September 25, 2021 

How the Minnesota Lynx can advance to the semifinals

Taking care of the ball and controlling the paint are two keys for the Lynx

In 10 consecutive playoff seasons, the Minnesota Lynx have only lost two single-elimination games—in 2018 and 2019, to the Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm, respectively. 

The expectations are clear going into this year’s second-round single-elimination game against the Chicago Sky: Win and get to the next round for a series.

A new team with a lot of new faces had some fans and media outlets counting the team out of a championship run, as preseason power rankings listed the team as low as sixth. But despite this and an unprecedented 0-4 start to the season, the team finished the regular season as the third seed and earned a first-round playoff bye.

“You have to realize there were a lot of us coming in new to this team, new to this system and we might’ve started out rough … but I never thought twice about what [head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve] was doing,” guard Aerial Powers told reporters. “I believed in it, you know? I believed in it since the time I signed. I believed in it even when we were 0-4.”

To lose in a single-elimination game would go against the championship culture the Lynx pride themselves on.

“Every team goes through ups and downs throughout a season and our down, the lowest of the low, just happened to be at the beginning of the season, when we started 0-4.” said forward Bridget Carleton. “We learned who we were through that and I think we’re better off because of it.”

Here’s what the Lynx need to do to get to the semifinals.

Limit points off turnovers

The Lynx have struggled all season with turnovers. When Chicago and Minnesota first played in June, the Sky scored 32 points off of 20 Lynx turnovers. In their second matchup, the Lynx reduced their turnovers to 14 but still allowed 22 points off turnovers.

“Making sure we take care of the ball and playing our scheme is the most important thing,” center Sylvia Fowles said.

Ball security and limiting points off turnovers are a must.

Win the battle in the paint

“It’s two teams that love to be in the paint,” Fowles said, “so it’s going to come down to who’s more persistent, who’s playing better schemes and who’s more determined to keep people out of the paint.”

The Lynx defense will need all hands on deck to push the Sky out to the perimeter. Sky guard Kahleah Copper scored 23 points on 71.4 percent shooting in the Sky’s first playoff game against the Dallas Wings.

“There’s no one else in the league like Kah in terms of getting to the basket. [She’s] just really, really special—really, really gifted,” said Reeve.

But it’s not just Copper the Lynx will need to keep out of the paint. “Their whole team likes being in the paint, so that’s our main focus,” said Carleton. “Candace [Parker] is included in that. We kind of have to treat Candace like a guard.”

The Sky shot 4-for-21 (19 percent) from 3-point range against the Wings. The Lynx will want to push the Sky out of the paint and force them to take long-range shots for the chance to grab defensive rebounds.

Minnesota Lynx guard Layshia Clarendon (7) and center Sylvia Fowles (34) high-five during a game against the Washington Mystics on June 8, 2021. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra)

Bring defensive intensity

In the Lynx’s first meeting with the Sky, Reeve could be heard on the broadcast yelling, “15 points in four minutes! 15 points in four minutes!” at her team. She was frustrated with the lack of defense.

But the Lynx are a different team now than they were in June. Their defense is fine-tuned and ready to take on the Sky offense.

One difference is that Layshia Clarendon (he/she/they) has a permanent place on this roster. Originally signed to a short-term contract using a hardship exception, their defensive presence has been crucial for the Lynx.

“[Clarendon] is always in there defensively with some physicality and with an energy and an effort that is really helpful to the group,” Reeve said after a win against the Washington Mystics on Sept. 19.

Powers is also back after missing most of the season with a thumb injury. Her first game back from injury was coincidentally against Chicago on Aug. 21.

“AP’s energy is infectious,” Clarendon said after that game. “She’s like that fighter and I think that little piece where you need that person who’s just like, ‘[Expletive] that. We’re not gonna lose.’ She’s gonna scrap, she’s gonna find extra possessions.'”

And of course, there’s the Associated Press’ Defensive Player of the Year, Fowles, who is averaging 8.0 defensive rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.8 blocks per game.

The Lynx will open their playoffs at home against the Sky on Sunday, Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Written by Alyssa Graham

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