Lindsay Whalen’s double-clutch, turnaround jumper that decided the Lynx’s 76-75 victory Tuesday night was impressive. But it was not the intended play.
With the score tied 74-74 in the final minute at Xcel Energy Center, coach Cheryl Reeve wanted Whalen to drive baseline. But the New York Liberty defense cut the veteran guard off. So Whalen picked up her dribble, pivoted one way, then another. And, off-balance, she threw up a shot far different from the one Reeve envisioned.
“She made lemonade,” Reeve said.
New York (10-10) cut the deficit to one with a free throw, then had a chance to win, but Sugar Rodgers missed an open shot near the top of the key and a desperation shot in the corner after getting the rebound in a mad scramble in the game’s final seconds.
“We were fortunate to win the game,” said Reeve, whose team is off to the best start in franchise history (17-2).
Reeve opened her postgame news conference by saying the game included “two very different halves,” the first of which, she determined, must have been “too much fun” for both teams.
Tina Charles came into the game averaging nearly 18 shot attempts per game, most in the league. And the center almost single-handedly kept the Liberty in the game in the first half, when she scored 20 points on 15 shots and grabbed 10 rebounds, including three offensive.
The Lynx’s best defender, Rebekkah Brunson, tasked with guarding Charles, drew two fouls just three minutes into the game. That freed up Charles and helped New York go into halftime down just eight points despite a combined 29 points from Minnesota’s two best players, Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles.
At the half, the Lynx decided to switch more on pick-and-rolls and to close on Charles farther away from the basket, which forced Charles to dribble or pass.
The plan worked. Charles only scored four points in the second half, taking just five shots. But it came with an unwelcome consequence: New York discovered more offensive diversity — just as the Lynx’s offense became stagnant while moving away from Fowles, who attempted just two more shots the rest of the game.
Rebecca Allen, Epiphanny Prince and Bria Hartley combined for 34 of New York’s 38 second-half points.
Whenever Minnesota seemed on the verge of putting the Liberty away, the Lynx couldn’t string together enough clean possessions.
The Lynx shot two air balls in the fourth quarter. When center Plenette Pierson missed a three-point attempt from the top of the key with the shot clock expiring, Reeve put her hands on her hips and shook her head.
“New York is a team that likes to protect the paint,” said Moore, who led all scorers with 27 points. “You’re going to have to go [through] one, two, maybe three parts of your offense. … Sometimes it worked out. Sometimes it didn’t.”
After Whalen — who scored 12 points in 26 minutes — hit that turnaround jumper with 47 seconds left, she then made an mistake.
She threw an errant pass that eventually led to a jump ball, which gave New York the final possession and a chance to win. Rodgers missed the shots, and the Lynx escaped. The New York bench pulled the Liberty close but couldn’t capture the win.
“We’ll take it,” Whalen said.