September 14, 2023 

Key absences loom over Minnesota Lynx playoff opener

If the Lynx are going to come back and win against the Connecticut Sun, they'll likely have to do it without Lindsay Allen and Jessica Shepard

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong for the Minnesota Lynx in their playoff-opening 90-60 loss at the hands of the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday night, but it’s not for a lack of options. The league’s No. 3 seed started blazing hot right out of the gates and punished Minnesota on the perimeter all night. Five different bright orange-clad Sun players connected from distance and combined to knock down 16-of-30 attempts (53.3%) from downtown on the night.

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Minnesota assisted Connecticut’s scorching hot shooting by playing careless with the ball as well. A total of 19 Lynx turnovers led to 30 Sun points, compared to just nine points off 13 Connecticut turnovers for Minnesota.

It was a dominant win by a 27-win team playing in front of its home crowd and now it’s back to the drawing board ahead of a do-or-die Game 2 for Minnesota. Perhaps the one silver lining the Lynx can take away from Game 1 is how they’ve responded well after difficult losses throughout 2023.

“We’ve had hard times before,” Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Cheryl Reeve said. “We’ve gotten smacked before. We were 0-6. This team always gets up. We’re not going to not get up.

“Most of what we saw was not a surprise to us. Our execution, really at both ends, was not where it needs to be to win a playoff game, especially against these guys.”

The Lynx had a difficult time keeping up with Connecticut’s high-powered offense. Recently extended shooting guard Kayla McBride had a nice first half, hitting on 5-for-7 from the field and 2-for-4 from deep for 14 points at the intermission. The rest of the Lynx, however, shot 5-for-20 from the field in the first 20 minutes and went into the half in a 14-point hole. It did not get better from there. 

A couple factors that didn’t help it get any better were the absences of point guard Lindsay Allen and post Jessica Shepard. Allen missed the final quarter of the regular season with a left thumb injury and Shepard’s been out since August 26 with lingering synovitis in her left ankle. 

Allen is in the fifth week of a six-week prognosis and likely wouldn’t return in the event of a Game 3, depriving the Lynx of one of their few true offensive creators and a dangerous weapon in the pick-and-roll. A formal timeline hasn’t been given for Shepard, who has missed the last six games and missed 19 total on the season. Both players had big games on the night Minnesota found a winning formula against the Sun in a 87-83 victory at Mohegan Sun on July 30, despite Connecticut superstar Alyssa Thomas registering one of her traditional bi-weekly triple-doubles.

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“There’s no question we look different. The skill sets of those two players is not the skill set of the ones taking their place,” Reeve said. “When any player goes down you morph into something different and try to use the strengths of Tiff (Mitchell) and Dorka (Juhász), to find those spaces. We need production from them.”

Shepard matched Thomas with a game-high 14 boards to go with 12 points, and Allen had one of her best offensive nights of the year scoring 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with six assists. A level of production from the point and the post that was notably absent in the Sun’s Game 1 drubbing of Minnesota.

To be fair, those weren’t the only notable absences in the production department for Minnesota on Wednesday night. McBride cooled off after the first half, and Napheesa Collier didn’t play to her all-star standards either. Sitting on the wrong side of another team’s biggest playoff win in franchise history, it’s easy to say everything has to be better. One of the keys to success could lie in finding a way to recreate the pick-and-roll creativity and interior scoring threat that’s currently on the bench in street clothes.

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“We need Tiff to be aggressive. It’s going to look different than LA [Lindsay Allen],” Reeve said. “As you know, LA evolved into a really good pick-and-roll player, decision-making, and here (in July) she made some really tough shots physically in the pick-and-roll game. Tiff certainly has the ability to get to the same places. It just looks different.

“Dorka’s recognition that the matchup is unique in that (DeWanna) Bonner is a good defender, she’s long, but she’s not a post player so to speak. Jess (Shepard) had the ability to take advantage of that because Jess likes to score on the interior. So, can Dorka find some of those spaces where she can be helpful in attacking the rim, playing pick and roll, rolling and getting finishes and making plays down there. If we can get those two to live in those spaces then that would be productive for us.”

The Lynx will get their chance to make those adjustments on Sunday, with Game 2 scheduled for a 1 PM ET start in Connecticut.

Written by Terry Horstman

Terry Horstman is a Minneapolis-based writer and covers the Minnesota Lynx beat for The Next. He previously wrote about the Minnesota Timberwolves for A Wolf Among Wolves, and his other basketball writing has been published by Flagrant Magazine, HeadFake Hoops, Taco Bell Quarterly, and others. He's the creative nonfiction editor for the sports-themed literary magazine, the Under Review.


  1. RM Williams on September 14, 2023 at 5:25 pm

    This is a little too forgiving piece, but the fact is that both Allen and Shepard have been out for some time, so this did not just sneak up on the Lynx. Even though only a few days elapsed between the end of the regular season and the first playoff game, the Lynx knew they wouldn’t have either injured player and simply did not prepare for the Connecticut offense. Coach Reeve says they need Mitchell to be aggressive. That’s not something new. She has played the point off and on all season and should know what has to be done. Juhász has battled Griner, McCowan and Bonner before. Even though she is a rookie, this is the end of the season, so she should also know precisely what her role is, having started a large portion of the season. As for the overall lack of offense, the bench scored 20 points but only went 6-19, with Carleton 3-6 and Banham 3-7 with 2 3s. Both Powers and Milic scored free throws only. Not what I would call reliable. Credit of course to Connecticut for successfully preying on the weaknesses of the Lynx. That the Lynx could not score enough off of the Sun’s turnovers is another issue, and that should be a strong focus between now and Sunday.
    How do the Lynx address their mercurial season? Most likely in the off-season. There may seem like hard decisions to make, but in fact they are not. In the meantime, all that must be put aside. Are they capable of beating Connecticut? Of course they are. But knowing it and doing it seem, at the moment, rather far apart. Let’s hope that the next couple of days shortens the distance and they come out with the win in game 2.

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