After the Lynx’s 105-69 demolition of Phoenix, the gaudy numbers on the offensive side of the boxscore soaked up much of the attention. The team made 12 of 20 three-pointers, got 45 points from its bench and rolled to its second-highest point total of the season.
Coach Cheryl Reeve, though, was quick to point out the other half of the equation Tuesday.
“Defense was the reason we won this game,’” she said. “That really set the tone for us.”
The Lynx defense has been a model of stability over the past 15 games, anchoring a team whose offense has alternated between flat and fabulous. While it shifted back to the fabulous side, delighting an Xcel Energy Center crowd announced at 10,723, the Lynx’s ability to shut down the Mercury (15-15) generated just as much pride.
A tenacious, tireless defense limited Phoenix’s twin powers — Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner — to a total of 14 points. The Lynx forced 20 turnovers and converted them into 27 points, and they outrebounded their Western Conference rival 32-19 — with the 6-9 Griner grabbing only two.
Maya Moore led the hot-shooting Lynx (23-6) with a game-high 21 points. Sylvia Fowles frustrated Griner at one end of the floor and popped in 14 points at the other, adding 10 rebounds as well. On a night when there was plenty to talk about, Italian forward Cecilia Zandalasini also created some buzz, showing up at the game and stoking rumors she will be signing with the Lynx.
Moore credited the Lynx’s rhythm, ball movement, confidence and “bounce in our step’’ for getting the offense back on track. That reliable defense helped, too.
“Playing off our defense always gets us going,” Moore said. “We’re just trusting who we are as a team, and defense is so much of who we are. It’s something we’re really owning as the season is winding up.’’
Zandalasini, one of the top players in Europe, was spotted sitting courtside before the game and outside the Lynx locker room afterward. Late Monday night, reports from Sky Sports Italy and other European media said Zandalasini would be joining the Lynx for the playoffs, citing an announcement from the Italian Basketball Federation.
Reeve said “I don’t have any information about that” when asked about Zandalasini, 21.
Though injuries to starters Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson had reduced the Lynx roster to nine healthy players, Reeve has said the team would “stand pat” with the current group.
Reeve said Brunson has begun putting weight on her sprained left ankle, and Whalen participated in the morning shoot-around while wearing a protective glove on her broken left hand.
The coach doesn’t know when either will return, though she noted Brunson looked good enough in a Tuesday workout that Reeve was tempted to play her.
The Lynx hit their stride early against the Mercury and kept going. They never trailed and expanded a 15-point halftime lead into a blowout, with much of the offense coming from their sharpshooters on the perimeter.
“This was a good bounceback game for us,” Reeve said. “I felt like our team was in a good place. I like where we are.”