The Minnesota Lynx shifted the narrative in the Western Conference following a 75-67 win over the Phoenix Mercury Thursday night at Target Center.
Minnesota’s defense prevailed in a contest where neither team shot above 40 percent from the floor. The Lynx are still sorting themselves out at full strength, but their hustle was evident on the boards, earning a 48-33 edge, including an 11-2 advantage in offensive rebounds.
“That was obviously really key,” said Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve. “I thought our guards did a tremendous job. There was great accountability (and) execution of the game plan.”
Phoenix’s 16-game winning streak, the second longest in WNBA history, ended with the loss. The streak began in Minneapolis on June 15, when they throttled the Lynx for an 80-72 win.
More importantly for Minnesota (21-6), their eighth straight win reopened the chase for first place in the Western Conference, as they now trail Phoenix (22-4) by only 1.5 games. Whoever finishes first in the conference will likely secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello likened the third meeting between the two teams to a playoff game.
“A lot of things we can learn. It’s going to be a battle to the end. I didn’t think we executed as well as we could,” she said.
Maya Moore withstood a slew of missed bunnies and other bricks to finish with 20 points and 9 rebounds. Scoring just 8 points in the first three quarters, Moore put in 12 in the final period, including a pair of corner threes.
“Some of the shows I missed early were awesome looks and I just didn’t hit them,” she said. “My teammates have confidence in me and I’m always trying to make the best play, whatever that means at the time.”
“All our teammates count on us, so we didn’t stop shooting,” said Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus.
Minnesota caused a continuous spout of frustration for Phoenix, beginning with an 11-0 run to end the first quarter to go up 21-10. The Mercury rallied multiple times, but could not assume the lead as they had trouble converting shots they were accustomed to during their winning streak.
Tensions finally boiled in the fourth. Phoenix came within a single possession, 66-63, with 2:38 remaining after DeWanna Bonner hit a deep three, but Minnesota countered with several clutch plays. In the final minute, Rebekkah Brunson stripped the ball from Diana Taurasi, and Taurasi was hit with her sixth technical foul of the season after complaining to the officials. A pair of Seimone Augustus free throws in the closing seconds finally allowed the 9,513 fans in attendance to exhale.
Augustus ended the game with 19 points and 8 rebounds, and Brunson earned her second double-double of the season with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Brittney Griner led Phoenix in scoring with 18 points, and Penny Taylor followed with 16 points. Diana Taurasi, known for her explosive scoring, made just 5 of 21 shots.
“We learn from every game regardless of whether we win or lose. We’re not happy with just chugging along and not improving,” Taylor said.
The Mercury’s bench was severely shallow Thursday night, as Erin Phillips was unable to play due to a sprained left ankle she suffered Tuesday against the Sparks.
Minnesota goes on the road for the next two games, including a Saturday meeting with Tulsa.