With their backs against the wall and facing elimination after a blowout loss in Game 1 of the first-round series in the WNBA Playoffs, the Minnesota Lynx returned to Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday afternoon to battle the third-seed Connecticut Sun in Game 2 of the best-of-three series.
Minnesota was determined to come out of the gates on a strong note in Game 2 after the disappointment of Game 1, and it did just that in a tough road environment while holding off Connecticut late to even the series at 1-1 following an 82-75 win.
SEE YOU WEDNESDAY AT OUR HOUSE. pic.twitter.com/SampFiR6Yx— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) September 17, 2023
The Lynx got off to a hot start right out of the gates in Game 2, leading by as much as eight in the first half while carrying a 44-39 advantage into halftime. Out of the break, Minnesota stretched that lead to as much as 16, but Connecticut battled back into the game in the second half and even narrowed the game to a two-point contest in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, Minnesota did enough to fend off Connecticut late to pull out a win-or-go-home victory to force a winner-take-all Game 3 on Wednesday.
“It was just our will. It didn’t feel very good sitting up here the other day knowing that we only scored 60 points,” Kayla McBride said. “We just had to give it everything we had. We knew they were going to make their runs and make their shots. We just had to keep finding the answer.
“We’ve been doing that all season, we’ve been in adverse situations all season and we continue to respond. Today was just another example of that. Now, we get to go back home to Minny and do it again..”
A Flip From Game 1
The story of Game 1 last Wednesday was the dominance of Connecticut on both ends of the floor, notably from three and being able to turn Minnesota over early and often. In that Game 1 blowout, the Sun hit 16 threes and forced the Lynx into 19 turnovers, resulting in 30 points offensively.
In Sunday’s Game 2, that script flipped with Minnesota holding advantages in both of those areas in a winning effort. The Lynx committed nine turnovers resulting in six Sun points, while Connecticut committed 11 turnovers resulting in 20 Minnesota points.
From deep, the Lynx out-performed the Sun in that area while connecting on nine threes and holding the Sun to seven threes on their end.
“For us, it was about our defense. We were considerably better with that, coupled with taking better care of the ball than we did last game,” Cheryl Reeve said. We haven’t done this very often, but we out points off turnovers-ed them. That hasn’t happened very often for us this season.”
First Half Collier, Second Half Buckets
As we’ve seen all season long, Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride led the way for the Lynx in the Game 2 victory.
In the first half, it was the Collier show as she jumped right out of the gate and led all players in scoring with 10 points in the opening quarter. Collier ended the first half with 16 of her postseason-high 26 points, doing a little bit of everything for Minnesota while flying all over the place until she started to deal with a back injury in the third quarter.
“Just the mentality throughout the whole game was I want to leave it all out there on the court and do whatever I can for my team,” Collier said. “It’s such a special group of women that I’m playing with this year that I want to give them my all because I expect the same from them. I think that’s why we have such a great team.”
In the second half, McBride took things over and started to light it up from three, scoring 14 points in each half to finish with a team-leading 28 points in the win. McBride stepped up in key moments to help the Lynx avoid a Sun comeback while switching momentum back on Minnesota’s side multiple times.
As a pair, Collier and McBride finished with 54 points on 22-of-42 shooting, 21 rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“When they play like this, we’re hard to beat. The other supporting cast for us, they were solid,” Reeve said of McBride and Collier. “I’ll take these two any day of the week.”
Forcing a Winner-Take-All Game 3
With the win, Minnesota not only kept its season alive and avoided elimination, but it also forced a winner-take-all Game 3 on Wednesday night in Minneapolis.
The gritty road win keeps the season alive for the Lynx, and also one step closer to pulling of an upset and taking down the Sun to advance to the semifinal round, which is the prize for the winner of Wednesday’s Game 3.
“Taking it back to Minny and having a chance to do that after coming in here and winning on the road against a great team, we’re excited about that,” McBride said.
Game 3 will tip off in Minneapolis on Wednesday night and will be aired on ESPN, and the Lynx are ready to take this series back to their home crowd at Target Center, an environment they expect to be rocking with the stakes at their highest in this series.
“We have such a great fan base in Minnesota. We know the house is going to be packed, it’s going to be loud,” Collier said. “We are really excited. If we play like this again, we are so tough to beat, and it’s so fun to play that way. I can’t wait for the next game. ... We are ready to go out there and leave it all out there again.”
Collier, Mitchell Dealing with Injuries
Early in the third quarter, Collier left the game and went right back to the locker room with what ESPN later reported to be a lower back injury. After a brief exit to the locker room, Collier returned to the Lynx bench but was listed as questionable to return. Minutes later, she returned to the game although it was apparent she wasn’t 100% while gutting through the back injury.
Shortly after, Minnesota dealt with another injury to a starter when Tiffany Mitchell went down with an ankle injury that resulted in her being helped back to the locker room right after. The Lynx later announced Mitchell was questionable to return, though she ended up returning to the floor in the fourth quarter.
Collier said post-game she “stepped weird” in the third quarter which resulted in a sharp pain in her lower back, but she said she wanted to return to the court to continue to give it all to her team in an elimination game.
“It was just one of those things I think like it pinched a nerve or my SI joint, I think it was. ... It’s just really sharp in the moment. It’s nothing that’s going to hurt you long-term but it sucks in the moment,” Collier said. “I knew it was something I could push through, and obviously I want to be on the court. So I’ll push through just about anything to be out there.”
There’s no question Collier is a key piece to the Lynx and the success of the team relies heavily on how she performs, and Mitchell is important to keep healthy while the Lynx deal with a lack of depth at guard with Lindsay Allen still out. The injury status of those two players will be something worth monitoring heading into Game 3 on Wednesday.