There are some nights where all you can do is sit back and think to yourself, “This is incredible.”
Thursday was certainly one of those nights where you look to the heavens with gratitude for the opportunity to watch (and cover) a timeless superstar and all-time great legend like Sylvia Fowles.
The Minnesota Lynx superstar — just 48 hours after playing 36 minutes (11 beyond her 25-minute limit as a result of a knee injury) in a double overtime win, while also battling plantar fasciitis — gutted out an incredible 20-point, 17-rebound night in a dominant performance. Fowles became only the fourth player in WNBA history to put up a stat line of at least 20 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, and one block while having no more than one turnover.
“You know how when everything just hurts, but you really can’t buy into everything hurting because you’re on a mission and you got things to do,” Fowles explained postgame. “That’s the mentality that you have to have. I think all my teammates have something going on. And I don’t want to give myself excuses, either. So, today was a challenge to see how far can I push through it.”
And push through it she did — looking her best since she suffered a cartilage injury in her right knee back on June 7 loss to the New York Liberty —, Fowles singlehandedly led a huge comeback before the Lynx ultimately fell 92-87 to the Dallas Wings.
Lynx guard Rachel Banham was asked if she ever steps back and just thinks, “Oh my God, this is just amazing?” when watching the Hall-of-Famer-to-be.
“Yeah, I think that like every night. She’s insane. And I always think, too, like when I’m tired and feeling some type of way I’m like, ‘If Syl can do it, I can do it!’” she said. “I look at her and she’s fighting through a lot. She’s been playing doing this for so many more years and playing so many minutes. I tell her always, like, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ So it always helps me be tougher being able to look at that and see what she does.”
After coming out sluggishly, playing with limited effort with both ends, missing wide open shots, and allowing All-Star point guard Arike Ogunbowale to score an easy 19 points on 7/11 shooting, the Lynx found themselves in a 21-point halftime hole. Minnesota kept turning the ball over trying to get the ball into Fowles, and those 12 turnovers resulted in 16 Dallas points.
“We talked to open the game that we wanted the ball on the inside and we have perimeter players that can’t make entry passes,” Lynx Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve said postgame. “So when Syl’s open, they’re not even paying attention that Syl’s open and that’s really frustrating for Syl. So we just started making sure they understood that’s where we wanted the ball to go. They were afraid to take chances and Syl works her butt off in there and has position.”
That began to change after the half for a team that surely came out like their four-time WNBA Champion head coach let them have it in the locker room.
Fowles scored two easy buckets in the first 57 seconds of the third quarter before a Kayla McBride back door layup against an aggressive Dallas defense prompted Wings Head Coach Vickie Johnson to call a timeout. Just like that, the lead was down a more manageable 15 thanks to Fowles, who entered the huddle hyping up and instilling belief in her teammates.
As part of her dominant third quarter, Fowles collected her 1,471st defensive rebound in a Lynx jersey, passing all-time great Rebekkah Brunson for most in franchise history.
“Well first, it means I’m old if I’m still playing and breaking BB’s records,” Fowles joked after the game. “I mean, it’s an honor. I think it’s credit to our organization and the things that we’ve done over the years here as a Lynx. And I’m just happy to have somebody like BB to look up to, but it’s always good to break her records.”
The greatest to ever do it on the block scored six more points in the next three minutes to cut the lead to 10, out-working and winning the matchup with a very physical Teiara McCowan, who was benched at the 4:37 mark.
On the next trip down the floor, Fowles was trapped on the catch on the left block. She kicked it right back out to Damiris Dantas for a huge 3 to cut it to seven points. It was a cool moment for Dantas, who had a massive contingent of Brazilians in town for the USA Cup to cheer her on.
That type of post scoring gravity helped unlock her teammates down the stretch.
“That’s what we say, Syl’s value is not just when she has the ball, it’s when she’s attracting so much attention. And so that means somebody should be open,” Reeve explained. “By using Syl’s presence to get people off of us now we can attack close outs, and shoot it if you’re open.”
Banham re-entered the game at that same timeout McCowan was benched, and had that look in her eyes. There’s no doubt that Fowles’ sheer dominance to open the third quarter inspired Banham to just think, ‘It’s time to go.’
She sought out the eight-time All-Star in the two-man game and that battery freed up Banham to start letting it rip.
She went on a 6-0 run by herself, with a Fowles pass or screen leading to all six, to get it back to five-point game — the closest since late in the first quarter — before a she dropped a dime to pull within three with 10 seconds left in the quarter.
Just when the Lynx finally found a rhythm and had all the momentum, Ogunbowale had other plans. The former Notre Dame superstar drained a fallaway elbow jumper as the buzzer sounded to extend the lead back to five entering the fourth, and the Wings never looked back.
Their offense was incredibly crisp down the stretch, leading to a 6-0 start to the quarter, before Reeve put Fowles and Aerial Powers back in the game to try and conjure up a response. Banham did all she could in another second half explosion, draining four triples en route to a 16-point quarter, but it just wasn’t enough.
“I knew with the game that we played here last time that was a team that was gonna come in awfully hungry, never mind the playoff positioning, that sort of thing. The way that they lost last time, former player getting a triple double. We knew that they were going to get a really good shot from them,” Reeve said postgame. “And we just didn’t have enough physically to be able to, to generate some easy stuff for ourselves. We just couldn’t get by.”
Outside of Fowles, the Minnesota starters scored just 24 points on 8/36 shooting (22.2%), effectively wasting a classic Sylvia Fowles performance. By night’s end, Banham and Fowles combined for 44 of Minnesota’s 87 points on 17/26 shooting (65.4%). Banham, who scored 24 points on 8/12 shooting, certainly wasn’t to blame, but took her share of responsibility for the slow start.
“We need to play more desperate. Like we need to realize the situation that we’re in if we want to make a playoff run. Like we need to play like that every single night from start to finish,” she said. “We know how to get it done. So I think that’s the biggest thing; I need to play pissed. I’m hoping that’s what we do tomorrow.”
8️⃣ points in the fourth for Rach!! pic.twitter.com/VH5bRI7N9j— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) July 15, 2022
The Maroon Mamba’s run of connecting on 19 3s over her last five games puts her in rarified air. She joins Hall of Famer and W25 member Katie Smith as the only Lynx to ever do that in a five-game stretch.
For Banham, playing pissed is setting up ball screens well, especially with Fowles, and letting it rip from all over the floor.
“I think for the most part I’ve done a decent job of being aggressive but tonight like I don’t think I started off aggressive enough. I was saying to Syl, I wasn’t setting up my ball screens enough. She was setting good screens, but I wasn’t setting it up and coming off of them. I was letting them just ride me off every time and I had to just pass it,” Banham added. “We just got to do better with that and that starts with me. Because I know like we connect really, really well. So I gotta come out with that same mentality from the jump right away and I think we’ll be fine. We’ll do that.”
And for Fowles, it’s just about pushing through, because she knows what’s at stake. The Lynx are just 1.5 games out of the No. 8 seed with 11 games remaining.
“We got a good stretch ahead of us with these next two games, and I’m just challenging myself as I go. I don’t want to do anything too stupid, but at the same time I do want to see how well I can play with these challenges.”
Next up for the Lynx is a matchup tonight, on the second leg of a back-to-back, with the last place Indiana Fever, whom the Lynx are 0-2 against this season. Tip is at 6 PM CT and you can watch the game on Bally Sports North Extra, CBS Sports Network, or the Indiana Fever’s Facebook page.