The Start - Diamond Out-duels BG
The Minnesota Lynx entered the night on a two-game win streak, including a dramatic buzzer-beating overtime victory in Seattle. For a team that has struggled to find consistency on the basketball court from game to game, it was difficult to predict how they would come out at Footprint Center. The Lynx visited the struggling Phoenix Mercury who had just fired their former head coach, Vanessa Nygaard, just one week ago and finally notched their first victory for interim coach, Nikki Blue, on Thursday versus the Dallas Wings.
Minnesota came out of the gates like a team who had just played 45 minutes on the road, flew some 1,400 miles, and then suited up for another road game just 48 hours later. Coach Cheryl Reeve was quick to call a timeout as the Lynx casually turned the ball over and were slow to rotate on defense, especially against Phoenix’s leading scorer, Brittney Griner. It took less than four minutes of game time for Minnesota to fall behind by 10 points.
Then came rookie Diamond Miller, who was playing in just her second game since her ankle injury.
Miller put the team on her back and scored the ball at all three levels. She looked impressive hitting perimeter jump shots, attacking the paint while drawing contact, but none were more impressive than her step through scoop shots which have turned into a signature move of hers. When Canis Hoopus asked her about where she coined and practiced her technique, she was humble in her response, citing hard work with her coaches in practice. Teammate Rachel Banham was not so soft-spoken about it.
“It’s definitely her signature move, that little scoop shot.”
Before you knew it, Miller had tallied 17 of her career-high 25 points in the first half alone. Banham continued to gush about her rookie, talking post game about how hard Miller worked during her rehab. Miller also made her presence felt on the defensive end, scooping up three of her career high five steals in the first period. This helped energize Minnesota’s defense, turning up the heat to the tune of 15 forced turnovers in the half. They fronted, blitzed, and double teamed Griner to slow her down despite her team-high 23 points, though it took 19 shot attempts to get there.
Banham, to her credit, was also instrumental in the early Lynx comeback. She was able to shake off a recent shooting slump and immediately poured in nine of her 13 points in the first half as well. Her backcourt partner, Lindsay Allen, was also exquisite all game long. The maestro posted eight points and eight assists, with one lone turnover at the very end of the game when the result was already determined.
The Meat - Gutting Through Offensive Outages
A 12-point Minnesota lead was not safe for long. They hit one of their usual third quarter offensive power outages, allowing Phoenix to crawl back into the game as the Lynx went scoreless for almost four whole minutes of game time. With Miller in a bit of foul trouble, it was a total team effort for Reeve’s team to get their hands muddy and get things back on track. Kayla McBride, who had just gotten back on track after her own shooting slump, was having a rough go at it. A pair of free throws off Mercury technical fouls helped her finally uncork her first field goal, a three pointer, of the night. It was just enough to help Minnesota erase a brief four-point Mercury lead and head into the fourth quarter up 61-57.
The Finish - Mercury Flames Out
Were Diana Taurasi, who struggled all night, and Griner going to have enough juice in their tanks to engineer a fourth quarter comeback?
Not even close.
Things looked interesting as the 2021 Rookie of the Year, Michaela Onyenwere, drew Miller’s fifth foul of the night. Instead of pulling the rookie out of the game, Reeve trusted her to play through it and was immediately rewarded, as Miller and Napheesa Collier immediately drew two whistles against Onyenwere to foul her out of the game. Poetic justice. At that point, it looked like the Mercury had completely ran out of gas. They blew defensive assignments, failed to corral defensive rebounds, and were just plain outworked by the Lynx for the entire quarter. The play below is just a microcosm of how the Mercury looked.
The two Mercury figureheads combined for as many points as they had turnovers (2) in the final 10 minutes. Taurasi did her usual complaining to the officials, but looked completed cooked all evening. Griner looked exhausted from fending off two, at times three, defenders all game.
The end result was the first three-game win streak of the season for the Lynx. Coach Reeve also moved out of a tie for third all-time in WNBA coaching wins, earning number 288. Diamond finished with 25 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 steals, being the first Lynx rookie to ever accomplish that since Maya Moore. The three-time All-Star, Collier, was frustrated with her “bad game,” which is apparently 16 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a team-high 37 minutes after tallying 45 of 45 possible minutes in the previous game.
It feels like things are finally turning around, as the Lynx move into a tie for 6th place in the standings.
Minnesota returns back home after a quick two-game road trip to host the 10th place Indiana Fever on Wednesday (7/5) at 7:00pm CT. The Lynx get a chance to redeem themselves after a narrow loss about a month ago and push their win streak to four.