August 26, 2023
How the enigmatic Minnesota Lynx discovered a winning formula late in the WNBA season
The Lynx will need to play like they did recently against the Dallas Wings in the playoffs
The Minnesota Lynx fell to 15-17 on the season after an 88-74 loss to the Seattle Storm in Minneapolis on Sunday. But more concerning than the team’s record was the lack of effort in a game with playoff implications in front of their home crowd.
After the game, Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said that the effort was unbecoming of a WNBA playoff team and blasted her team’s inconsistency after it had won in Seattle two days prior.
“We don’t get it. We don’t get how to have a special season,” she said. “We don’t get that you have to win your home games to have a special season. We don’t get how, when you just beat a team on their floor, how they’re going to come out and play [well]. We don’t get it. Oh look, [we gave up] 20 second-chance points. Oh look, we got out-efforted again.
“So, we’ve got to fix it. If we don’t fix it, then this isn’t going to end like we want it to.”
“We’ve got a little bit of time left in the regular season to work on some things, but the next team that comes in here is going to pound the glass and defend the paint and they’re big,” Reeve said. “So it’s going to be two good games for us to try and figure some things out. And if we don’t have any will to compete for rebounds, then that’s going to be tough for us.”
By Thursday night in Dallas, it felt like the pendulum had swung all the way back in Minnesota’s favor. Lynx guard Kayla McBride triumphantly flexed after pulling down the defensive rebound that all but sealed Minnesota’s second win in as many games against the Wings. It was a microcosm of the roller-coaster season it has been in Minnesota.
“We’re just in a great frame of mind, really great frame of mind,” Reeve said after Thursday’s game. “[We] felt the idea if [we] found success today, what it could do for us, and our goals and I was really proud of them.”
The Lynx didn’t turn around and play perfect basketball against Dallas, but Minnesota’s effort and intensity couldn’t be denied on two nights that felt like the middle of a deep playoff run as opposed to mid-August.
In both the 91-86 win in Minneapolis on Tuesday and the 90-81 win in Dallas on Thursday, the Wings nearly came back from second-half double-digit deficits. Both times, the Lynx endured, and in doing so, they moved into fifth place with just over two weeks left in the regular season.
“It’s a game of runs,” Lynx guard Tiffany Mitchell said after Thursday’s game. “We’re not going to hold people down for the entire 40 minutes. We wish we could, but we just have to be able to withstand those runs and answer back.”
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A huge answer in both games was the play of McBride and forward Napheesa Collier, who both scored north of 20 points in each game and combined for 95 of the team’s 181 points across the two games. Collier, who has been spectacular all season, became just the third player in WNBA history to post consecutive games with at least 25 points, seven rebounds and three steals.
“It’s really fun to play with [McBride], especially in a pick-and-roll,” Collier said after Thursday’s game. “Along with Rachel [Banham], she’s one of the best shooters on our team, so any time I’m in a pick-and-roll with them, I think we both have so much gravity that we can pretty much get any shot we want. Because if they go with me, she’s open. If they go with her, I’m open. So playing with her is really fun. Her pocket pass is really good, her floor awareness and obviously when she gets the ball she can knock it down. I think we’ve established that kind of repertoire.”
The Lynx have yet to clinch a playoff spot, but with a four-game lead on the ninth-place Chicago Sky with six games to go, their magic number stands at three. (In other words, they need three of either Lynx wins or Sky losses to ensure a playoff berth.) And the two gritty wins against Wings, the No. 4 team in the league, could reveal a recipe for playoff success for a Lynx team that has been enigmatic all season.
Collier and McBride staying hot and continuing to exploit pick-and-rolls is a key ingredient in that recipe. The Lynx bench will also need to remain productive. Between shooters Banham and Bridget Carleton and post players Dorka Juhász and Nikolina Milić, the Lynx posted 20-plus bench points in back-to-back games after those four players had scored eight points between them against Seattle.
Shots starting to fall is an obvious boom for any team, but the “competitive will” Reeve mentioned after the Seattle loss clearly showed up in the next two games. The second game in Dallas was particularly impressive, as the Lynx were essentially even on the boards with the best rebounding team in the league. These are all things the Lynx will need to bring come playoff time.
“I think it just shows how we’ve grown. That’s how you want a season to be; you want to see growth in a team,” Collier said about the two games against Dallas. “I think you’re seeing that in us for sure … just that toughness, I think you really see that coming through. Just doing what needs to get done, especially rebounding and on defense at the end of the game. I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in these two games and in this stretch, so hopefully we take that into our game on Saturday.”
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.