Afterward, in the locker room, the Lynx players were quiet. Things had to change, they said. But nobody seemed certain how to make that happen. Coach Cheryl Reeve, who expressed herself so effectively to the officials Sunday at Target Center (witness the two technical fouls), was somewhat less verbose talking about the game afterward.
“I thought we’d be more excited and energized to play at home,” she said.
With defensive breakdowns and offensive misfires, the Lynx did something they hadn’t done in a long, long time. They lost to Phoenix 80-72 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. It was the first regular-season loss to the Mercury in 11 tries. It broke a streak of 14 consecutive victories, including playoffs, against the Mercury.
On the other side of the coin: It was the Lynx’s second straight loss, their third in four games, their worst stretch since losing three in a row last August. And it moved the Mercury (7-3) within a half-game of the Lynx (8-3) in the WNBA’s Western Conference.
For the second consecutive game, the Lynx allowed an opponent to score 50 first-half points and build a 20-plus-point first-half lead. Even a strong second-half comeback led mainly by reserves — including Monica Wright, who made her season debut after having knee surgery in late April — couldn’t change the outcome.
“It is, obviously, the first half,” Maya Moore said. She led the team with 14 points but needed 18 shots to get there. She shot 6-for-18 and turned the ball over five times as her personal offensive slump continued; Moore has shot 19-for-61 (31.1 percent) the past four games. “You can’t give up 50 points, and not score. Both of those need to change.”
And quickly. The Lynx, in the middle of a stretch in which they’ll play six games in 10 days, will have little time to practice. Up next is a two-game trip to Los Angeles and Phoenix on Tuesday and Wednesday. But something does have to change.
On Sunday, four of five Mercury starters scored in double figures. Diana Taurasi had 21 points and 11 assists. Center Brittney Griner had 14 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
“It did feel good,” Taurasi said of ending the streak. “They’re the best team in the league.”
But the Lynx are struggling of late. Seimone Augustus and Damiris Dantas each scored 10 points. Tan White scored 13 off the bench. But Reeve benched most of her starters for most of the fourth quarter.
In the first half, Phoenix shot 59.45 percent and hit on five of nine three-pointers. The Lynx, meanwhile, struggled to a 14-for-40, 31-point first half that left the Mercury in control.
“It’s our defense,” Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen said. “When we give up 50 points, it’s hard to make anything happen offensively.”
Added Moore: “Our offense gets energy from our defense. When that doesn’t come out and set the tone, our offense doesn’t have the pep it needs. The only thing to do is play it out, play through hit, play your way back.”
With the Lynx down 17 with 5:48 left to play, Reeve started sitting her starters. Ultimately a lineup of Asia Taylor, Dantas, Wright, White and Tricia Liston got the lead down to six on Taylor’s basket with 29 seconds left. But they got no closer. And the final score does not show how frustrating a game this was for the Lynx.
“For the second game in a row, a team dropped 50 points on us in a half,” Reeve said. “When you’re not putting the ball in the hole at the same rate … it’s going to be really hard for us. So, until we figure that out, games will be really hard.”