The Minnesota Lynx were simply along for the ride guard Aerial Powers took them on during Tuesday night’s 118-107 double overtime victory over the Phoenix Mercury in Downtown Minneapolis.
After the team got off to a 1/8 start from the floor, Powers took the reins midway through the first frame to get the rollercoaster car back on the tracks, slowly ticking up towards the height of the coaster. She scored a pair of mid-range jumpers, including an and-1, before getting the crowd into it with a 3-pointer to cap off a personal 7-2 run to build a lead. It wasn’t the prettiest offensive quarter, but the Lynx got it done because they kept getting to the line.
Minnesota led 27-20 after one behind Powers’ 10 points and late flurry from Rachel Banham, who drilled a 3 and dropped a pair of dimes to Jess Shepard and Kayla McBride.
That lead didn’t last long, thanks to an early second-quarter push from Sophie Cunningham and Skylar Diggins-Smith, who had excellent starts to what became career nights. The pair scored six straight against a Lynx lineup with four bench players to tie things at 29 before used a timeout to spark a Powers(urge). AP scored five quick points to get the Lynx some breathing room that kept Minnesota afloat in the back half of the quarter.
That was until the Powers rollercoaster nearly flew off the tracks. She fouled Diana Taurasi shooting a 3 with 7.5 seconds left in the half, giving Phoenix a 45-44 lead, their first since 20-19 late in the first frame. In typical AP fashion, she made up for it in her own way, giving her 18 points in the first half:
Throughout the first half, Phoenix played very aggressive at the point of attack defensively, hedging hard on screens and playing the big defender at the level of the screen, because they played with four guards. Cunningham, a 6-1 guard, effectively played the 4 during her minutes.
That made it easier for the Mercury to play aggressively and make it tough for the Lynx to take advantage of the size mismatches inside on the block. Minnesota’s offense was out of sync for much of the first half because they wasted 10s of seconds on several possessions trying to enter the ball into the post when it wasn’t there.
“Our timing just has to be better. I know one time I tried to throw it to Jess, they straight up stole it and sent a double in, and it was just late. I shouldn’t have thrown it,” Banham said postgame after noting the interior doubles Phoenix showed to make entry passes tougher. “We got to work on that for sure, because teams are obviously going to keep doing that a little bit.”
Unfortunately for the Lynx that, and, well, everything else only got worse in the third quarter. Minnesota showed little interest in defending or rebounding out of the break, and the Powers turnover storm came rolling in.
Diggins-Smith had wide open look after wide open look, Taurasi drained three triples, Sylvia Fowles got hit with three quick fouls, and an avalanche of Mercury offensive rebounds (including four on one possession) had Minnesota on their heels throughout the third quarter. The Lynx allowed seven offensive rebounds and turned it over five times in the frame.
To make matters worse, point guard Moriah Jefferson had to check out of the game mid-way through the third quarter, and only played two minutes the rest of the way, because she was dealing with an knee injury suffered during last week’s win over the Chicago Sky.
Thankfully, Minnesota was able to turn to a fire-starter in Banham. The Gopher legend bailed out a slew of bad possessions with scores and dimes late in the third quarter before a dominant fourth quarter that started with a bang. Bridget Carleton corralled a rebound off a missed Fowles free throw that led to Powers finding Banham for a triple to retake a three-point lead early in the fourth.
“You’re talking about, ‘Do free throws help?’ That rebound [BC] got off the free throw miss. I think (it) got kicked out to Rachel for 3 and that kind of got our momentum going,” Powers explained postgame. “I felt the change, so it’s big for us.”
On the next trip down, Banham drilled another huge 3 to spark what became a 15-0 run that featured two more Banham dimes.
Once the lead reached a game-high 13 points with 4:51 left to play, the Lynx played arrogant ball. Powers fueled an immediate 11-0 Phoenix run, with all 11 points coming after four bad turnovers.
Lynx Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve knows that her fiery guard has dominant stretches mixed with head scratching ones.
“For sure,” she said when asked if Powers exemplified the great and the ugly parts of the game. “You just kind of go on the ride with her. You try not to get too high or too low. But that’s a player, like you said, she was able to come up with some big baskets for us.”
That also ignited a spark in Cunningham — whom the Lynx targeted all night defensively, and really let her know whenever they scored on her. She reveled in the opportunity to play spoiler as a villain, scoring 11 points in the final 3:26 in regulation.
