After putting together by far their worst defensive performance of the season earlier this week against the Seattle Storm, resulting in their first loss of the season, the Minnesota Lynx defense bounced back on Thursday night at Target Center.
Minnesota’s defense suffocated the Phoenix Mercury offense en route to a 58-56 victory back at home in Minneapolis.
“Our defense, we left whatever that was in Seattle,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said after the game. “We were able to bring our defense with us and got it back. To this point, it’s been what has carried us. Now, our offense just has to catch up.”
The Mercury, which entered the game averaging 77 points per game while tallying a 47.6 shooting percentage from the field — good enough for second-best in the WNBA — had trouble offensively basically from the midway point in the first quarter on.
Phoenix was held to 36.8 percent from the field in the game, with Minnesota limiting it to 6 of 26 from 3.
Although their defense stood out, the Lynx offense didn’t necessarily shine in the win. After holding a scoring advantage in the first three quarters, Minnesota’s offense nearly disappeared in the fourth quarter, resulting in it almost giving up the lead to Phoenix before clock ran out.
The Mercury were able to cut the Lynx lead down to two after Minnesota led by as many as 16 points in the game. The comeback ultimately fell just short after a DeWanna Bonner 3 at the buzzer fell short.
The win wasn’t pretty for the Lynx, although it didn’t really matter with the way their defense ended up performing.
“Certainly give Phoenix credit, they are big and Griner is good and when you get to the paint you have a problem and can’t get easy looks off,” Reeve said. “As we work through this, we need to keep our defense where it is find ways to win a game and improve the next time.”
Minnesota, which only scored nine points in the fourth quarter, finished shooting 40.3 percent from the field, converting on 5 of 14 shots from beyond the arc.
In the opening quarter of Thursday night’s game, the Lynx got off to a slow start, falling behind 9-2 while having trouble finding a flow offensively early on in the game. Minnesota’s second unit entered the game and helped the Lynx battle back into the game, finishing the frame on a 15-8 run to tie things up at 17-17 after one quarter.
Minnesota’s run at the end of the first quarter carried into the second, outscoring Phoenix 15-7 to round out the half and take a 32-24 advantage into the break.
In the first half, more defense than offense was certainly on display for both teams. The Lynx shot just 38.2 percent from the field in the opening half, while the Mercury shot a similar 37.5 from the field. Minnesota was able to hold Phoenix to single digits in the quarter, holding the Mercury to 2 of 11 from the field.
For the rest of the game, the first-half trend of a defensive showcase carried over into the second half.
Despite a late-game push by Phoenix in the fourth quarter, the Lynx didn’t let up on their lead for the remainder of the game to grab their fourth win in the first five games of the season.
“It was definitely an ugly ending, but we tried to focus on what was good for us and that was our defense,” Sylvia Fowles said. “We just want to make sure we go out there and play to the best of our abilities on the defensive end and hope our offense comes along with us.”
Odyssey Sims finished with 15 points, five rebounds and two assists, Lexie Brown tallied a career-high 12 points in 23 minutes off the bench and Fowles added 10 points and six rebounds to pace the way for Minnesota, which outscored Phoenix 36-18 in points in the paint.
Jessica Shepard was all over the floor one again while finishing with a nice all-around game of seven points, six rebounds and three assists and Alaina Coates added four points and four rebounds for the Lynx, who had a total of eight players score in the contest.
Bonner was really the only offensive threat for Phoenix throughout the course of the game, leading the Mercury with a game-best 25 points and eight rebounds. Leilani Mitchell added eight points off the bench and Brittney Griner was held to just four points and seven rebounds.
Although it wasn’t pretty on offense for either team in the game, Minnesota’s defense was able to outshine and out-match Phoenix long enough to come away with the victory.
The Lynx just hope their offense comes around with it sooner rather than later.
“A win is a win. We know (the offense) will come and we work on it every single day,” Danielle Robinson said. “Right now, our defense is really holding court for us and we are excited about that. But we are definitely looking forward to having better offensive games.”
Minnesota will wrap up a two-game homestand at 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon when it hosts the Los Angeles Sparks at Target Center. The Lynx will retire Lindsay Whalen’s jersey during a pre-game ceremony, making her the first player in franchise history to have her jersey retired.