After a few valuable days off, the Lynx put their struggles behind them and beat the New York Liberty 85-71 at home. The win featured dominant performances from the Lynx’s stars, Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles, and hopefully set a tone for the rest of the season.
Coming into the contest, Minnesota’s focus was to be difficult to play against, and to impose their will upon the opposition. They felt like they’d given away too much, too easily in their last several games, and they wanted to go back to being the team that opponents circled on their schedules—expect a tough one here. They took definite steps towards reestablishing that identity tonight, and the key was the play of their two MVPs.
Fowles and Moore were both phenomenal tonight—the best combined effort they’ve had this season. Both players have played well at various points this year, but they have had trouble doing so in the same game. Tonight, Moore finished with 20 points (and three three-pointers), six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Fowles added 25 points and nine rebounds on 79.6 percent shooting from the field. Fowles made a concerted effort to be aggressive tonight, and made great decisions when she was double-teamed, either finishing through contact or making the right pass. She didn’t turn the ball over once.
“Every game it’s got to be that Maya and Syl put so much pressure that to stop them it creates opportunities. Then the others, like they did tonight, have to step up,” said coach Cheryl Reeve.
After pledging to tighten the rotation earlier in the week, Reeve was forced to go deeper into her bench again tonight as Seimone Augustus sat out with a hamstring injury. It was a great night for several of Minnesota’s reserves. Danielle Robinson was phenomenal, and Cecilia Zandalasini and Temi Fagbenle had their best games yet in Lynx uniforms. Robinson had eight assists and (music to Reeve’s ears), zero turnovers. She added four points and was a plus 18 on the night. As Robinson’s comfort level with the offense increases, she’s been able to take advantage of her speed more and more to create opportunities for her teammates.
Zandalasini played well in the Lynx’s loss to the Sun last Saturday, and she followed it up tonight with a performance that put her firmly on the radar of every Lynx fan in attendance. The young Italian sharpshooter scored 13 points on 5-6 shooting and went 2-3 from three. She also added three steals and was a game-high plus 21. Zandalasini is clearly growing into her role with the Lynx and making it very difficult to keep her on the bench. Her development is an exciting storyline of this young season.
“[Zandalasini] was big. You guys probably enjoyed her making shots, but she took on some tough defensive assignments,” said Reeve. “Those are very, very, active perimeter players that run off screens and I thought [Zandalasini] was really persistent in being hard to play against.”
Zandalasini was also a champion in the clutch tonight. At the end of the first quarter, after Alexis Jones hit a layup to beat the shot clock, Zandalasini stole the inbounds pass with 2.1 seconds left and drained a midrange shot. At the end of the second, she beat the quarter buzzer with a long two-point jumper.
Fagbenle had a career-high seven points on 3-4 shooting from the field. Most of her damage was done in the second quarter, where she showed off an advanced post game, and used her height to finish over her defenders. She was perfect from the line as well. It’s a little difficult to find minutes for Fagbenle, as playing her alongside Fowles has yielded mixed results, but she’s growing nicely into a role as an effective backup.
“Temi played really, really, well. She’s had a heck of a week,” said Reeve. “Probably could have played more minutes, it’s just hard when you’re playing behind Sylvia Fowles.”
If there was a sour note to the night, it was a fourth quarter that turned into a slugfest as the Lynx offense stalled and they began regressing to some of the mistakes that have held them back in previous games. The Lynx have developed a tough habit of turning the ball over in the second half, and Reeve noted that that has to change. Minnesota’s defense finished with relatively decent numbers (the Liberty shot 45.9 percent and turned the ball over 17 times), but there were too many easy layups and open shots for the Liberty tonight, especially in the second quarter. New York shot over 50 percent from the field in the first half—a fact that was not well received in the halftime locker room. Minnesota tightened up after halftime, only allowing the Liberty to shoot 39 percent after the break.
On the plus side, the team was excellent on the boards yet again. Rebounding is a key part of their identity, and when they impose their will on the boards like they did tonight (outrebounding the Liberty 35-22) they’re going to be tough to beat.
There was something fundamentally different about the Lynx tonight, in a positive way. They won loose balls, created second-chance opportunities, stood their ground on defense, and didn’t give an inch when things started to get tougher. In short, they played like the Lynx. There was a focus around the team this week. They wanted a performance like this, and it has to feel good to see their work pay off.
“We worked hard this week, and the veterans were at the forefront of it,” said Reeve. “The accountability went to another level this week. And that’s what you need—any successful team needs accountability where your players are able to say the hard things to one another to raise the level of play on the team. It’s not when it comes from the coaches, it’s when it comes from the players and I thought we had that big time from the veterans this week.”