Lindsay Whalen has said it 1,000 times. Whether the Lynx are rolling or reeling. Whether Whalen is hitting or missing. When it comes right down to it, Whalen will turn to Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and say: “I got you, Coach.”
After a frustrating first four quarters in which she couldn’t buy a basket and after sitting on the bench while her teammates turned a one-sided game into an one-possession thriller, Whalen stepped up and scored 10 of Minnesota’s 12 overtime points, including a 16-foot jumper with 13.2 seconds left that sealed a 90-87 victory over Connecticut at Target Center on Sunday.
Whalen hit all three of her overtime shots, made four of five free throws and assisted on the Lynx’s only other basket as the Lynx (2-0), down by as many as 16 points in the third quarter, rallied to down a surprisingly game Sun (0-2), which was led by rookie center Chiney Ogwumike’s 25 points and 10 rebounds.
Ultimately — finally — Whalen did it.
Lynx center Janel McCarville has seen this before. “Countless times,” she said. McCarville was on the bench because of a sprained ankle when Whalen took over. “Whay pulls some stuff out when you least expect it. It’s nothing new, but you’re still kind of awe-struck when it actually happens.”
In something like an Olympic tag team, Maya Moore (33 points, 12 rebounds) led the third-quarter charge that got the Lynx back in the game, Seimone Augustus (18 points) hit a jumper with 2.3 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. And, after Ogwumike had scored the first five points in that OT, Whalen took care of the rest.
“These guys are winners,” said Reeve, who nearly lost her suit coat in a first-half rage. “They’re Olympians. They have something a little bit extra.”
It just took a while to show up. Maybe it was the pregame ring ceremony celebrating the 2013 WNBA championship. Maybe it was the travel and lack of practice since Friday’s season-opening victory. For whatever reason, it was the Sun that was dictating tempo in the first half, shooting 57.9 percent, scoring 14 points off Lynx turnovers and frustrating Minnesota. The Sun led by as many as 16 points and was still up 14 with 2:24 left in the third.
That’s when Moore took over. With Whalen on the bench, Moore had 13 points, two steals and a block in a 20-4 run over the next 5:21 that gave the Lynx a 68-66 lead on Damiris Dantas’ fast-break layup off a Moore feed with 7:01 left in regulation.
Still, the Lynx had to score the final six points of the fourth quarter to force overtime. That happened when Moore scored, then Whalen hit a 15-footer. Finally, with time ticking away, Augustus dribbled herself into position for a fall-away jumper that tied the score.
After Ogwumike scored the first five points in overtime, Whalen took over. She fed Tan White for a layup on the break. Then she scored on two driving layups, the second one turning into a three-point play. She hit two free throws with 37.8 seconds left, another jumper with 13.2 left.
“Coach said, ‘Finish it’ when I went back in,” Whalen said. “There are going to be nights like that. A little bit of that is being a veteran, being able to put that behind you and forget about it.”
Afterward, Reeve was asked if she hesitated to put in Whalen, who returned to action with five minutes left in regulation.
“That was a hard one,” Reeve said. “Do you take a chance to put Lindsay Whalen back in there? I will always err on the side of living and dying by your horses. Whay responded.”