BY MIKE PEDEN
Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve did not get flustered with her bench after they were blanked in an 85-80 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday.
In another highlight of Minnesota’s chemistry, Reeve discussed what happened with the reserves and credited their focus that led to a 79-76 win over the Chicago Sky at Allstate Arena Friday night.
Minnesota (17-5) outscored Chicago (10-14) 30-11 from the bench, including 12 points and seven rebounds from three-point specialist Candice Wiggins, six points and five rebounds from rookie Amber Harris and six points and four blocks from second-year center Jessica Adair, who bested her previous career high in blocks.
“I give Amber a lot of credit. It was a great size situation where she matched up well, and I thought she made the most of her opportunity,” Reeve said.
“We didn’t start off the game with the defensive effort that we needed,” said Lynx rookie forward Maya Moore. “The bench did a great of making up for that and hit some big shots.”
Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen finished as the team’s high scorer, with 16 points and six assists. Sky center Sylvia Fowles led all players in scoring and rebounds, getting 28 and 13 respectively for her 14th double-double this season.
“I have to credit my teammates. (Courtney) Vandersloot got me a lot in transition. I can definitely see myself getting better,” Fowles said.
The Lynx were sluggish to start, trailing 17-7 midway through the first quarter against a team whose record is somewhat deceiving. Minnesota ended the quarter on a 15-2 run boosted by Monica Wright’s return to form in her second game back after missing five games because of a family emergency. Wiggins and Adair also pitched in offensively.
A Rebekkah Brunson jumper late in the fourth gave the impression that Minnesota locked up the outcome with the score at 78-70, but Chicago took advantage of miscues, including a Maya Moore turnover off an inbounds pass, to reel the margin to 78-76 with 38.9 seconds left. The 6,289 in attendance would have their pulse sent through the sky in those final seconds.
Vandersloot had an open Fowles in transition, but overthrew her 6’6” frame to send the ball out-of-bounds. The Sky played foul-and-chase with the Lynx’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who missed two free throws with 9.2 seconds left, giving the Sky another chance.
Shay Murphy missed a point-blank lay-up with 2.9 seconds left, and McWilliams-Franklin went back to the free throw line after getting the rebound. She made only one of two that time with 0.9 seconds to go, but Tamera Young’s half-court heave at the buzzer was too high.
“Shay had a good look. She made something out of nothing. I saw a foul. I asked the ref. He said there wasn’t one,” Young said, who scored 16 points. “That’s how the game goes. We have to adjust from it.”
Ironically, all four of Minnesota’s reserves who got playing time finished with positive plus/minus ratings for the game, contrasting with negative ratings for all five starters. Minnesota doubled up Chicago 16-8 in second chance points, utilizing the 42-32 rebounding edge for the game.
Fowles sees her Sky team gelling under first-year head coach Pokey Chatman and her new system, but with Chicago battling Atlanta for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 10 games remaining, Fowles said the Sky need to reflect the urgency.
“We got away from a couple things for those last two minutes, and it nipped us in the butt,” she said. “This game proved a lot that we can do going forward.”
Minnesota continues to move forward as well, with Friday’s win ending six straight losing seasons for the franchise. Should the Lynx beat Tulsa Sunday at Target Center, they will match their franchise record for most wins in a season. However, Minnesota remains content to leave history in the past.
“This team embraced 2011, making that a really special season. Nothing else has mattered to them,” Reeve said.
After Friday’s games, the magic number for the Lynx to clinch their first playoff berth since 2004 dropped to five. The number represents the combination of Lynx victories and losses from the Los Angeles Sparks where the Sparks could not usurp the Lynx in the Western Conference playoff picture.