The danger signs for the Minnesota Lynx have been building, and on Sunday night at Target Center their worst game not just of the season but possibly of the Maya Moore era was realized.
The Connecticut Sun came to Minnesota and blasted the Lynx out of their own building, 83-64.
The final score was more respectable than the game had any right to finish. More than halfway through the fourth quarter, the Lynx trailed by more than 30 points and were on course to suffer their worst defeat since June 6, 2010 — a 38-point defeat to Indiana during the season that earned Moore’s selection as the first overall draft pick.
Connecticut came into this game after just breaking a three-game losing skid, and played like a team with every bit of confidence in this matchup. Its lead was just four points after the first quarter, but the biggest possible trouble spots for the Lynx were already visible.
The Lynx had been outrebounded by five boards, and the Sun had made as many 3s (four) as they Lynx had attempted.
These problems continued to spiral further out of control as the game continued. Connecticut got 3s from everywhere. Former Gopher star Rachel Banham hit three and led her team in scoring for the first half before the real onslaught started in the third quarter. The Lynx shot well in the first quarter, but got worse and worse.
Moore must be the focal point of some of the offensive struggles.
Moore finished her sixth straight game shooting below 50 percent from the field — a miserable 2 of 11, and 0 for 3 from deep — on an evening where nothing fell, not even her warmup shots during the halftime break.
Moore is shooting 30.1 percent (25 of 83) over her last six games.
The Lynx trailed by 11 points at halftime and 19 after the third quarter.
They trailed 28-12 in rebounding at halftime, and while they recovered to only lose the final total by 14, the damage was more than done. Courtney Williams, the Sun’s starting shooting guard, had one less rebound than the entire Lynx starting lineup combined at halftime.
Connecticut got everything they could from 3 — as good as 8 of 13 at one point — with much of the damage coming from their bench. Banham, Jonquel Jones and Morgan Tuck combined to go 9 of 15 from outside the arc, and all three were in double figures scoring.
Connecticut had six players in double digits; Minnesota had one — Sylvia Fowles with just 12 points.
Every category on the score sheet found more woes for Minnesota. The Lynx did not have a single fast-break point, while the Sun had 14. Connecticut scored 15 points off 15 Minnesota turnovers.
Minnesota was just 6 of 10 from the free throw line.
“I think it’s the hardest thing to do right now because it’s still fresh, but we have to move on to the next one,” Cheryl Reeve said afterward. “It’s a really hard thing to do in the moment because it hurts, but the fact remains that we’ve said our goals are still intact. I think that even sounds hollow at this point so I don’t even want to say that. We want to win a game before we go back on the road again.
“We talked about this being such an important stretch, it was going to be a defining stretch. Four out of five games at home and we’re not off to a good start. We just have to go try and win the next game and hope that we can get our collective will together, which is what’s missing. We’re just going to keep trying like heck, that’s for sure.”
Reeve went on to explore the team’s mental fortitude, which she had brought into question after Friday’s loss to the Las Vegas Aces.
“It’s okay when we get off to a good start and things go well, and all of a sudden we get punched in the mouth a little bit. We’ve gotta find a way to respond when a team starts making their hits at us, and that’s been missing for most of the season.
“I think about the game down in Atlanta, where we basically have the game won and they start raising it a notch. Really start punching at us, and it really seems like we haven’t been able to — not every game, we’ve won some games — but we’ve played like people have come to expect us to play.”
The Lynx haven’t looked like this in a game at Target Center since their run of four titles began. They haven’t really been in the thick of a playoff race much in those years either, and now they find themselves right at the back. Connecticut’s win moves it into a tie with Minnesota, and the tiebreaker pushes Minnesota down to eighth in the WNBA.
Las Vegas is still a couple of games behind after its loss to Los Angeles on Sunday, but between the Lynx’s record and the way they have looked recently, the conversation should be about first whether or not this team can solidify their playoff position before any thought of defending their title comes in.
It still seems too early to ask if this is the end of the Lynx as they have been since 2011. But should this slide continue, the question will be asked and an uncomfortable look towards the future may begin. They could also resemble a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers of seasons past: an extended regular season bad stretch, a .500-ish record, but a turn to the end of the season and playoff run.
They have the pedigree, and Moore has all the ability to turn it around. She does not look like the same player she has been in years past right now, and whether it is confidence, form, or something else, the Lynx need her to turn it around for the team to be successful.
The league’s worst team comes back to Minnesota, that Indiana team that dealt the Lynx their worst home loss of the 2010 season all those years ago, and the Indiana team that beat this same Lynx team in Minnesota on July 3.
The “defining stretch” of Reeve’s reference needs a win and nothing else.