For the second year in a row, the Minnesota Lynx season has come to a close at the hands of the Connecticut Sun — this time coming at home, 90-75, in Game 3 of the opening round of the WNBA playoffs.
Despite employing a new coach in WNBA Coach of the Year Stephanie White and losing All-Star center Brionna Jones to an achilles tear early in the season, this Connecticut squad’s playoff experience and connectivity enabled them to settle into the game in a hostile environment. Sun All-Stars DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas are at the heart of why, and from the opening tip-off felt comfortable in how they were operating in the half-court, each seeing their first shot go down.
After a quick 6-0 Sun run to begin the game, Lynx rookies Dorka Juhász and Diamond Miller responded with six of their own before Connecticut punched back with a 9-0 run that forced Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve to call a timeout. Bonner and Thomas combined to score eight of the team’s first 15 points, and Minnesota had no answer for either one.
Bonner’s range and height allowed her to shoot from well beyond the 3-point line over any contesting hand without issue; and while rookie center Dorka Juhász did her best to make life difficult for Thomas, the MVP candidate’s mix of size, speed and touch forced Juhász to the bench in favor of Lynx star Napheesa Collier playing the 5. Minnesota got back into by way of a 13-6 run to end the quarter; they cut what was once a 14-point lead down to seven after the first quarter — a huge win considering Kayla McBride was smothered and started 1/4 from the floor. Collier led the charge with nine points in the opening frame, looking at her most comfortable while at the 5.
The Lynx carried that momentum into the second quarter, starting the period on a 6-0 run capped off by a banger 3-pointer from Bridget Carleton, after a beautiful extra pass from Miller, that got Minnesota back within one, 26-25.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there for Minnesota, as they never were able to get closer or take their first lead of the game. Connecticut roared right back with a 17-4 run over the next five minutes of game time to balloon the lead back to 14 (and eventually 15 at halftime).
“They made shots. We didn’t,” Napheesa Collier explained to Canis Hoopus postgame about the Sun’s second quarter run. “We got good looks, they didn’t go in, and [Connecticut] got some hard looks and [their shots] did. So we had that combination of when they’re scoring baskets that they may not normally make and baskets that they do normally make, and then we’re not executing on the other end. It’s just a hard thing to come back from.”
The Lynx offense got stagnant, as the ball didn’t move and the off-ball movement we saw from Minnesota was negated by the Sun switching more of their screens in Game 3.
Minnesota also struggled to contain Thomas and the Sun guards, who got into the paint for scores as well as collapsing the paint and spraying the ball out to shooters who knocked down open looks.
“We talked about that at halftime. We had a stretch at the end of the first quarter where we were defending them really well and then we kind of laxed off, and they were in the paint, and then they’re going to be efficient,” Carleton added. “There weren’t [enough] hard shots.”
Minnesota showed some signs of life midway through the third quarter, but surrendered offensive rebounds at inopportune moments and surrendered open catch-and-shoot 3-point looks to Connecticut backup guard Ty Harris, who connected on three triples and a mid-range bucket in the final 14:36 of play en route to scoring a individual series-high 18 points.
“Ty Harris was the one who really chewed us up and spit us out in the different ways that she played the pick-and-roll, got space, Alyssa finding her for 3-balls,” Reeve said postgame.
The two teams went back-and-forth after halftime in what was a dead even second half (31-31) but the Lynx couldn’t cut into the deficit enough to make the Sun sweat, and Connecticut cruised to a 90-75 win, earning their fifth straight trip to the WNBA Semifinals.
The ink is now dry on what was a truly enjoyable underdog Lynx story, but with a clear-cut superstar in Napheesa Collier, a beloved veteran with big-time two-way ability in Kayla McBride, and two highly productive young players on rookie contracts deals through 2025 with team options for 2026, the future in Minnesota is brighter than it’s been since the dynasty squad wrote its final chapter in 2017.
Collier Shines, But Doesn’t Get Enough Help
Simply put, Napheesa Collier didn’t get enough credit nationally for what she did for the Lynx on a nightly basis this season. Far too often did her teammates leave her on a scoring island, and it happened again on Wednesday night, a game that exemplified Collier’s career year.
Fresh off setting a playoff career-high with 26 points in Game 2, Collier broke that record with a game-high 31 points on 11/19 shooting at home in Game 3, despite the Sun defense sending double and triple teams at her at some point on nearly every single possession. All of Phee’s teammates combined to score 44 points on an inadequate 15/41 shooting (35.6%), led by Carleton’s 13 points on 4/5 shooting (her most in a game since August 22).
“Phee just didn’t get the help. [Connecticut] got their two stars like they did last game; we didn’t quite get that. We got that in two players in Carleton and McBride combined. We needed a third scorer when they got their third scorer,” Reeve explained postgame. “Offense was the reason why we couldn’t go toe-to-toe the whole way.”
