The Minnesota Lynx returned home Wednesday night to host the lone game of the night in the WNBA and the final game of a three-game homestand against the Washington Mystics.
In a back-and-forth battle between the Lynx and Mystics, both who have dealt with a fair share of injuries lately, Minnesota did just enough in the final minutes to defend home court in a 97-92 victory.
To open the game, the Lynx jumped out of the gate while leading by as much as nine in the opening frame, but the Mystics battled back to retake the lead in the second quarter and hold a 60-58 advantage at halftime. The 58-point first half set a new season-high for Minnesota, but the 60 points allowed also marked a season-most in a half for the Lynx.
The back-and-forth, up-tempo game continued out of the break, with both teams going on runs throughout the second half. Just when one team started to pull away, the other answered. Right down to the final moments of the game.
In the end, Diamond Miller came up big late to help push Minnesota over the hump to edge out Washington to move the Lynx to 11-13 on the year and drop the Mystics to 12-11 overall.
“I think it was just about not panicking. It’s really been like that all season,” Kayla McBride said post-game. “Whatever it takes, I think we’ve kind of had that mentality through the adversity this season. ... Just finding ways to win. We have confidence in each other and we just continue to grow.”
Plenty of Offense on Display
From the opening tip, both teams were led by their big three in the starting lineup, putting up plenty of offense throughout the game.
Minnesota was led by Napheesa Collier, Diamond Miller and Kayla McBride, who combined to score 60 of the overall 97 points. Collier led with 24 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and three assists until her exit in the fourth quarter, followed by Miller with 21 points, nine assists and three rebounds and McBride with 15 points and three steals.
Each of those players had game-changing stretches in the win, from Collier setting the tone and starting the game off strong, McBride providing those momentum-shifting plays including a buzzer-beater right before halftime, to Miller helping the Lynx finish the job down the stretch to seal the win.
“I thought we were going to have to score 120 with the way we were going. Luckily we got to the point where we were able to get some stops,” Reeve said. “They made some shots where you go, analytically, you probably give them those shots. And they were making them. ... Overall, our offense didn’t ever hit that skid that sometimes we experience.”
To counter the Lynx, Brittney Sykes, Natasha Cloud and Myisha Hines-Allen haunted Minnesota all night long for Washington. Sykes did it all for the Mystics early, ending the game with 17 points, four assists and four steals. Cloud really stormed onto the scene in the second and ended up with a team-high 24 points and six rebounds. Hines-Allen cleaned up the glass and tallied 12 points and seven boards.
Washington needed those players to step up Wednesday, especially with Elena Delle Donne, Shakira Austin and Ariel Atkins still out of the lineup. And though they did step up for the Mystics, the Lynx did enough in the second half to shut Washington down.
“I think Cloud and Sykes came out with a lot of energy,” McBride said. “They were just making a lot of tough shots, contested shots. It was more about bearing down on the defensive end. We knew if we could get stops, we could get out in transition and space the floor. It was really just protecting home court.”
The Lynx finished the game shooting 50.7% from the field on 73 shot attempts, adding four threes and holding a 46-42 advantage in the paint as well as a 17-13 advantage in fast break points. After a red-hot start offensively, the Mystics finished shooting 51.3% from the field with 78 shot attempts while connecting on eight threes.
Collier Goes Down Late
Towards the tail end of a game where she led the team in scoring en route to her sixth double-double of the season, Collier went down late with an ankle injury that sidelined her for the final minutes of the win.
With 3:51 left in the fourth quarter, Collier appeared to get tangled up in the paint, exiting the game while getting looked at by the Lynx trainers on the bench. Shortly after, Collier was ruled out for the rest of the game with a right ankle injury.
“It’s too early to have an update on Phee,” Reeve said. Phee is going to tell me she’s fine, I know she’s not. I haven’t experienced that dread to find out what’s going to happen.”
Juhász fills in for Phee in the post-game celebration at mid-court as Collier was really favoring that right ankle walking around postgame https://t.co/g4ELzVmR86— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) July 27, 2023
With the Lynx entering a tough three-game road trip, having Collier is key to being able to pull off upsets during that stretch. And the Lynx hope their All-Star forward isn’t forced to sit games out instead of leading them on the court.
“Obviously, we don’t want to see Phee go down in any facet,” McBride said. “She’s been our leader, our captain and she’s been having an amazing season, just personally for her.”
Return of Jessica Shepard
Regardless of the game itself, one of the most important things to take place Wednesday was the return of Lynx center Jessica Shepard, who returned to the floor for the first time since June 11 while dealing with a non-COVID illness.
Shepard entered the game for the first time with a few minutes remaining in the first quarter Wednesday night, receiving a large applause from the Target Center crowd. Reeve said pregame that Shepard would be limited to about 15-20 minutes coming off the bench as she conditioned in game shape after missing extended time.
Reeve talked pregame about the importance of a gradual ramp-up period for Jess Shepard as she returns from illness, and that has shown since tip-off.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) July 27, 2023
Shepard has been riding the exercise bike away from the bench extensively before checking into the game.
Shepard ended up playing in a total of 13 minutes, finishing with eight points, three rebounds and one steal while providing Minnesota with a nice lift down the stretch of the game. It was a welcomed return to the floor for a key contributor in the Lynx rotation. As she gets
The Lynx now hit the road to begin a tough three-game road trip against New York and Connecticut, two top-three teams in the WNBA standings. Minnesota beings that road trip in Brooklyn on July 28 while taking on the Liberty starting at 7PM CT at Barclays Center. The game will be aired live on ION.
The Lynx remain on the road to face Connecticut in two straight road games on July 30 and Aug. 1 before returning home for Whay Day — a game honoring former Lynx great Lindsay Whalen — on Aug. 4 against New York.