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Lynx 77, Sparks 72: Phee-nishing Strong

Napheesa Collier makes her All-Star case clear by notching a game-high 25 points, leading Minnesota to their first win streak of the season.

Minnesota Lynx v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Story

The Start - Milić Mastery

Prior to the game, Coach Cheryl Reeve shared with Canis Hoopus in the pregame presser that though her players don’t prefer to have four-day long breaks between games, the silver lining was that they entered the break on a win so they could “hold the taste” for a bit. Surely, the Minnesota Lynx enjoyed the taste of the most improbable comeback of the season against this very Los Angeles Sparks team four nights ago, and subsequent jersey retirement of the great Sylvia Fowles.

Though both teams would be down starters due to illness (Jessica Shepard for Minnesota; Lexie Brown for Los Angeles), they were ready for round two of action. The Sparks, who are one of two teams who takes less three pointers than the Lynx, came out accurately firing. Perhaps privy to Reeve’s plan to limit Los Angeles’ points in the paint, they used their perimeter game to open up the floor for Dearica Hamby and the Ogwumikes. However, Minnesota had an interior weapon of their own.

Despite struggling for most of the young season so far, Nikolina “Nina” Milić came out assertively and took matters into her own hands. She entered the game with 3:45 left in the first, but spent the next five minutes on the court wracking up 8 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist.

The Meat - Perimeter Sparks for Both Teams

The game remained in the balance for the majority of the first half. Both teams traded blows for blows, misses for misses, and exchanged the lead back and forth. That was until the scary turnover monster reared its ugly head for Minnesota. It wasn’t a surprise for most, as the Sparks led the league in forcing turnovers, but the Lynx coughing it up five times in just over five minutes was beyond reasonable assumption. The local UCLA product, Jordin Canada, was in rare form as she spearheaded the attack on both ends of the court, getting the crowd on their feet and into the game. It was just a taste of what was to come.

It may have been a calculated risk by Minnesota to let her handle the offensive workload, honing their defensive focus on slowing down former league MVP, Nneka Ogwumike. Although the Lynx were successful in holding Ogwumike to a season-low 8 points on 2 of 9 shooting, it allowed Canada to get loose for a regular season career-high of 22 points. It also meant letting the Sparks build a 10-point lead before the half concluded. Both teams were shooting exactly 44% from the field, but six makes from distance for Los Angeles to Minnesota’s one was a big difference.

Thankfully, every game has two halves. After some anomalous three-point shooting in the half from the home team, they cooled all the way off. That plus a Lynx team that was recharged coming out of the locker room. Reeve, Rachel Banham, and Napheesa Collier all shared after that the game that there weren’t any particularly scathing words or messages during halftime, but that the team knew what they had to do: Take care of the ball and get aggressive offensively.

Napheesa Collier took the game by the horns and scored the first seven points for the Lynx in the second half. The rest of the team saw her splashing in buckets and followed suit, notching a 62.5% shooting third quarter. A nine-point Sparks half-time lead evaporated in less than four minutes.

Though Minnesota had done enough to regain a lead, Los Angeles wasn’t going to just roll over. They showed tough fight and turned the game back into the barnburner that we saw in the first quarter. The Lynx only managed a narrow 58-57 lead heading into the final 10 minutes of play.

The Finish - The Phee-nisher

The start of the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty. Much like they started the previous quarter, the Minnesota was flying all over the place on defense with intention. They disrupted entry passes, played passing lines, and closed out hard on perimeter shooters. It felt as though they were going to waltz to the finish line after pushing their lead to six, but Canada’s career-night did not want to go to waste. She continually sliced and diced the Lynx up for eight straight points, single-handedly pulling the Sparks back from the brink over and over again.

Despite all of that, her team still ran into the brick wall that was Napheesa Collier.

Though it was a total team effort (and some unfriendly whistles against the Sparks that drove the fans mad), it was Collier who nailed the biggest shot of the game. Minnesota desperately held onto a one-point lead with just over a minute left in the game before Collier dove to the lane, trampling (and fouling out) Karlie Samuelson on her way to a successful and-one which she would convert.

There would be a few more late game theatrics in the final minute of play, but between a missed Dorka Juhász free throw and a missed Ogwumike layup, all’s well that end’s well. Kayla McBride would ice a pair at the charity stripe to send the Sparks faithful back home with a L. That would be the fourth time in a row that the Lynx would be victorious when visiting Los Angeles, as they haven’t lost there since 2020. Canis Hoopus asked Collier and Banham about whether or not they felt any additional motivation or energy when playing Los Angeles despite being a newer generation. Both agreed that though they weren’t around during the historic battles, they grew up watching the two franchises duke it out in the postseason and that if anything, they get extra motivation to earn these wins for Coach Reeve.

Speaking of domination, this would also mark the third straight game of 20 points or more for Collier, who notched a game-high 25 points. That’s the longest streak for the Lynx since Maya Moore accomplished it. When Canis Hoopus asked Reeve about this, she responded that the game has in fact slowed down for Phee and that her teammates are finally figuring out how to find her in the flow of the offense. She continued in the post game presser stating that Phee should absolutely be an All-Star this season, and that both fans and players know it too. When the first returns on All-Star ballots came out earlier this week, Collier was down at 23rd. Ridiculous. If you do anything today, do your part and get your vote in now!

So that makes it three wins in the last four games for the Lynx. They came into the game with “the taste” of a win, but still left the game with “the taste” of their first win streak.

Game Notes

  • Though still out with an ankle injury, rookie Diamond Miller is no longer sporting a walking boot or noticeable brace/limp. You can even see her jogging out with the team just before tip-off. Meanwhile, the rough season for Aerial Powers continues, she was in a walking boot last night, nursing a left ankle injury.
  • Nina Milić had a wonderful first half, but got into foul trouble and hardly saw the court after picking up an early fourth foul. She was still able to leave her handprint on the victory though, as did Dorka Juhász. The box score may show her rough night at the free throw line, but she had a number of awesome defensive plays and made lots of hustle plays that aren’t captured. With Shepard out, it was great to see the two frontcourt players step up.
  • Ho-hum. Another night, another efficient 16 point, 5 rebound night for Kayla McBride. She went 6 of 9 from the field and was her usual reliable self. We should never take McBuckets for granted. She only splashed in one three-pointer, but Rachel Banham had some great stretches of her own, dropping in two from beyond the arc while leading the team with 6 assists to go along with 4 rebounds. Both guards hit timely shots to stymy Los Angeles runs all evening.
  • The Tiffany Mitchell rollercoaster continues, as she followed up an awesome season-high 17 point performance on Sunday with a 5 point, 5 turnover dud yesterday. She’s considered one of the best perimeter defenders on the team, but could not stay with or in front of Jordin Canada. She was yanked late after nearly imploding the game in clutch time with two straight turnovers. Better days are ahead for Mitchell.
  • The Sparks and Lynx just recently signed a pair of 2022 Indiana Fever rookies on hardship contracts (Emily Engstler & Destanni Henderson), but neither got any game action.

Game Highlights

What’s Next

The Lynx hop on a short 1-hour flight eastward to visit the defending champion Las Vegas Aces on Sunday (6/18) at 8:00pm CT. Standing at a league-best 9-1 record, the Aces have been throttling opponents by a whopping +14.3 point differential. That includes a 94-73 dismantling of Minnesota three weeks ago.