The Lynx only resembled the WNBA’s best team, with a 20-2 record now, in the fourth quarter. But a single period of dominance was enough for Minnesota to win 69-54 at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday.
Atlanta took a six-point lead into the fourth quarter, then became the first team to not make a single field goal in a quarter against the Lynx. The Dream turned the ball over 10 times in that quarter while going 0-for-18 from the field. Atlanta scored just two points, on free throws, while the Lynx scored 23.
“I’ve been in basketball a long time,” Atlanta coach Michael Cooper said. “This is something new to see.”
More important down the road than the win that built on the best start in franchise history, though, was the lineup the Lynx used to finish. Guards Renee Montgomery and Jia Perkins played with Minnesota’s regular front line — Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles.
Point guard Lindsay Whalen left with 3 minutes, 37 seconds left in the third quarter and did not return because of an injury around her left pinkie. Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said after the game that “tomorrow there will be action taken, whatever it is.”
The Lynx are already without Seimone Augustus, who missed her second consecutive game for “personal reasons.”
Reeve, who has called Augustus’ status “day to day,” said before the game she did not anticipate the 12-year pro being absent long term, but she wasn’t certain.
“Today might be different than what tomorrow brings,” Reeve said.
Augustus’ absence meant fourth-year forward Natasha Howard and rookie guard Alexis Jones saw early playing time again. Perkins started in Augustus’ place and played 36 minutes for a second consecutive game.
Montgomery is more adept at pressing and challenging her opponent on defense than Whalen, Reeve said, and Perkins, at 35, remains quick on the perimeter.
Those two reserves helped the Lynx blitz the Dream and score nine fast-break points in the fourth quarter.
“That’s when I’m at my best, when I’m not stagnant,” said Fowles, who scored 12 of her 25 points in the fourth quarter.
Fowles, who has won three consecutive Western Conference Player of the Month awards, also had 13 rebounds and two blocks.
Teammate Maya Moore added 15 points, five rebounds and five steals.
Montgomery said the lineup with her and Perkins is “completely opposite” of the one with Whalen and Augustus. Montgomery, who had five points and seven assists, is a more willing three-point shooter. Perkins at 5-8 is 4 inches shorter than Augustus.
But the Lynx have been here before, Reeve made sure to say after the game. In 2015, Montgomery had to fill in for Whalen and started five games. Augustus played only 16 games that season.
Minnesota won a championship that year, and the Lynx have already clinched a playoff spot this year. They hold a 3½-game lead over the Los Angeles Spark atop the overall standings, so for now this team has little reason to worry.
“ If we have to get through any period of time,” Reeve said, “I’m confident that we can.”