“Oh man, I know I had some bad turnovers. But at the end of the day, you got to keep playing. I know we needed this win. My teammates helped me stay mentally engaged, especially when I had a couple of turnovers,” Powers said after the game. “I think any player can get knocked down on themselves. ‘I can’t keep turning the ball over. Okay, well how can I make it up? I can do this. And I’m gonna score. What can I do? Can I get a rebound?’ So just trying to stay out of my own head and keep playing, and thank goodness for my teammates, being able to talk to me and being able to listen to them.”
Powers was then benched from the 1:56 to 1:17 mark. When she came back in, she immediately made an impact. After Shepard grabbed a clutch offensive rebound off a Powers miss and drew a foul, Powers repaid her by scoring a bucket after grabbing an offensive rebound off a Shepard missed free throw to give Minnesota a two-point lead with 29.6 seconds left.
After getting a stop, Banham only went 1/2 from the stripe, opening the window for Phoenix to send it to overtime. Minnesota shot just 8/15 from the line in the second half.
The Lynx had a foul to give with 19.3 seconds left and the Mercury in possession. Despite having several opportunities to execute the “foul up three” strategy, Lynx players didn’t foul; considering Reeve is a staunch “foul up three” coach, that was odd.
The result was predictable, given that the Lynx allowed 21 offensive rebounds and 20 second chance points.
Lynx didn't foul up 3 w/ a foul to give in the 4Q. I asked Cheryl Reeve -- a "foul up 3" coach -- why it didn't happen.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) July 13, 2022
"They chose not to foul, being the players, for whatever reason. They told me the locker room we were playing opposites today." pic.twitter.com/lbGQXNs522
“We very much wanted to foul,” Reeve added.
The players took responsibility for the blunder that led to overtime.
“Yeah, we forgot,” the always honest Banham said postgame with a laugh, sending the media room into laughing attack. “I was like, ‘I’m locking her down.’ And then I forgot because when Cheryl brought it up in the next timeout, I was like, ‘That’s right.’ (laughs). And then we forgot again. So sometimes we just do knucklehead things. I think we’ve been doing that all season. So we just got to cut out a little bit more of the knucklehead stuff, like maybe just once a game, rather than like two or three times.”
That wasn’t even the most knucklehead moment of the game, surprisingly; more to come.
Banham scored the first five points of overtime before Diggins-Smth really started to take over in the half-court. She drew a foul and made a pair of free throws to get back within three twice before creating a flurry of wide open looks for her teammates. Luckily for Minnesota, Phoenix missed all of those looks. But, as was par for the course, the Lynx got in their own way.
Powers turned it over and then declined to stop the ball in transition, so Cunningham walked into a 3 to get it back to a two-point game with 1:21 left in overtime before getting it to within one on a wide open layup after the Lynx didn’t get back on defense after a Fowles free throw. Two Powers free throws gave Minnesota a three-point lead with 22.3 seconds to play. A familiar place!
Yet again, Minnesota didn’t foul up three, and yet again Phoenix made them pay after grabbing their 19th and 20th offensive rebounds of the game.
SOPHIE CUNNINGHAM AGAIN TO TIE IT WITH 4.1 ON THE CLOCK! pic.twitter.com/2pt3tC5Ae9— WNBA (@WNBA) July 13, 2022
Now, we’ve reached the “knucklehead play of the game” portion of the proceedings.
Mercury forward Diamond DeShields didn’t realize the Cunningham 3 tied the game, and she fouled Kayla McBride, a career 90% free throw shooter, on the inbound. Of course, McBride made both free throws.
That was no match for the last-second Lynx defense, though.
SKYLAR DIGGINS-SMITH SENDS IT TO DOUBLE OVERTIME! pic.twitter.com/TLhr54OVir— WNBA (@WNBA) July 13, 2022
The third time was the charm. Minnesota scored the first seven points of double overtime, and took care of business at the free throw line to come away with a 118-107 victory, behind a career-high 35 points from Powers and a season-best 25 points from Banham.
But the win didn’t come without its consequences.
For context on Moriah, Reeve said Jefferson is still getting over a knee issue suffered in the Lynx's win over the Sky last Wednesday.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) July 13, 2022
She was limited tonight and played only 21 minuteshttps://t.co/zEvYnysLJG
Reeve fully understood the implications of the game, given that the Lynx could be 1.5 games back of not only the No. 8 seed but the No. 6 seed by night’s end.
