From start to finish — quite literally — it was Lexie Brown.
Friday at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., the Lynx won their fourth straight game, 87-80 over the Indiana Fever. The victory kept 5-1 Minnesota in a tie with Seattle for first place in the WNBA just past the quarter pole of this condensed 22-game season.
But back to Brown.
She set career highs with 26 points and nine assists. She had six rebounds and four steals. She got the Lynx going after a slow start, and she closed out a game that had gotten too close for comfort.
Other than that, normal night.
“Lexie Brown’s game — and not just her stat line, but how hard she was to play against on both ends of the court, how persistent she was?’’ coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I told her it was her play at the end of the first quarter that turned the tide for us.’’
This is not to diminish the play of others. Center Sylvia Fowles, back after missing a game because of a sore calf, scored 21 points with two blocks. With the Lynx hitting half of their 16 three-point attempts, Fowles showed how effective she can be with a well-spaced floor. Napheesa Collier scored 16 points with five boards and four steals. Rookie Crystal Dangerfield (11 points) was in double figures for the third straight game. Tiffany Mitchell and Kelsey Mitchell, who are not related, each scored 15 for Indiana.
The Lynx started slowly and were down 23-12 with 1:51 left in the first quarter. Brown rebounded a Fever miss, then scored on a 19-footer. After Fowles made two free throws, Brown stole the ball and scored as the Lynx ended the quarter on a 6-2 run. That was just the beginning. That 6-2 run turned into a 21-2 run that ended with Brown’s layup with 4:32 left in the half.
It was Brown who dribbled into the paint, then fed Bridget Carleton for a buzzer-beating three at the end of the third that put the Lynx up 11 entering the fourth.
That lead grew to 15 on Brown’s three-pointer early in the final quarter. But then Kennedy Burke hit three three-pointers in a 15-2 run that pulled the Fever within 76-74 on a free throw with 5:13 left.
Fowles hit two free throws, then scored on a put-back. Brown hit a jumper and the lead was back to eight. But the Fever fought back again. Teaira McCowan’s put-back with 46 seconds left made it a four-point game.
But Brown drove for a score with 24.5 seconds left. At the other end she made her fourth steal of the game, sealing the win
“I’m really happy for [Lexie],’’ Collier said. “That’s exactly what we need. A great shooter, a great player. She’s playing her top game right now.’’
A starter for the first time in her three-year career, Brown struggled a bit in the first two games, shooting just 4-for-17 before getting hurt late in a loss to Seattle. She missed two games while in concussion protocol. But what a return. In two games since returning she has scored 41 points with 11 rebounds, 13 assists and 11 steals.
“It was tough sitting on the sidelines,’’ Brown said. “But I thought maybe this was my restart. I didn’t start the season as aggressively as I wanted, with all the work I put in during the offseason. So I thought of it as a time of reflection. I got to see what the team really needed.’’
Which was a little bit of everything.
The Star Tribune will not be traveling to Florida for MLS, NBA and WNBA coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.