The Minnesota Lynx continued their road trip against the Indiana Fever on Thursday night, looking to build off of an impressive 88-79 road win over the Chicago Sky by defeating the worst team in the league amidst a stretch of games against opponents below them in the standings.
Especially with Dorka Juhász — who missed the team’s past couple games with a right hamstring issue — back in the lineup to help defend Fever center and two-time Rookie of the Month Aliyah Boston, Thursday was an excellent opportunity for the Lynx continue their climb up the standings before a week-long break for the league’s Commissioner’s Cup championship.
Things looked good early after a 21-point, run-filled first quarter in which Kayla McBride and Rachel Banham shined with 13 points on 3/5 shooting from behind the arc, despite early struggles from Napheesa Collier and Diamond Miller, who shot a combined 1/7 for two points. But it was all downhill from there.
Starting point guard and offensive heartbeat Lindsay Allen picked up a pair of quick fouls in the second quarter and sat the final 7:14 of the half with three fouls, which sent the offense sputtering. Minnesota got stagnant offensively with limited ball and player movement, couldn’t find a five-woman unit to solve the issue, and failed to generate clean looks all quarter, resulting in a 14-point quarter on 3/13 shooting (23.1%) to go along with four turnovers that Indiana converted into seven points. Collier picking up her third foul and sitting the final three minutes and change didn’t help the state of the offense, either.
While the Lynx struggled, the Fever offense found a rhythm behind All-Star point guard Kelsey Mitchell’s game-high 11 points in the period, coming at all three levels of the floor. All but one Indiana player who saw game action in the second quarter either scored or dished an assist en route to a 25-point frame that earned the Fever a 45-35 lead entering the break.
Collier started the third quarter looking to repeat what she did on Tuesday — overcoming first half foul trouble to dominate the third quarter scoring. Miller attempted to do most of the heavy lifting early, but couldn’t find the bottom of the net and at times tried to do too much with the ball in her hands. The offense struggled to find a rhythm as a result, contributing to the Fever pushing the lead out to a game-high 18 points inside of six minutes left in the quarter.
That changed once Collier broke into the scoring column at the 5:34 mark of the frame; Miller parlayed that collective confidence booster into a 3-pointer, drawn shooting foul in transition, and fast-break layup, before a Collier nailed a triple of her own to cut things down to nine. After trading blows in a fast-paced final three minutes, Indiana held a 12-point lead at the end of the third quarter.
Diamond Miller and Napheesa Collier combined to score 17 points on 6/11 shooting in the 3Q after scoring 2 on 1/10 FG in the entire 1H.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) August 11, 2023
Lynx will need another big push from their stars in the 4Q to have any chance against the red hot Kelsey Mitchell, who has a game-high 24
Despite cutting into the lead and gaining momentum entering the home stretch, the Lynx allowed the Fever to score the first six points of the quarter to regain an 18-point lead and things were essentially out of reach from there. Minnesota simply couldn’t regain form after a trying second quarter doomed by Collier and Allen’s foul trouble and Miller’s early misses put the Lynx in a double-digit hole. The final result was a 91-73 Lynx loss to the last place team in the league, undoubtedly a game Minnesota wants to have back before a week off.
Let’s get into the takeaways.
Napheesa Collier’s First Poor Outing of the Year
The fact that it took nearly three months for MVP candidate Napheesa Collier to turn in a performance that actively contributed to a loss is an incredible feat for a player returning from essentially a year off of basketball after giving birth last May. The Lynx superstar scored a season-low-tying eight points on 3/12 shooting (25%), her least efficient shooting night of the season, grabbed five rebounds and dished out a pair of assists in a season-low-tying 25 minutes.
Her difficulty scoring came as a surprise considering the three-time All-Star put up 28 points and 32 points, respectively, in the Lynx’s first two matchups against the Fever this season.
All eight points came within a 3:21 span during the third quarter as Minnesota made a comeback push to gain some momentum entering the final frame. Collier wasn’t able to get into the paint as much as she would’ve liked to, as the Fever’s 2-3 zone did a good job of containing drivers and forcing mid-range jump shots. That normally wouldn’t be a problem for Collier, who thrives in the middle of the floor, but she shot 2/9 (22.2%) there tonight. She mostly got clean looks and didn’t knock them down, which is bound to happen over the course of a 40-game season.
