After clinching their eighth straight playoff appearance on Thursday in Las Vegas, the Minnesota Lynx returned to Target Center on Sunday for a potential playoff preview against the likely No. 1 seed Seattle Storm.
Much like their last game in early August in Seattle, the Storm looked like the better team while cruising past the defending champions 81-72, this time on their home court.
The Storm, who moved to a WNBA-best 24-8 on the season with the win and now hold a two-game lead over second-place Atlanta for the top spot in the league, held off a late fourth quarter Lynx comeback attempt to come away victorious. Minnesota came within four in the final frame, but couldn’t even things up.
From the get-go, Minnesota struggled against Seattle, opening the game by shooting 27 percent from the field while trailing 19-13 after the first quarter. From that point on, the Lynx couldn’t catch up to the dominant Storm.
Minnesota bounced back in the second quarter, cutting Seattle’s lead to 35-30 heading into halftime, but it wasn’t enough.
Leading the charge for Seattle was a familiar face to Minnesota and its fans. Natasha Howard, who was traded by the Lynx to the Storm in the offseason while she was a restricted free agent, went off for a team-best 21 points, three blocks and three steals in just under 28 minutes of play.
MVP frontrunner Breanna Stewart finished with 17 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks, while Jewell Loyd added 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists for Seattle.
The Lynx where shorthanded once again in the game, something that has limited them in the second half of the WNBA season. Rebekkah Brunson missed another game with a nose injury, while Danielle Robinson was held out of the game with an ankle injury. Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Kent Youngblood reported earlier Sunday that Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve admitted Robinson’s injury might result in the team having to make a move prior to the playoffs in a few weeks.
Along with Brunson and Robinson sitting out, the starting five for Minnesota looked different than what we’ve been accustomed to seeing in the past few years, as Lindsay Whalen – who has missed the last few games due to rest – came off the bench for the first time since she did so in her WNBA debut with the Connecticut Sun on May 22, 2004.
Whalen ended up playing just over 15 minutes for the Lynx, finishing with four points and a steal. Reigning WNBA MVP Sylvia Fowles led Minnesota with her league-leading 20th double-double of the year, tallying 28 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks and three steals in 33 minutes. Seimone Augustus added 13 points and six assists behind Fowles, with Alexis Jones grabbing 10 points off the bench.
Maya Moore’s level of play has often dictated the outcome for the Lynx this season. While she finished Sunday’s game with 12 points, seven rebounds and five steals, she didn’t record a single point or rebound in the second half.
With the loss, the playoff-bound Lynx move to 17-14 on the season, dropping to seventh in the league standings. Minnesota, which is a half-game behind Phoenix for the No. 6 seed, could still make a late push for a top-five seed in the playoffs, sitting just one game behind Connecticut and Los Angeles for the fourth seed.
The Lynx will look to bounce back at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Target Center against the Chicago Sky, a team they are 1-1 against in two games so far this season. Chicago, which is officially out of the playoff picture, will enter the game at 11-20 overall.
Regardless of the result of Sunday’s game, Minnesota knows it’s going to be back in the postseason later this month. With the Lynx being left shorthanded as the playoffs creep closer and closer, many questions still remain for the defending champions.