Thanks to some clutch defense from Rebekkah Brunson, a few key free throws from Maya Moore, and an all-around dominant performance from Sylvia Fowles, the Lynx beat the New York Liberty 85-82 at Target Center on Tuesday night. This one was a nail-biter, but Minnesota overcame a few stretches of sloppy play and buckled down late to secure an important victory heading into the All-Star break. The Lynx have won three in a row and are now in a three-way tie for third place in the WNBA.
The first half was a rocky one for the Lynx. Though Fowles played well, scoring 17 points on 70-percent shooting (she would finish with 27 points and 11 rebounds), the Lynx had a hard time controlling the boards and allowed 11 second-chance points to the Liberty. The Liberty led by as many as nine in the half and shot 50 percent from the field. The Lynx also had a hard time keeping Tina Charles in check—she scored 21 before the break.
But the Lynx turned things around in the third quarter, coming out of the locker room with an 11-0 run to take a seven-point lead on the Liberty. There were several highlights early in the period, including an intercepted pass and put back shot by Moore, and a Fowles block that led to a Lindsay Whalen jumper. The defense and rebounding also tightened up immensely. Brunson, in particular, turned things around with her defense of Charles, who had to work a lot harder in the second half to get buckets. The Liberty didn’t score a bucket until the 5:24 mark of the third.
“I like the way we responded in the second half defensively,” said Reeve. “Obviously getting fifty dropped on us in the first half is unacceptable. The way that they were doing it was even more unacceptable, and we talked about that at halftime and I thought we responded. I thought we were much more difficult to play against.”
The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair. While the Lynx led for much of the period, the Liberty would not go away. The score was tied at 80 points apiece with 41.7 seconds left. Neither team scored until Moore hit a pair of free throws with 13.9 seconds remaining in the game, then Brunson blocked away a Sugar Rodgers layup attempt with under ten seconds to go, and Moore hit several more clutch free throws to ice the game. It didn’t come easy, but for the Lynx, it was nice to get a chance to win a close contest.
“I love the win because it was hard and we had to respond,” said Reeve. “We had to respond, that’s what I’ve been wanting from this team. So I think this was one of those wins where you go, ‘OK, we needed to win this way,’ and I was glad we were able to get that done.”
Moore struggled with her shot tonight, but made her impact felt just the same. She broke up New York’s passing lanes, played tough individual defense, and grabbed several huge offensive rebounds.
“She was so active. She was good defensively,” said Reeve. “Everything but putting the ball in the basket until the end when she made some big free throws for us and came up with some big plays. I just want Maya to keep playing like that, fighting, fighting, fighting, shoot when you’re open, be Maya Moore, and we’ll live with whatever happens.”
The unsung hero of this game was Seimone Augustus. When the Lynx offense was struggling, she called iso and got buckets for Minnesota in the fourth quarter. She scored eight in the final period, finishing with 14 points. Tonight was a well-rounded offensive effort for Minnesota. Though Fowles led the way, all five Lynx starters reached double figures, and the veteran group made constant adjustments and communicated excellently with one another to figure out some of the looks the New York defense was throwing at them.
All in all, it was a great team win on Tuesday, and a great way to go into the break. For some of the Lynx, the weekend will be a much-needed few days of rest, and for others, it will be an opportunity to represent their team and their city at the All-Star game. When they’re back it’s time to push for the playoffs.