Collier has been tremendous this season at getting to the rim for looks either there or at the free throw line on nights when she has struggled with the jumper, but she got up just one shot at the rim and earned only two free throw attempts.
However, she wasn’t alone in having difficulties scoring inside.
Fever Dominate the Paint
Despite losing Hall of Fame center Sylvia Fowles to retirement, Minnesota has largely been outstanding in winning the points in the paint battle and, more generally, scoring inside the arc this season.
The Lynx deviated from that trend on Thursday, losing 34-18 on the scoreboard in the lane, shooting just 9/28 (32.1%). Simply put, Indiana overwhelmed and overpowered Minnesota, led by Boston’s exceptional interior defense, and the No. 1 overall pick joining forces with NaLyssa Smith to each score 10 points in the paint on the night.
Minnesota’s 18 points in the paint marked a season low by eight points and those 18 points were 24.6% of their total scoring output, the worst mark of the 2023 campaign by 6.2%.
Lynx got destroyed in the paint:— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) August 11, 2023
• 17/28 (60.7%)
• 9/28 (32.1%)
Minnesota's 18 PITP was the team's lowest total of the year by eight points.
The Lynx scored 24.6% of their points in the paint tonight, the worst mark of the season by 6.2%.
Aliyah was awesome
Although they didn’t score much in the paint, the Lynx still managed to get to the free throw line 15 times (making 13 shots; 86.7%), one more than the Fever’s 14 attempts. Minnesota has been excellent in outscoring opponents from the charity stripe this season, but has largely complemented that with additional scoring inside the arc, which didn’t happen tonight. The Lynx scored only 30 points on 2-point shots (tying a season-low) and just 44.4% of their total scoring output inside the arc, a season-low.
As the Fever continually shut off drivers, the Lynx needed to use more cutting, slips and off-ball movement to get into the lane for looks at the rim, but didn’t do enough of it to keep pace with an efficient Indiana squad that scored with ease at all three levels on a 91-point, 50.0% shooting night.
Banham Leads Productive Night for the Lynx Bench
There’s no question that the Lynx missed Rachel Banham while she missed nearly a month with a fractured thumb on her shooting hand. Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Cheryl Reeve has spoken all season about how the team needs to shoot more 3-pointers and score better from deep, and Banham is the team’s most dynamic threat from deep.
The beloved veteran entered Thursday shooting a team-high 37.1% from behind the arc and extended her lead with a 5/7 effort from distance en route to scoring a team-high 18 points in 18 minutes off the bench.
A couple of huge 3s from Rachel Banham capped off a 10-0 Lynx run that helped Minnesota retake a 21-20 lead after a quarter of runs:— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) August 10, 2023
• 7-0 IND
• 9-0 MIN
• 10-2 IND
• 10-3 MINpic.twitter.com/HDc4y41d6Y
It has to feel good for Banham to put together her best shooting performance of the season just one game removed from an extended absence in which she couldn’t do much of anything with her shooting hand, especially considering a few of her makes were tough, contested 3-pointers off movement.
Banham figures to be very much involved over the team’s next four games (with two apiece against the Seattle Storm and Dallas Wings), as neither squad has lightning quick guards off the dribble that have a tendency to give Banham difficulties when she’s defending on the perimeter. Even against teams that may present tough matchups, Banham should still get considerable playing time if she can continue to shoot the ball efficiently from deep. Her self-created scoring from beyond the arc and in the mid-range off pick-and-roll unlocks an dynamic element of the offense that other handling guards don’t bring to the table.
Beyond Banham, Nina Milić added nine points, including 4/4 from the free throw line, and Tiffany Mitchell scored four points in her return to Indianapolis after signing with the Lynx this past offseason. It was the second consecutive game in which Milić stepped up and delivered while Collier was in foul trouble. Minnesota won the bench scoring matchup 31-16, well beyond their reserve season average of 19.4 points per game.
The Lynx have a week off before traveling to Seattle for the first of a home-and-home with the Storm next Friday night, August 18. Fans can watch the 9 PM CT tip off on ION.