“It was good day for the Lynx,” she added postgame. “There’s things around the league that happened in our favor and then obviously (we) capitalized by winning this game.”
The five teams ahead of the Lynx — the Atlanta Dream, Los Angeles Sparks, Dallas Wings, Phoenix Mercury and New York Liberty — all lost on Tuesday, so the Lynx now sit just 1.5 games back of the No. 6 seed.
With the Lynx playing two favorable opponents in their next two games — the Wings and Indiana Fever — , Minnesota could very well find themselves even further entrenched in the playoff conversation by this time on Saturday.
Next up for the Lynx is a Thursday night battle with the Wings at Target Center. Tip is set for 7 PM CT on Bally Sports North Extra and streaming on Twitter @WNBA.
Powers keeps it rolling
Powers scored a career-high 35 points on 13/24 shooting in a career-high 37 minutes. It was her second career 30-point game, and second 30-point game in the last three games. Despite her career-high nine turnovers, she’s playing the best basketball of her career at a most crucial time for the Lynx. She also passed the 500 career rebounds mark with her 10th rebound of the night. The former Michigan State star is leading the WNBA in scoring over the last five games at 22.8 points per game.
The Lakeville native is also hooping a remarkable level. Banham is 17/34 from 3 over her last five games, including 6/9 tonight. She scored a season-high 25 points on 8/14 shooting, with 22 of them coming in the second half and overtime periods, to go along with seven assists and just two turnovers. Banham is the second-leading scorer, averaging 15.2 points on 50/50/75 shooting splits, 3.4 assists to 1.0 turnover, and 1.2 rebounds per game, over the team’s last five games.
The unsung, steadying forces
It may be impossible to find a pair of teammates who bring A+ effort and consistency on both ends of the floor on a nightly basis more consistently than Kayla McBride and Jess Shepard. The Lynx’s unsung heroes of tonight’s game scored a combined 30 points on 10/20 shooting, grabbed 16 rebounds, and dropped nine dimes.
McBride’s 9/9 shooting from the free throw line, and clutch buckets in the face of furious Mercury runs delivered calm amongst the chaotic nature of the game. The former Notre Dame superstar was a +7 in her team-high 42 minutes, and held Diana Taurasi to 0/11 shooting in the fourth quarter and two overtime periods. That cannot go unnoticed.
Shepard came away with some clutch offensive rebounds that led to big momentum shifting buckets for her teammates, and got her hands on passes defensively that helped disrupt the flow of the Phoenix offense down the stretch. She now has 199 rebounds this season, second-most in the WNBA.
“I mean, the activity, the hustle plays. That’s what Jess always does for us,” Reeve said postgame. “And without those hustle plays, we might not be sitting there talking about a W.”
Leaving it all on the floor
The greatest to ever do it inside on both ends, Fowles left every ounce of energy she had on the floor. It’s nearly impossible to understate what she did, especially defensively to close out possessions in the second overtime. She turned in 14 points on 6/10 shooting, 14 massive rebounds, and played the most minutes since the injury she suffered to her right knee five weeks ago. This team is taking on the perseverance of their quiet leader on a nightly basis, and it shows.
A duel for the ages
There’s not much to be said other than “Holy _______” in reference to the performances we saw last night from Powers, Cunningham and Diggins-Smith. Cunningham’s 36 points are a new career-best, breaking her previous record of 23, set last week. It was the first game of 30 points and 10 assists for Diggins-Smith, whose 32 points fell just short of her career high of 35.
The trio became the first to score 30 points in the same game since 2010.
Wild 2 OT game between Lynx and Mercury:— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 13, 2022
This is the first WNBA game since 2010 to have 3 30-point scorers (also Lynx vs Mercury).
Aerial Powers & Sophie Cunningham became the 3rd pair of opposing players in WNBA history to each have 35 points in the same game. pic.twitter.com/hMWdPbrlYg
New franchise record marks
- Powers, Fowles and Shepard became the first trio in franchise history to all record double-doubles in the same game.
- Ironically, the Lynx’s 55 rebounds is a new franchise record, coming on a night they allowed 21 offensive rebounds
season-high points for Rach— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) July 13, 2022
25 pts. / 7 ast. / 3 reb. pic.twitter.com/3EIkwOEkuD