The Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday night against the Seattle Storm took the floor for the first time in nearly a month with No. 2 overall pick Diamond Miller, who returned from a nine-game absence due to a right ankle sprain, and parlayed that into the team’s best overall offensive performance of the season in a 104-93 win.
Despite being down Jess Shepard (illness), Aerial Powers (ankle) and now Tiffany Mitchell, who is set to miss multiple weeks with a left wrist sprain, Minnesota set a season-high in points with nearly 7:00 left to play in the fourth quarter. The defense was not a work of art, but the Lynx did enough to keep the Storm at bay and hold on for a wire-to-wire win over a team they were tied with in the standings.
Let’s get into the takeaways.
Lindsay Allen Paints a Masterpiece in the Half-Court
There are many positives to attribute the Lynx’s 104-point offensive explosion to, but they all start and end with starting point guard Lindsay Allen. The six-year WNBA veteran is a fantastic pick-and-roll creator and that was on full display on Tuesday. She got the team into the half-court offense within the first five seconds of the shot clock more often than not, and that pace kept the already out-matched Storm defense on its collective heels all night. Allen’s nine assists and zero turnovers pushed her assist-to-turnover ratio over the last five games to an outrageous 27-2 (13.5), the best in the WNBA over that span.
In the first few minutes of the game, Allen dished out three assists, but did so in different ways that highlight her playmaking chops. First, she hit Kayla McBride on a spot-up 3 to open the scoring, then threw a dart in between outstretched hands of two defenders to a rolling Dorka Juhász, and finally snaked her way into the lane and drew the attention of four defenders before finding a cutting Miller for a basket.
great find,— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) June 28, 2023
even greater bucket. pic.twitter.com/oRpadmpqEj
Her play snowballed from there, creating a scoring avalanche that permeated confidence throughout the team. All five of Minnesota’s starters scored in double figures and shot at least 46% from the floor.
“I think making sure our spacing is good, making sure we’re active on the backside, and keeping those players occupied so that the people in the pick-and-roll can really do their thing,” Allen told Canis Hoopus after practice on Monday. “We’re really running a lot of two-man stuff so that back side is wide open for those two players to kind of work off of it which I think is really good for us.”
That play above is a great example of how excellent spacing and active back side of the offense work hand-in-hand to create easy offense, as is this next one.
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“She’s just a competitor. Again, she’s a good pick-and-roll player, so she was recognizing what was available, making right my right reads,” Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve said postgame. “That last possession where she threw it with her left hand to the weak side of the floor off the help and then Dorka was able to make the extra pass to K-Mac. That’s all at the hands of Lindsay, who made it easier for everybody else. And that was probably a microcosm of the game.”
Minnesota ran pick-and-roll all night long, maintained good spacing, and utilized the back side of the floor to get Napheesa Collier and Juhász clean, 1-on-1 post-ups against smaller defenders after quickly swinging the ball on the perimeter. Reeve said postgame that pick-and-roll was a key focus for the Lynx, and running it early and often forced Seattle to show their hand in how they would defend it, and unlocked the blueprint for drawing two to the ball and then hunting mismatches.
“Sometimes they were in protect and we could really drag them, and then other times they were switching. That’s where Phee got going in the high-low game,” Reeve told Canis Hoopus. “But the recognition that if it wasn’t there, don’t force it and then keep playing, now, to that that two player side. So I thought we played through the clock pretty well.”
“It’s really important. You want to get easy looks as often as you can, so especially when you have a mismatch, you want to make [the defense] pay for that,” Collier told Canis postgame. “So forcing it into the post ... and taking advantage of the defensive coverage that they’re having is really important. We really emphasize it in practice, so I was happy with how we did that today.”
It was part of a steady diet for the pair of former UCONN stars who each had career nights.
Napheesa Collier — Career-high 33 points
Collier scored a career-high 33 points on 11/21 shooting (including 24 points on 9/13 in the second half alone) in such a way that featured every part of her scoring arsenal. The soon-to-be three-time All-Star scored at all three levels of the floor, drove past bigger defenders, bullied smaller ones in the post, and got the foul line nine times, making all of her shots.
“I worked really hard in the offseason to come back and better than when I left the game in 2021. You work on things so hard, you want to be able to use them in the game.
So sometimes it’s hard to find that confidence to do new things, especially, like, it’s not practice, the game is on the line, so I think just getting past that mentally is what you’re seeing, just me pushing past that wall,” Collier said postgame, adding that the game is slowing down for her in her fourth full WNBA season, and she’s taking what the defense is giving her.
“I think just with experience, it allows you to see the game a little bit slower and be able to make those reads.
Defenders just had no chance against the 6-foot-1 scoring machine, who frequently got to her spots and made tough shots in the mid-post area of the paint over much taller Storm defenders in 6-foot-4 Ezi Magbegor and 6-foot-6 Mercedes Russell.
“I’m really confident in that area. If I had to hit a game-winner, that’s where I’m going, is in the post,” Phee said. “I’m confident because I’ve put a lot of hours in that area and I’ve done the work so I know that it’s gonna come through in the game.”
“I think her evolution was definitely inevitable and each game she plays, she’s recognizing the difference [in how she’s defended]. Ezi Magbegor is a really good defender. Some of those shots she made over Ezi, you just gotta go, ‘Wow,’” Reeve said. “For Phee to be in that [All-Star Game] conversation with ... the players that are in the front-court, Phee is right there. That’s great news for our franchise.”
Dorka Juhász — First career double-double
Reeve has frequently praised the second-round rookie for her maturity all season and credited much of Juhász’s success to how she carries herself as a professional. All the areas she’s been looking to improve were on full display Tuesday. The Pécs, Hungary native scored 10 points on 5/7 shooting, grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds (all defensive), flashed her hands both on the roll and on seals inside, and finished very well in traffic in her first career double-double.
Juhász has been working tirelessly after practice with five-time WNBA Champion and Lynx Assistant Coach Rebekkah Brunson on her post-up game, her mid-post game, and learning more about how she can position herself inside to find success scoring and rebounding. Miller wanted to make sure everybody knew about it postgame.
“I think Dorka deserves every good thing that’s happening to her. She’s a hard worker and she puts in the work. After practices, she’s always getting work in, trying to get stronger, and stuff like that,” Miller said. “So this is just a testimony of all her hard work she has done when nobody’s looking. Youu guys get to see it, but I see the parts where she’s struggling, you know, the ‘ah’ moments but it’s just a blessing to see her do so good.”
Diamond Miller’s Return
It didn’t take long for the No. 2 overall pick to make her presence felt in the game. Miller is a player whose combination of long strides, agility, and lightning quick first step leap off the floor with the way they make life difficult for opposing defenses in the half-court both. Her athleticism shines through whether she’s pressuring the rim as a ball-handler on the drive or a cutter from anywhere on the floor.
Miller missed her first three shots, but she settled in quickly after making a mid-range jumper and then scoring off a cut via a beautiful find from Allen, before shooting 6/7 from the floor in the final three quarters to finish with a final tally of 18 points, a career-high. When she wasn’t scoring, she was active as a passer (five assists), grabbed four rebounds, and blocked a shot that resulted in a layup the other way.
“Every time she plays the game, is going to be persistent to get the paint. And she was able to find that a little bit. She also made some perimeter shots. Liked the 3s that she took, that’s good. They don’t always go in but that’s an evolution to her game. She has to take them, and has to continue to work on them,” Reeve said of her rookie’s play postgame.
“Five assists, really good. I thought she was really good in terms of not forcing. Maybe before the injury, you might have seen her, she had a couple of moments where she was really persistent trying to get a shot off.
I think her teammates were talking to her and she found some really good opportunities to kick it back out to the perimeter for for easy shots. And so, it was really good controlled game for Diamond.”
Talking to her teammates is a key part of how the rookie has grown so far this season.
“I do see her expanding her game, even though she’s only been here for a couple months, but she’s already growing from when she came to training camp, which is really fun to see because Diamond really listens, which is really important in a rookie,” Collier said postgame.
“If you tell her something, she tries to make the adjustments she tries to do that, which is so important. ... Because I’ve been in the league a little bit more and I can see, like her train of thought and how I used to think that it’s a lot easier for me to give her advice and try to tell her like what I’ve learned along the way to try to help her to maybe get it better than I did.”
Reeve also continued her previously stated goal of throwing Miller into the fire on the defensive end of the floor. The former Maryland star guarded WNBA leading scorer Jewell Loyd for stretches in the first half and was able to bother the Storm’s engine with her length and quickness on the drive.
A Resurgent Kayla McBride Game
Reeve knew that McBride needed a get-right game coming off a stretch of games in which the beloved veteran struggled to connect on jumpers.
“I think [McBride] has to from a mindset standpoint get back to more of an assassin mindset. I think she’s been a little more hesitant, maybe the shots aren’t falling as much as she wants right now. But she can’t take less shots, she got to take more shots,” Reeve said at practice over the weekend.
Sure enough, Reeve ran the first play of the game to get McBride a look from downtown on a stack offense look. Miller set a back screen to send McBride flying around a stack screen from Collier and Juhász, and Allen delivers a perfect pass, leaving McBuckets to do the rest.
McBride then drained a pair of additional 3-pointers in the first quarter alone; her nine first-quarter points led the Lynx to a 35-point opening frame and helped secure the home squad a 15-point lead after 10 minutes.
“It’s so fun when Kay-Mac is hitting 3s. It’s such an energy boost. She hit four tonight. She really got us started on offense, just hitting those and getting us going early. It’s always really fun when we can do that,” Collier said. “It helps the offense because it forces them to stay on her. They already do [that], but it forces more people to do it because they’re worried about her making 3s.”
Even though the three-time All-Star didn’t connect on her jumpers at the same rate in the second and third quarters, she didn’t let that stop her from staying involved offensively. Reeve also stressed at practice the need for her team to be more aggressive attacking close-outs. That is especially true for someone like McBride, whose strong shooting gravity can bend defenses out of shape and create opportunities to score inside.
The Lynx sharpshooter finished with 18 points on 6/13 shooting, including 4/9 from deep (44.4%), but didn’t limit her impact to one side of the floor.
McBride owned the primary assignment of slowing down Loyd, who has been an equal opportunity bucket-giver to this point in the season. Minnesota’s wing stopper got the best of her former teammate at Notre Dame, helping hold Loyd to 4/18 from the floor, including 3/14 outside the paint.
When Kayla McBride is impacting the game at both ends and supporting the team’s first two scoring options in Napheesa Collier and Diamond Miller the way she did on Tuesday night, the Lynx are going to be a tough team to play for the rest of the season, no matter who else is available on any given night.
The Lynx will travel to Seattle today for a rematch with the Storm on Thursday night at 9 PM CT. Fans can watch the game on Bally Sports North or CBS Sports Network.