As her team's lead dwindled Friday night, Cheryl Reeve fought her instincts. The Lynx coach is known for pulling her reserves quickly when they begin to struggle, but as Indiana crawled back from a deficit of 24 points early in the third quarter at Target Center, she chose to leave them in.
Reeve said after a 74-71 victory that her second unit needed to experience that kind of pressure. But after watching them contribute to a magnificent first half, she was disappointed to see them lose focus in the second — and relieved that her choice did not lead to defeat. Though the Lynx scored only five points in the fourth quarter and one in the final 5 minutes, 32 seconds, they hung on for a victory that pushed their record to 5-0.
The game was bookended with one of the Lynx's best quarters this season and one of their worst. They led 29-6 after the first 10 minutes, shooting 72 percent while holding Indiana (2-2) to three baskets on 25 shots. But with the reserves playing most of the fourth quarter, the Fever outscored the Lynx 18-5 and cut the lead to two points with 3.5 seconds left.
"I just really wanted the second team to figure it out," Reeve said. "I don't want to lose the game, but I think they needed that. I was just really determined to not have to grind the starting group. That was really important to me."
The starters were led by Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus, who finished with 12 points each, and Maya Moore, who made four of eight shots to go with a team-high eight assists. They dominated the Fever — the team the Lynx beat in five games in last fall's WNBA Finals — in a lopsided first quarter that ended with Janel McCarville's 32-foot jumper at the buzzer.
Reeve had crafted a game plan calling for the Lynx to control the 5-foot zone around the basket at both ends of the floor, while also limiting fouls and turnovers.
They carried it out efficiently, outscoring Indiana 16-4 in the paint and forcing the Fever to hoist poor shots from the perimeter.
Whalen hit her first five shots as the lead ballooned to 23 points. The Lynx kept it up in the second quarter with strong support from the reserves.
McCarville, Natasha Howard and Renee Montgomery combined to make all nine shots they tried in the first half, which ended with another buzzer-beater, a 28-footer from Howard that gave the Lynx a 50-27 halftime lead.
"We had a good second quarter," McCarville said. "I don't know where the momentum went. It just disappeared."
Reeve warned her team at halftime to not let up. But she also wanted to test a bench that has been lauded as one of the WNBA's best.
The Fever began to pick apart the Lynx defense in the third quarter, finally getting to the basket and making 10 of 14 shots to cut the lead to 69-53.
The Lynx scored their final field goal with 5:33 remaining for a 73-58 lead. Indiana then went on a 13-0 run to pull within 73-71, but the Lynx — who put the starters back in with 33 seconds left — got the rebound of Tiffany Mitchell's missed free throw with 2.2 seconds left to end the threat.
"I was disappointed," Reeve said. "We lost our focus completely. But at the end of the day, being able to get the 'W' is the most important."