The energy was there, and the defense.
After a momentary lapse in the third quarter, the Lynx were within two points with about 2 ½ minutes to play at Target Center.
For years, this has been their time.
But not Sunday. In a 75-71 loss to the New York Liberty, the Lynx turned the ball over four times in their final five possessions, a turn of events so rare for this team at crunch time the crowd of 9,121 left the arena rather stunned.
They weren’t alone.
“Our offensive execution was subpar,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Especially at key times. We’re calling plays, and people don’t know what they’re doing or where they’re going.’’
It was a game with a playoff feel and potential playoff ramifications. With the win, the Liberty (22-9) clinched the WNBA’s Eastern Conference title and likely clinched the league’s best overall record, which will ensure home-court advantage in the finals should the team get there. The last Eastern Conference team to do that was the Detroit Shock in 2007, a team coached by current New York coach Bill Laimbeer. His assistant that year? Reeve.
The Lynx? Having their two-game winning streak stopped by the same team that beat them Aug. 28 kept their magic number at one. Minnesota (21-11) needs to win one of its final two games or have Phoenix lose one of their final two to win the Western Conference crown.
“We have to execute better,” said Maya Moore, who scored a game-high 23 points two days after being knocked out of a game in an accidental collision with center Sylvia Fowles that left her with a gash on her nose and a black eye. “Every team is going to play very determined at the end defensively. You have to make better decisions.’’
The Liberty got 18 points from Tina Charles and Epiphanny Prince and 16 from Tanisha Wright. New York scored 21 points on 7-for-17 three-point shooting and 21 off 15 Lynx turnovers.
The Lynx opened the game with great offensive flow and determined defense while building a four-point halftime lead. But, in the third quarter the Lynx, in Reeve’s words, “Didn’t guard a single thing.’’
That left the Lynx down by four entering the fourth, and the team never did regain the lead in a quarter that saw both teams score only 12 points.
Down five with 4:55 to play, Fowles (19 points, nine rebounds) scored. Then, with 2:36 left, Renee Montgomery (11 points, seven assists), hit one of two free throw to make it a one-point game.
Over the next 2-plus minutes the Lynx held the Liberty scoreless.
But it didn’t matter. First Fowles turned it over. Then Montgomery. On the next Lynx possession Moore’s shot was blocked. Finally, coming out of a timeout in which Reeve drew up a play, the Lynx turned it over again. The play called for a ball reversal that never happened, and Moore was left holding the bag. After that turnover Sugar Rodgers hit two free throws for the Liberty to end the scoring. The Lynx turned it over once more before the game ended.
“We got a lot of shots at it, and we didn’t execute towards the end,” Montgomery said. “You never want that, to have turnovers. That’s definitely not good.’’
It was, as Moore said, “uncharacteristic of us.’’
The good news is the Lynx have a home game Tuesday against Seattle to sew up the West. Reeve, who was happy with her team’s effort, will be expecting better execution.
“It was definitely a wasted opportunity,” Reeve said. “So many wasted possessions on offense, that’s not typically how we roll. But that’s what we did tonight.”