Rebekkah Brunson entered Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Sparks 11 rebounds shy of the WNBA’s all-time career rebounding record held by Tamika Catchings. While all the storylines of another chapter in the Sparks-Lynx rivalry remained in place, Brunson broke the record and was a major key in an 83-72 Minnesota victory.
The Lynx came into Thursday’s game in somewhat of a strange place; they had won seven straight games right until they lost their last game to the Indiana Fever, the WNBA’s worst team.
Was the Indiana loss an aberration or was the winning streak a thing of the past? The game’s opening minutes answered that question.
While the Sparks took an early lead through Nneka Ogwumike, the Lynx went ahead 6-4 and never looked back. Every starter had points after Lindsay Whalen made a jumper to push the Minnesota lead to 14-9, and a Brunson 3-pointer forced a Los Angeles timeout.
While the Sparks closed the deficit to five points at the quarter break, the tone had been set.
The second quarter stagnated somewhat for both teams, as the Lynx struggled with turnovers. They had nine by halftime with six coming in the second quarter, and while the Sparks only scored three points from those turnovers — a Candace Parker layup and free throw — the lack of stability on offense did not allow Minnesota to build their lead, only maintain it.
Scoring proved to revolve around Brunson and Sylvia Fowles, with Fowles typically dominant inside and Brunson taking her chances wherever she found them. Maya Moore struggled for a second straight game, failing to make a basket in the first half, but Fowles’ 12 points and Brunson’s 10 at halftime were enough to keep the Lynx just ahead.
Brunson also led all players at halftime with seven rebounds, which already had her past Lisa Leslie for second all-time. With that kind of line at halftime, the entire building knew the record was in reach and the second half was the time to see it happen.
Minnesota was not content to allow a record to be a side note in a loss, either. The Lynx came out of the halftime break energized, with back-to-back treys from Moore and Whalen pushing the lead back to a game-high eight.
The Lynx stretched their lead into double digits with another 3-pointer-inspired run, this time powered by Cecilia Zandalasini off the bench. Zandalasini’s two 3s bookended a Danielle Robinson jumper and killer pass from Robinson to Fowles, and the 10-4 run pushed the Lynx’s lead to 12.
The third quarter ended with a little preview of the fourth quarter’s celebratory figure, as Brunson drained her third three of the night with time running out. The Lynx’s lead was 13, and Brunson went to the fourth just one rebound shy of the record.
Brunson’s moment came with 7:17 left in the fourth quarter, a defensive rebound from a missed Parker 3, and the following possession provoked the game’s second loudest moment. Fowles posted up and was blocked by Ogwumike. Neither a jump ball nor a foul was called, and after the Sparks scored a breakaway layup, Cheryl Reeve took significant exception to the refereeing.
“I think anybody that watched the game could see that was either a jump ball or a foul but it was not nothing, so that’s what kind of created the situation,” Reeve said after the game. “I actually was calling for a timeout and received the technical for calling a timeout, and then a second T for I have no idea what.”
Reeve was visibly irate before and after the technical was called, and received a loud cheer as she left the floor before the Target Center crowd returned to booing the officials as vigorously as they could manage.
The ejection changed the game but did not “fix” the refereeing.
After Reeve’s ejection, Ogwumike was called for four fouls on extremely light contact with Fowles and was a complete non-factor in the game’s closing as a result. While the Fowles call may have been incorrect, the make-up calls appeared not much better, beneficial to the Lynx or not.
Even after the two technical free throws from Reeve’s ejection, the Lynx’s lead was still nine points and Los Angeles could not close the gap. Parker’s shots did not fall, Fowles continued her dominance and the mood in Target Center properly turned to a celebration of Brunson’s record and of the team’s win.
When the record was announced, Brunson received the night’s loudest cheers and a standing ovation, waving to the arena and exchanging a hug with Lynx owner Glen Taylor near the bench. She finished the night with 15 points and 12 rebounds, pushing her career rebound total and the new WNBA career record to 3,318.
“It seems like forever since I came into this league, and I had the opportunity to come into the league behind some amazing post players,” Brunson said. “I played behind Yo Griffith, DeMya Walker, you know, so many, Tangela Smith, there were just so many great post players that I came in under and got the opportunity to kind of watch and learn.
“Then I got the opportunity to play against some of the best and watch and learn, so I’m just blessed to be able to be here.”
“What a tremendous day for Rebekkah Brunson,” Reeve said. “So proud of her, being the all-time greatest rebounder in the history of the league. Three thousand, three hundred and eighteen. That’s a lot of work. Sorry I missed the celebration. I just was thrilled that she did that because I knew that we would need everything that she did today, getting 12 rebounds was going to be necessary for us to win this game.”
Brunson’s double-double was her second consecutive and second of the season, and Fowles’ 27 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven assists made up the Lynx’s offense.
The Lynx have won nine of their last 11 games, with wins over Phoenix, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington, Dallas and Atlanta in the stretch, six of the seven other teams at or above .500 in the league (one of their two losses was to Connecticut, the seventh such team).
The win pulled them within a half-game of Los Angeles in the standings. With Tuesday’s aberration aside, the Lynx are now right back where they belong; firmly in the upper echelon of the league standings and prepared to defend their title, with one of their future Hall of Famers in the spotlight on Thursday.