The Washington Mystics suited back up for the second time in 24 hours after a narrow victory against the Dallas Wings Friday evening. Luckily for them, their opponents would be the winless Minnesota Lynx, who entered Saturday’s tilt with a 0-6 record. The beginning of the contest definitely looked like if you pitted two teams with their aforementioned conditions against each other. The sluggish start in Entertainment & Sports Arena resulted in both teams mustering up less than 36% shooting from the field by the end of the first quarter.
The second best defensive rating Mystics team began to crack. Their tired legs allowed for Minnesota’s Rachel Banham to pop off for a few much needed triples, opening the flood gates for her teammates (4/9 in the second quarter). A few mini-runs by the Lynx allowed them to build a 39-32 lead by the half. Coach Cheryl Reeve drew up an effective game plan to limit the former two-time MVP, Elena Delle Donne, with double teams while staying out on the two-time All-Star sharpshooter, Ariel Atkins. They dared Brittney Sykes and noted shooter Natasha Cloud, both career sub-31% three point shooters, to make wide open makes.
Unlike the Lynx, the Mystics did not make many shots.
As we’ve seen in so many Lynx games this season, they went through one of their patented offensive power outages. A seven-point halftime lead melted away in just minutes as Washington went on a 12-point swing, managing a 48-43 lead with just 14 minutes left in the game. EDD, who was held to just two points on two free throws in the first half, finally scored her first make from the field during that stretch as well.
However, Kayla McBride was in rare form Saturday night. She responded by pouring in 12 points in the quarter which included back-to-back triples, quickly regaining momentum before the wheels fell off. Her momentum changing shot making seemed to rattle the Mystics, as they began committing silly fouls and turning the ball over just before the end of the quarter. In a blink of an eye, a 18-3 Lynx avalanche helped them regain a 61-51 lead at the end of three quarters.
Reeve spoke about the leadership that McBride has brought both on and off the floor this season. Even KMac herself attested to the need for her to change her leadership style, going from a “lead by example” style to a more vocal one.
Regardless, if you have watched any Lynx basketball this season, you would know that a 10-point lead is nothing to feel secure about. In fact, it took less than two minutes into the fourth for the Mystics to rattle off a 6-0 run. Both teams jostled for points, grinding out difficult possessions as they mostly did all evening, but the rolling power outage that is the Lynx offense was going to come back. It was a two possession game for the final six minutes with Washington’s home crowd pushing their team to multiple tie-game situations. Then, with 2:06 remaining and a four-point Lynx lead, the officials called a foul on Jessica Shepard on an EDD putback attempt.
Coach Reeve sounded the green challenge light.
Though it looked like Shepard had a clean tie up from behind, there was a lot going on before that. Collier looked to have bumped EDD prior to the whistle which may have forced EDD to clearly travel, but then there was minor contact between EDD, Collier, and Shepard. Nevertheless, the challenge was deemed successful and for some reason, instead of a jump ball, the referees awarded the ball to Minnesota, much to the dismay of a bewildered Eric Thibault. Shepard would cash her fifth and sixth straight clutch time points with another layup, making it a six-point game with 1:40 left on the clock. A(nother) Sykes missed three pointer left the Lynx with the same cushion, possession, and just 1:22 left.
Would the Lynx cruise to an easy victory?
Whatever could go wrong in 82 seconds, almost all happened. Three straight Lynx possessions resulted in turnovers. Even with some shoddy Washington shooting, they were still able to slice Minnesota’s lead down. They still had a chance to control their destiny, but Collier split a pair at the charity stripe, setting up for the Mystics final halfcourt set down 75-78. Brittney Sykes, who was left open all night from perimeter, launched another trey with Collier in no woman’s land.
Sykes swished the shot to tie the game with 7.4 seconds left.
All signs pointed to an ensuing Minnesota meltdown that would end badly in overtime. Reeve called a timeout and reinserted Tiffany Mitchell, who was a big reason for the Lynx gave up their double digit lead earlier in the quarter. In her five-minute stint earlier in the period, Mitchell was responsible for about four turnovers (Somehow only accredited with one) and three defensive breakdowns. Surely, Minnesota would instead turn to their franchise player, Collier, or the red hot McBride, right?
Atkins would launch a halfcourt heave that never came close as the final buzzer sounded. During the postgame presser, Reeve revealed that the final play was one she used to draw up for Lindsay Whalen. The real serendipity was that Reeve learned it from former championship Mystics coach, Mike Thibault. The four-time WNBA champion coach continued to gush about how proud she was of Mitchell for bouncing back from a rough quarter to make the biggest play of the season.
With the Seattle Storm losing to the Los Angeles Sparks and dropping to 0-4, the Lynx are no longer on the bottom rung of the standings. It was a huge monkey to get off their back and a big relief to the younger players on the team. Rookie Dorka Juhász shared about how much her first WNBA win meant to her after the game, continuing by saying that this game felt like the first one where they had a calmness and confidence that the win was coming, despite the late game antics.
The vibes, for the first time all season, felt right.
The @minnesotalynx surround @TiffMitch25 after she hit the game winning shot to uplift the Lynx to a 80-78 victory over the Mystics ⬇️— WNBA (@WNBA) June 4, 2023
After an 0-6 start the Lynx get their first win of the szn #MoreThanGame pic.twitter.com/ZfD6xUmLiD
- Game ball could be given to a number of deserving Lynx players, but it’s got to be Kayla McBride, who turned in a game-high 24 points to go along with 5 rebounds, and 1 steal. You could see the confidence she instills in her teammates as well, as she sat side-by-side with rookie Dorka Juhász in the post game presser.
- Speaking of Juhász, both the rookie and Jessica Shepard had amazing games as star supporting cast members. Juhász played excellent one-on-one defense against Delle Donne and Shakira Austin all night, finishing with 7 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. Shepard did what we’ve become so accustomed to seeing, pouring in 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. The rookie spoke at length about how she wants to follow the type of career path that Shepard has carved us thus far into her young career, as a do-it-all force.
- It should also be mentioned that Napheesa Collier continued to be excellent in her lead role. She has shouldered the bulk of the workload, posting 17 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals.
- Both Rachel Banham and Lindsay Allen had key contributions in their limited minutes as the backup point guards. It’ll remain intriguing to see how those minutes are divided moving forward.
- Nina Milić and Aerial Powers each played under five minutes. Their roles on the team are becoming more and more uncertain moving forward.
- Diamond Miller was out for the second straight game with her ankle injury. In case you missed it, she is currently week-to-week.
- Myisha Hines-Allen suited up for the first time since her knee injury, garnering a much deserved standing ovation from the Washington faithful.
Minnesota gets three days off before visiting the New York Liberty on Wednesday (6/7) at 6:00pm CT. Can they make it two in a row? The Liberty dropped their first game of the season, but have since gone on to win four in a row mostly in blowout fashion.