outscored New York 16-to-5 behind massive 3-pointers from Bridget Carleton and Kayla McBride (that put the Lynx ahead by four and nine, respectively) to shut the door on Walt Hopkins’ tough Liberty team that wouldn’t go away.
“It was awesome. We’re going to need everyone every single night, so to see them do that is so fun,” Collier said of Carleton’s and point guard Layshia Clarendon’s clutch buckets down the stretch. “Seeing that brings so much energy and it’s so great because it makes teams have to guard everyone on the floor.”
After a strong opening quarter in which nearly every Lynx basket was a result of the ball touching the paint, the wheels came off offensively and the Liberty, as Collier alluded to, didn’t have to guard everyone on the floor.
“We stopped moving the ball. We stopped throwing the ball inside. It was a sticking a lot. We were taking one-pass shots,” Hall-of-Famer-to-be Sylvia Fowles said. “We talked about it and talking to the guards, [saying] ‘How can we help you guys?’ and then we’d tell them ‘How can they help us?’ I think we got out of the funk going into the fourth quarter when we got much better ball movement, much better flow.”
Reeve’s view was in line with Fowles’ assessment.
“I just thought we were playing with the ball in one player’s hand too much. We would change a little bit of what we were running to get more movement side-to-side,” she said. “We put the ball in Layshia’s hands so much that I thought they were really worn down and we had to try to find a way to get Lay off ball.”
Getting Clarendon off ball in the third quarter was a factor for the Lynx for a couple reasons. First, it allowed her to get the rest he needed in order to make the big impact they did down the stretch of clutch time. Second, it enabled Minnesota to throw a different look at the Liberty that got key role players involved in the offense.
In what had been a brutal start to the third frame, in which the Lynx surrendered a 6-0 run, and the lead, veteran forward Damiris Dantas stepped up in a a major way. Dantas scored the team’s first five points of the half and subsequently emerged as the team’s offensive hub, which kept them afloat. Backup point guard Crystal Dangerfield utilized her speed to fly around Dantas’s 6-foot-4, 195 pound frame in the dribble hand-off game, which collapsed the defense and created three wide open jump shots for Dantas.
The action resulted in a couple of baskets — which may not seem like much in the macro — it truly gave the team a much needed shot in the arm that prevented the game from slipping away when the Liberty offense was rolling.
After Dantas got rolling, veteran forward/center Natalie Achonwa became a major factor in reversing many of the offensive issues Fowles and Reeve outlined that bogged things down in the second and third quarters.
“I told her I thought those were her best minutes because they were the key times of the game. She did physically hard things, got us extra possessions, got to the foul line,” Reeve said.
Trailing by three with just under eight minutes to play, Achonwa became noticeably more physical inside, sealing the smaller Betnijah Laney and Jazmine Jones to draw fouls on consecutive possessions. Once her post presence was established, she stepped out to the perimeter to pressure the defense in a different way - with her screening and passing.
“She’s also a ball mover, a screen setter. I think she’s really good for the offense when we’re able to play through her a little bit,” Reeve said. “I think the touches she got and the things she did [in the paint], that’s what we see for her.”
Achonwa’s screening helped Clarendon get down hill and collapse the defense, which improved the overall ball movement and generated more open looks. After screening, Achonwa did a great job flowing into open space, whether it be in the short corner, rolling down the lane, or settling at the elbow, where she knocked down a key jumper to retake the lead, which the Lynx held onto until the final buzzer.
FINAL: Lynx 88 | Liberty 78— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) August 16, 2021
MIN ends on a 19-7 run to make it 8 in a row!
Fowles: 20 pts on 9/10 FG, 10 reb, 3 stl
Collier: 18 pts, 10 reb, 4 ast, 5 blk
McBride: 16 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast
Howard: 30 pts
Ionescu: 14 pts, 6 reb, 6 ast
Whitcomb/Laney: 12 pts each
Full stats ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/pt5P702lJb
Game Notes, courtesy of Lynx Public Relations
- Napheesa Collier registered her 15th double-double, producing 18 points, 10 rebounds, four dimes, and a career-high five blocks. Coller is the eighth player in WNBA history to record that kind of line.
- Natalie Achonwa was back for the first time since June 12th and registered a season-high-tying eight points.
- Minnesota won its first game of the season when being out-shot. The Lynx are 12-0 when taking more shots than their opponent and now 1-7 when failing to do so.
- Last night was Layshia Clarendon’s fourth straight game with at least eight assists.
- Minnesota is the second-best team in the W by fourth quarter net rating. They outscored New York 24-13 in the fourth after trailing following the third quarter. The Lynx are now 6-6 when tied or trailing entering the fourth.
Next up for the Lynx is a trip to Connecticut on Tuesday at 6 PM in the first of two straight games against the Sun, one of which will include a special guest in attendance: