The Minnesota Lynx returned home on Friday night to host the New York Liberty, who arrived looking to avenge last week’s loss to Minnesota without Napheesa Collier on their home floor.
Each squad had reinforcements join them, as Collier returned from a three-game absence due to a right ankle sprain and Liberty All-Star point guard Courtney Vandersloot took the floor at Target Center after missing the teams’ previous matchup.
Lynx point guard Lindsay Allen set a strong tone early, dishing four assists in the four three minutes of the game to help her team get off on the right foot offensively. Minnesota subsequently allowed a 7-0 Liberty run before fighting right back in what became a seesaw affair for much of the first half.
Minnesota forward Nina Milić provided seven key points to bridge the first and second quarters, as she found a terrific rhythm with Collier and Allen to keep the offense afloat while No. 2 overall pick Diamond Miller worked through early struggles. On the other end, Collier continued what worked well in the Minnesota win over New York last week — pressuring Breanna Stewart on the catch. Collier held the 2018 WNBA MVP and her Unrivaled co-founder to 11 points on 11 shots in the first half, forcing the Liberty star to earn each of her makes.
The Lynx did a good job of keeping the Liberty out of the paint in the second quarter, too, a driving force behind New York scoring just 16 points in the second frame after a 25-point first. Content with the Liberty chucking 3s, Minnesota played with good pace off misses and converted several semi-transition looks against a spread, cross-matched defense that struggled to contain cutters on the back side. Offensive hub Jess Shepard played an important role in that, making two great reads and excellent passes to get layups for Miller and McBride late in the quarter, and the Lynx a 42-41 lead into the break.
After each offense put up more than 40 points in the first half, they went quiet out of halftime. Over the first 3:49 of the half, the two teams combined to shoot 1/15 with a pair of turnovers; Miller ended the drought with her patented step-through layup to beat the shot clock, setting off another back-and-forth battle with plenty of main characters getting involved. Current or former All-Stars scored all but two points over the final 5:19 of the frame, headlined four points apiece from Collier and McBride, and a pair of Sabrina Ionescu 3-pointers, the second of which gave New York a two-point lead heading into the final frame.
From there, a short-handed Lynx squad just ran out of gas. New York sensed it, as Liberty Head Coach Sandy Brondello started the fourth quarter with four of her five starters on the floor, while Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve rolled with Collier and Miller on the bench. New York took advantage. The Liberty drew four fouls in the first 57 seconds of the quarter and extended the lead to five before Reeve could get her two stars back in the game, but it didn’t matter; by that point, New York had all their largest of the half, all the momentum, and significantly more star power, while the Lynx offense struggled to get Collier or Miller going down the stretch.
The Liberty ran everything through the 6-foot-6 Jonquel Jones, who finally took advantage of the Lynx missing 6-foot-5 center Dorka Juhász, who played fantastic defense on Jones in the last matchup. Minnesota had no answer for Jones, who alongside Betnijah Laney carried New York to the finish line.
Let’s get into the takeaways.
A Jonquel Jones Masterclass
Juhász arguably outplayed the 2021 WNBA MVP in the two teams’ previous meeting in Brooklyn, so Jones took full advantage while the stand-out rookie was out with a minor right hamstring injury.
New York tried to play through their star center early in the game, but the Lynx defense rotated very well on the back side and swarmed the paint to prevent Jones from seeing single coverage on the block. They kept Jones off the glass, too, allowing zero offensive rebounds in the first three quarters.
That all changed in the fourth quarter.
Jones scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds in the final frame alone to produce an eye-opening stat line of 15 points on 7/11 shooting, 17 rebounds and a pair of blocks in just 29 minutes. The Bahamas native also collected more offensive rebounds (five) than the Lynx did total rebounds (four) in the fourth quarter, and led the Liberty to grabbing 11 offensive rebounds in the quarter. By the time the final buzzer sounded, New York held a 25-10 edge second-chance points.
“We’re disappointed, there’s no doubt about that. That’s very much a controllable. Rebounding is controllable. They have no say in that. We have all the say. That’s a disappointed locker room, for sure,” Reeve said postgame. “Our first shot defense was really good. We just didn’t have the collective will to do little things that some possession and win a game against a good team.”
“We were letting her get too deep. We were too deep instead of just pushing her and hitting her out. And then when we were rotating on defense, that second man dropping down, we weren’t getting there probably on time to push her out. A lot of times it was a guard down there, and obviously that’s a mismatch for her,” Shepard explained to Canis on the podium. “But at the end of the day, she just wanted the board and obviously that was the difference in the game today.”
Part of that had to do with Ionescu, whose 3-point shooting on the back side of the defense made off-ball defenders think twice about whether they should stay home or rotate and protect the rim.
“I mean, they are a very dimensional team on offense. So I think you have to respect everyone, you have to guard everyone and sometimes it’s hard to leave your player, but in terms of our defensive scheme, that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Shepard said. “I think all of us had moments where we were a little late, and it cost us.”
Napheesa Collier Returns
The Lynx weathered the storm without their superstar, going 2-1 in the three contests (all on the road) that Collier missed with a sprained right ankle, including a big win over the Liberty in Phee’s first missed game.
Collier scored 18 points on 8/18 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, two assists, a pair of steals and a block across 35 minutes of play. She didn’t look hampered by the ankle at all, frequently making plays that required her to shoot or pass off one foot, or euro step her way through the lane.
The three-time All-Star did not score in the final frame after scoring eight, six and four points in the first three quarters, respectively.
“It’s probably much beyond what we thought we would do, but the game called for it,” Reeve said postgame. “And Phee wanted to play, and she knows she’s got a few days to rest. I think her ankle is fine. I don’t think there was anything [problematic] there [tonight]. It is what it is.”
Collier will have plenty of time to recover and get the proper treatment on her ankle before the Lynx travel to Chicago for a battle with the Sky on Tuesday. Fans can catch the 7 PM tip on Bally Sports North Extra and NBA TV.
near double-double in her first game back.— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) August 5, 2023
Phee - 18 PTS / 8 REB / 2 AST / 2 STL / 1 BLK pic.twitter.com/C27VgUS1cn