The energy was palpable in Scotiabank Arena. The venue in Toronto, Ontario was packed to the brim as the WNBA finally brought their product to Canada for the first time in their 27-year history. Canada native, Bridget Carleton, addressed the raucous audience to set things off before tipoff.
Perhaps there was too much energy in the air, as both teams came out with a bit of jitters. Carleton got the first shot of the game for Minnesota, but would toss up an airball. Meanwhile, the second overall pick of the 2023 draft, Diamond Miller, would get blocked in isolation twice in a row by the Sky’s second string frontcourt. It took nearly four minutes of play and a trio of early subs from coach Cheryl Reeve before the Lynx got on the scoreboard. They started 0 for 6 from the field.
Things weren’t much better for the Chicago Sky as well. An early 7-0 lead evaporated once new Lynx faces, Tiffany Mitchell (19/5/6) and Dorka Juhász (4/6/3), entered the game. They injected pace and control of the game with their confident play.
A disastrous end to the first quarter summed up the opening 10 minutes for Minnesota. Miller would get called for a flagrant one penalty for a reckless closeout on a Chicago three-point attempt, and immediately follow that up by allowing a Chicago and-1 attempt at the buzzer.
Things did not get much better for the Lynx in the second quarter.
Without Napheesa Collier (Rest) or Lindsay Allen (Rest), Minnesota struggled to generate efficient offense. Even when they did get wide open looks at the rim, they could not convert. Mitchell was the main semblance of a heartbeat for the Lynx, relentlessly getting to the paint and spraying it out to open teammates or finishing through contact. While Miller continued to struggle, another one of her rookie teammates, Taylor Soule, kept popping on the court. Both Soule and Mitchell’s hustle and energy helped create issues for Chicago.
By the time the buzzer sounded to signal halftime, both teams were likely disappointed with their play. The crowd appeared to get taken out of the game because of both teams inefficiencies on the court. Chicago crawled to a 41% mark from the field thanks to a late surge, while Minnesota shot just 25%. Both teams combined for 16 total turnovers, a number of airballs and missed free throws, and multiple referee reviews to boot.
Coach Reeve must have gone in on her team in the locker room because what fans got was a much different team to open the second half. After starting the game in their first preseason action of the year, Damiris Dantas and Bridget Carleton came off the bench as Reeve rewarded Mitchell and Juhász for their excellent first half. Miller finally showed up to the party after a miserable first half, scoring the first four points of the half.
back-to-back Diamond buckets to start the half. pic.twitter.com/xUItT6hS2b— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) May 13, 2023
Mitchell remained extraordinary, easily discarding any Chicago defender in her path. “Takeover Tiff” engineered a 12-2 run that got Minnesota their first lead of the game, as her teammates were finally cashing in from perimeter. Rachel Banham (13 points), in particular, caught fire in the quarter with a handful of long distance strikes. A 30-17 quarter reignited the Canadian crowd as the offense was finally flowing. The Lynx totaled just one assist in the first half, but countered with 9 assists on 11 field goals made in the third quarter. This is what fans expected from a five-out offensive scheme full of young talent.
A six-point Minnesota advantage heading into the final quarter grew to eight. As we have seen for the second straight game, Soule’s tenacity was impossible to ignore. It looked like the Lynx were primed to steal another second half comeback victory in their final preseason game.
Minnesota had dared Chicago to shoot from perimeter all game. In fact, after three quarters of play, they were just 2 of 14 (14%) from beyond the arc. Apparently that didn’t sit well with Sky rookies, Robyn Parks and Kayana Traylor. They were on the court for the majority of the fourth quarter in what looked like potential garbage time, but they didn’t think the game was over quite yet. Poor perimeter defense, coupled with confident shooting, resulted in the Sky making 6 of their final 10 three-point attempts, the last being an end of game throwaway heave. Parks would pour in nine of her 12 points, going three for four from beyond. Not to be outdone, Traylor would match the three of four number from perimeter and add a handful of contested jumpers, totaling all 13 of her points in the fourth quarter.
Reeve was apoplectic on the sideline as her team failed to secure a number of rebounds late in the game. A whopping 10-2 Chicago advantage on the glass (3 offensive) would lead to eight more field goal attempts. The worst of them all occurred with 2:24 remaining and a three-point Sky lead. Kahleah Copper missed a midrange jumper and it appeared McBride, who was a late substitution back in the game, secured the defensive rebound. Instead, Kristine Anigwe jumped into McBride and swiped at the ball, knocking KMac down and jarring the ball loose to a wide open, and still red hot, Traylor in the corner. There was never a doubt about whether or not it would go in.
The Lynx had a few more attempts to tighten things up, but the Sky were just too confident on the offensive end. They got whatever they wanted and strolled to a victory off a 28-14 quarter.
- With Minnesota finishing their preseason 1-1, that’s all the action we’ll get to see before Reeve shortens the roster to 12. My personal take is that the following players will make the final cut: Collier, McBride, Mitchell, Shepard, Banham, Carleton, Allen, Powers, Miller, Juhász, Soule, and Milić. That would mean Dantas and Beal are the difficult cuts.
- Speaking of tough: Aerial Powers (1/5) and Damiris Dantas (1/5) both played in their first game of the preseason and both looked shockingly rusty. Powers was still taking questionable shots and prone to live ball turnovers before she tweaker a knee or ankle early in the fourth quarter, while Dantas looked like she had a hard time getting up and down the court despite a three-point make.
- Diamond Miller, as I mentioned earlier, had a really rough game (3/13). For the second game in a row, it felt like she was really forcing things on offense and looked surprised when her go-to moves weren’t working. She was routinely getting rejected in the paint and was processing things slowly. That said, she had some promising moments on defense with her energy and athleticism. I truly believe things will come around for young Diamond with more practice and game reps.
- Watching Tiffany Mitchell operate out there was a joy. She might be my favorite player on the team this season.
Just 1.25 preseason games in her Minnesota tenure, but @TiffMitch25 might be one of my favorite players on the Lynx roster this season.— Leo S (@Y0Leo) May 13, 2023
• Tenacious on the defensive end
• Aggressive & plays w/ pace on offense
• Calming presence out there
- It was a so-so game from Kayla McBride, who often looked like the lone veteran presence out there. She went 3/6 from perimeter which is great to see and I think she’ll be the biggest beneficiary of their new offensive scheme. I’m excited to see her out there in a lineup of Mitchell, Banham, Collier, and Juhász.
The Lynx now have five days off as they return home to prepare to host the Chicago Sky on Friday (5/19) at 7:00pm CT. The rematch will be a lot different, as a number of starters and rotation players sat out for both teams during this showcase in Canada. The quest for five championships begin with a much different looking team. It will be their first season without any of the remaining dynasty members so buckle up!