The mojo returned early in the third quarter Sunday in the form of a Lindsay Whalen hard-nosed foray to the basket, timed perfectly to lift the Lynx past Seattle 92-80 in front of 11,834 fans at Target Center and a national television audience on ESPN2.
To that point, the Lynx had been uncharacteristically clumsy, watching balls slip through their hands and seeing their passes finding the wrong ones. Seattle spent much of the first half forcing the Lynx to chase them around the perimeter before draining a three-pointer. Seattle led 47-41 at halftime, leaving both coach Cheryl Reeve and the fans grumbling and shaking their heads.
“It was a subpar first-half for us,” Reeve said. “More than anything, we were not making it very difficult for them to score. And just passing and catching the ball. Seattle was putting pressure on us, and we couldn’t pass and catch.”
Coming on the heels of a frustrating 84-80 loss at Connecticut on Friday, it was clear that something had to change.
Trailing by three early in the third quarter, Whalen forced the tempo, veered left in the lane and kissed a layup off the glass as she was fouled. She nailed the free throw to tie the score 53-53, but more importantly provided the spark the Lynx needed. The Lynx outscored Seattle 32-18 in the third quarter, turning a six-point deficit into an eight-point lead.
“Lindsay Whalen said it’s not going to happen to us today,” Reeve said. “She turned it up and played with great pace.”
Combined with Phoenix' 70-66 victory over the Los Angeles, the Lynx ended the night with the best record in the WNBA at 22-5, a half-game ahead of the Sparks.
For the unflappable Whalen, it was just another evening at a very large, loud office.
“I kind of felt like the pace was a little slow,” said Whalen, who finished with a season-high 24 points. “My thing was just to push it as much as I can. Sometimes, that’s just what a point guard has to do. You have to push the tempo and get up court quick.”
As has been their modus operandi for much of the season, the Lynx took a quick lead, scoring the first 11 points of the game, only to see it disappear in a spate of turnovers and defensive lapses and Seattle bombs from outside.
“I think we were a little frustrated,” Reeve said “As hard as we were playing, we were doing some good things but we look up and they’re still shooting 60 percent from three and they already had their five three-pointers. We were hoping to hold them to five for the whole game, but there was four minutes left in the second quarter and they already had five.”
Whalen wasn’t the only Lynx veteran to elevate her play Sunday. Seimone Augustus scored 11 of her 18 points in the second half, none more important than a 23-foot three-pointer with four minutes left in the third quarter that gave the Lynx the lead for good at 58-57.
“Her shot-making, that’s money ’Mone,” Reeve said. “That’s what she does.”
And Rebekkah Brunson continued her career-long excellence on the boards, grabbing three offensive rebounds to become the most prolific offensive rebounder in WNBA history. She had 1,064, two more than former Lynx teammate Taj McWilliams-Franklin.
“That was fun,” Brunson said grinning. “I think I’ll send her little note to make sure she knows.”
Jewell Loyd led Seattle (10-16) with 20 points.