June 22, 2023
Lynx look to capitalize on momentum from winning West Coast swing
What Minnesota's pair of wins in LA could mean going forward
After the inauspicious six-game losing streak to start the 2023 season, the Minnesota Lynx have climbed back into the mix of things after winning four of their last six.
It’s a stretch that included three close wins in 10 days over the Los Angeles Sparks — two of which came in Los Angeles on Minnesota’s recent three-game road trip to the West Coast, where the Lynx’s other game was a blowout 31-point loss at the hands of the first place Aces.
But aside from one crooked number in Las Vegas, five of the last six games have been decided by six points or less and the Lynx have found a way to close out four of them — an ability that was clearly missing in the first part of the season.
“I think, just learning how to finish games,” team captain Napheesa Collier said ahead of the first game with the Sparks on the road trip. “We’re really a new team. We have a lot of new pieces and young players and just learning what it takes for us as a team to finish out games. Obviously we struggled with that a little bit, but I think we’re finally trying to find our way and figuring out what works best for us.”
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Collier has been instrumental in the team’s recent success. She’s eclipsed the 25-point mark in three of five games for the first time in her career, bringing her scoring total up to 20.9 on the season, which is good for fifth in the league as of June 22.
In the team’s latest game, a 67-61 win against the Sparks, Collier etched her name onto one of the pretty impressive pages in Lynx history by becoming just the third player to notch 25+ points, 10+ rebounds, and 3+ steals in a single game. The other two Lynx to do so: Sylvia Fowles and Maya Moore.
“It’s happened 11 times, just three players,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said of the milestone following the game. “Through her first 100 games, if you look at the statistics, she’s top five in a long list of some really good players. For her first 100 games and where she’s at, we’re really pleased.”
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Minnesota also got some crucial contributions from its suddenly thin bench. Diamond Miller and Aerial Powers remain sidelined and do-it-all post player Jessica Shepard missed the trip due to illness, which saw Bridget Carleton inserted into the starting lineup and left a bench rotation of Lindsay Allen, Rachel Banham, and Nikolina Millic.
Allen, Banham and Millic combined to win the bench points category for the Lynx in all three games of the trip. Allen in particular came up huge in the final game of the trip, dishing out eight assists in 27 minutes off the bench, the most in a single game by a Lynx this season.
“[Lindsay Allen] was big, in terms of, like I said to her and said to [Tiffany Mitchell], they can get to places that maybe some of the thinner players on the floor with them can’t, so their value is just that, getting into the paint, putting pressure and the rim, and [finding] people,” Reeve said after the game. “The balance between taking your shot versus finding people. I would imagine a few of those were to Carleton on those threes.
“I thought [Allen] got really locked into this stretch that we went through. She was a big part of finding people, and it was tough. Because she got in the paint, it was crowded in the paint and she had to handle that physicality and the people around her to find players. So her play was pivotal for us.”
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Carleton had a big game in her own right, providing her top shelf 3-and-D expertise in her third straight start, which could be an essential piece for the Lynx to keep their current play on track. Carleton hit three massive threes against the Sparks to energize Minnesota’s thrilling fourth quarter comeback in Minneapolis on June 11, and she matched a career high with four made threes in LA ten days later.
“I’m always pretty confident. This year as a whole, overseas I shot the ball well and I just carried into this season,” Carleton said after the final game in LA. “I haven’t had the best shooting season so far, so I knew it was just a matter of time before I was able to knock them down and I got some good looks. So I just stay shot ready, and they all feel good coming off my hand, it’s just a matter of knocking them down.”
The Lynx return to Minnesota for their next two games with hopes of the winning energy carrying over to their home floor. Three of the four wins have come away from Target Center. They host the Connecticut Sun for the second time this season on Thursday, June 22 and will have a few days off before Seattle comes into town for the first leg of a home-and-home on Tuesday, June 27.
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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.