The Minnesota Lynx hit the road Tuesday night for the final game of August with five games left until postseason play begins, taking on the Washington Mystics in an important playoff seeding battle in the nation’s capital.
The Lynx and Mystics each came into the contest looking to grab hold of the fifth seed, with Minnesota holding a half-game lead over Washington for that spot in the WNBA standings. In the end, the Mystics came away with a big 83-72 win at Entertainment and Sports Arena.
The first half of Tuesday’s game was a back-and-forth battle, one that started with the Mystics jumping out to a 10-point advantage at home in the first quarter, only to find the Lynx claw back in the second quarter to narrow the Washington advantage to 42-37 going into halftime.
In the second half, the Mystics didn’t let up on the gas and the Lynx weren’t able to match Washington’s balance, resulting in the Mystics coming away with an important win at home.
“All our mistakes were happening at critical moments and it was happening throughout the whole game,” Diamond Miller said after the loss. “We just couldn’t stop the bleeding from there.”
Miller, Collier Lead the Way
From the opening tip, Minnesota was led by the duo of Miller and Napheesa Collier, not being able to get much going outside of those two on the road.
Tiffany Mitchell struggled offensively without scoring in Tuesday’s contest, Kayla McBride neared the double-digit point total but turnovers hurt the veteran guard most of the night, and the Lynx bench didn’t contribute to the amount Minnesota would have hoped it would against a talented Washington squad.
Diamond Miller and Napheesa Collier did all they could to keep the #Lynx into the game tonight, leading the way for MN:— Mitchell Hansen (@M_Hansen13) August 30, 2023
- Diamond Miller: 25 points (9/18 FG, 4/7 3P) and 2 steals in 30 mins.
- Napheesa Collier: 17 points (7/16 FG), 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals in 39 mins.
But Miller and Collier did all they could to keep the Lynx in the game, even though their attempts fell short. Miller had one of the strongest offensive outings of her rookie campaign, posting a career-high-tying 25 points while shooting 9-of-17 from the field with a season-high-tying four threes. Collier added an all-around outing that resulted in her eighth double-double of the year, finishing with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“Fortunately and unfortunately, a lot of teams leave me wide open. I just have to be confident enough to pick my shots,” Miller said of her shooting performance Tuesday. “I’ve been working on being more of a consistent shooter with [assistant coach Rebekkah Brunson] and the coaching staff in helping me be more consistent. Just being confident in my shot and realizing I do work hard and I’m not trying to miss, but I’m very capable from three. Now it’s just the confidence and the repetition to be able to knock it down consistently.”
Healthy Mystics Are Dangerous
The last time the Lynx and Mystics faced off, a 97-92 Lynx win on July 26 at Target Center, Washington was without its big three of Elena Delle Donne, Shakira Austin and Ariel Atkins, all of which missed a good chunk of time in the heart of the season with injuries. With those three players out, Washington struggled as any team would without a good chunk of their star players.
This time around, those three players were healthy and played key roles in the win while reminding us all why the Mystics were viewed as a top-five team in the WNBA at the beginning of the season. Throughout the game, Washington displayed a balanced attack that proved to be too much for Minnesota to control and match.
“Them getting healthy and having their best players imposes exactly the problems you would think,” Cheryl Reeve said post-game. “They are healthy at the right time. Their defense has allowed them to be successful with the return of [Delle Donne, Austin and Atkins]. ... That starting five defensively is really, really good. There’s no shame in coming to Washington and having a rough night. i just want us to grow from these hard games and the tough moments.”
Four Mystics players reached double figures in scoring Tuesday, with Brittney Sykes leading the way with 21 points, eight rebounds and three steals while being a force all night long. Natasha Cloud added 12 points, nine assists and five rebounds, Atkins posted 13 points, four assists and three steals, and Delle Donne added 10 points and four boards.
“As with every game, we have to really come out ready to go. Especially with a team like Washington that has been together so long and they play so well together,” Collier said. “They are a really good team. They’ve been together a long time, they have a lot of vets and a lot of talent.”
Late Lineup Change
Entering Tuesday, the Lynx had Lindsay Allen (left thumb) and Natalie Achonwa (maternity leave) on the injury report, but that unexpectedly changed the morning of game day when Lynx center Jessica Shepard was listed as questionable with a left ankle injury.
Shortly before game time, Shepard was officially ruled out with her ankle injury, resulting in Dorka Juhász stepping into the starting center role for Minnesota.
Juhász ended up with a nice balanced attack for the Lynx, although a quieter night than the Lynx might have liked. The rookie tallied eight points, six rebounds and four assists over 22 minutes.
Reeve said post-game Shepard’s ankle injury wasn’t something that came up for the first time Tuesday but was something that “she’s been experiencing that got a little worse for her today,” according to Reeve. As a result, the Lynx felt it was best to hold Shepard out of the game.
With the loss, the Lynx drop to 17-19 overall, also giving up the fifth seed in the standings. Minnesota drops to the sixth seed, where it is now in a tie with the Atlanta Dream for that position following Atlanta’s win over Phoenix on Tuesday night.
The Lynx magic number to clinch a playoff berth also remains at three with four games remaining.
On the other end of things, Washington improved to 17-18 overall, jumping past Minnesota to take a half-game lead over the Lynx and Dream for the fifth seed.
Even though there are less than a handful of regular-season games left, there still is plenty yet to be decided in the WNBA standings, basically from seed 4-9. And Minnesota has another important game Friday night at Target Center against an Atlanta squad the Lynx are knotted up with in the standings.
“We’re just taking what we learned from this game and moving on to the next one,” Collier said. “We have to get our home win.”
With the Washinton Mystics and the Atlanta Dream winning tonight, the 5-7 spots in the #WNBA standings are as follows:— Mitchell Hansen (@M_Hansen13) August 30, 2023
5. Washington Mystics (17-18)
6. Atlanta Dream (17-19)
Minnesota Lynx (17-19)
All eyes will be on Friday night's game between MN and ATL in Minnesota.
With four games left in the regular season, the Lynx will return home this weekend for the final two home games of the year. Minnesota plays host to the Atlanta Dream at 7PM CT on Friday in another big playoff positioning game, later welcoming the Phoenix Mercury to Target Center at 6PM CT on Sunday.
The final two games of the year for the Lynx include road contests against the Chicago Sky on Sept. 8 and the Indiana Fever on Sept. 10.