Collier played extended minutes at the 5 and found a good deal of success there, as she didn’t have to face the doubles and triples she was seeing immediately following her post touches.
“I try to do my best but I really credit [Lynx Assistant Coach Rebekkah Brunson], especially, she’s a great post player. She talked to us about angles a lot this year. So, getting around and then knowing that your team is going to be there for you. I knw that denying the ball or if I get around, that my team is going to be there for me. Trust is a huge thing that goes into that,” Collier told Canis.
“And then on the other side, it’s fun when a 5 guards you because they’re not used to going through ball screens and things like that. So I think that’s also why I had success at it, because you’re putting defenders in positions that they’re not normally in. That’s always fun.”
Kayla McBride struggled in Game 3, as the Sun made some adjustments to try and limit the looks that K-Mac took advantage of and scored a heroic 28 points against in Game 2. Sun Head Coach Stephanie White moved Bec Allen, who is taller and longer than Tiffany Hayes, onto McBride and also had her team switch against Lynx off-ball screens, which broke down the Sun defense in Game 2. As a result, McBride scored 10 points on 3/12 shooting on Wednesday, her fewest in a game in nearly a month.
It’s hard to fault McBride, who has played tremendous basketball since the middle of July and been a pivotal leader for an inexperienced team all year long. Some nights the defense works to make life extremely difficult for sharpshooters and tonight was one of those nights for McBride.
It is also worth noting here that having a true point guard would’ve helped the Lynx in this one. Connecticut sped up Minnesota’s offense with their ball pressure at the point of attack and aggressive, up-the-line off-ball defense that made it difficult for the Lynx to get into their actions.
“No question about it,” Reeve said in response to if the team missed starting point guard Lindsay Allen, who missed the final six weeks of the season with a left thumb fracture. “[Defensive] pressure, it’s obviously difficult to manage. We missed Lindsay Allen, who I thought was having a fine season.”
Reeve also acknowledged the efforts of Tiffany Mitchell, who played out of position at point guard for most of the season given the injuries to Allen and Rachel Banham.
“I communicated it with Mitchell that what I really appreciated was that she tried. We didn’t bring her here to play point guard, but she spent probably 90% of the season playing there. She had ups and downs doing it, but that’s one of the players that literally tried whatever we asked her to do, and she tried her very best.”
Bonner, Thomas Shine Bright
The Lynx for the majority of this series didn’t have a consistent answer for the two-headed monster of DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas, who just destroyed the Minnesota defense in Game 3.
The pair, who are engaged, combined for 53 points on 21/33 shooting (63.6%), 16 rebounds, 18 assists, three blocks and two steals. They became the first pair of teammates to each produce games of 25/10/5 in the same playoff game, according to Across the Timeline.
Big-time game for AT and DB so far tonight:— Across the Timeline (@WBBTimeline) September 21, 2023
DeWanna Bonner: 25 PTS / 10 REB / 5 AST / 3 BLK
Alyssa Thomas: 21 PTS / 11 AST / 6 REB
1st time in #WNBAPlayoffs history a player has 20+ PTS, 10+ REB, and 5+ AST in the same game their teammate has 20+ PTS, 10+ AST, and 5+ REB
Bonner and Thomas each possess such unique skillsets that the Lynx weren’t able to account for in a 1-to-1 defensive matchup.
Collier matched well with trying to negate some of Bonner’s height at 6-foot-4 and her play in the post, but Bonner’s speed and ability to shoot off movement coming around screens is something Collier couldn’t answer.
Thomas, meanwhile, might be the strongest player in the league at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, yet is exceptionally quick from a standstill in the paint, has the touch to finish over or around defenders, and also led the WNBA in both total rebounds and total assists. Reeve tried to bother Thomas, a non-shooter, with Juhász’s length and rim protection, but Thomas often went right through her. The same problem persisted with Collier and pretty much everyone else the Lynx threw at her; that’s where Minnesota really missed Jess Shepard.
“That’s the fifth consecutive semifinals for Connecticut. The common denominator in all of them is Alyssa Thomas. I don’t know of a player with greater will to win than Alyssa Thomas,” Reeve said postgame. “We certainly knew coming into this game that we were going to be faced with an Alyssa Thomas who was on 10, as we say. That’s another player who just puts her team on her back.”
Thomas scored or assisted on 58 points in Game 3, becoming the first player in WNBA history to do so, per ESPN.
A few more great finds via @ESPNStatsInfo:— Alexa Philippou (@alexaphilippou) September 21, 2023
-Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner are the first pair of teammates with 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in a playoff game
-Thomas has scored or assisted on 58 points tonight, the most in a game in WNBA postseason history
Needless to say that when you don’t have an answer for a team’s two stars, it’s tough to win a game, especially in the playoffs against such a deep and well-rounded squad like the Sun.