With 50.8 seconds left in Sunday's game at Target Center, with less than a minute left in a Lynx season that was about to end so suddenly, Sylvia Fowles fouled out.
With her team down eight she walked back to the bench, the pain showing on her face, difficult thoughts crossing her mind. "We missed our opportunity,'' Fowles said after the Lynx had lost their second-round playoff game, at home, to Chicago 89-76. "And it sucks to be in that position.''
Against a Chicago team whose confidence is rising, in the face of the Sky's constant offensive pressure, the Lynx simply couldn't do enough to slow them down. Victimized by the Sky's fast break, unable to keep the likes of Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper and Diamond DeShields from penetrating, the Lynx saw a six-point first-quarter lead turn into a 14-point hole with just over 6 minutes to play in the game. It was too much for the third-seeded Lynx to overcome.
"Chicago got to the rack, and they did it in the last two games, too,'' Fowles said. "I think we just didn't get it done tonight.''
The fifth-seeded Sky out-scored the Lynx 48-32 in the paint. Vandersloot scored 15 of her 19 in the second half. Copper scored 16 with 10 rebounds. Center Azura Stevens played Fowles to a draw, with 15 points and eight boards. DeShields scored 14 off the bench.
The Lynx? Fowles had nine of her 17 points and four of her eight rebounds in the first quarter. The Sky responded by throwing two and three players at her in the post, holding her to just four shot attempts over the final three quarters. And the Lynx, 6-for-24 from three, couldn't hit enough shots to make them pay for it.
Kayla McBride had 19 points and seven boards, but only seven points after the first quarter. Napheesa Collier struggled in a 3-for-11, eight-point night.
Aerial Powers rebounded from a slow start to score 18 of her 24 points in the second half, nine in the fourth quarter, keying the Lynx's last, desperate attempt at a comeback. But, with starting point guard Layshia Clarendon clearly not near 100 percent because of a right leg stress reaction, the Lynx had stretches where baskets were hard to come by.
But the real problem came on defense, where the Lynx just didn't make things difficult enough for the Sky, which shot 49.2 percent overall, but made 26 of 41 two-point shots.
"As I told [Chicago coach James Wade] after the game, I thought they played as they are," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "They know who they are and they were so persistent in their identity. We couldn't break their identity. We spent a couple days on our focal points. What was important. It would be the team that would be able to take away the paint. It was Chicago. And it wasn't the Lynx."
Down six after three quarters, backup center Natalie Achonwa scored to open the fourth, bringing the Lynx within four.
Over the next 3:42, with the Lynx going 1-for-5 with three turnovers, the Sky went on a 13-3 run to go up 75-61 after Vandersloot turned a Powers turnover into a fastbreak layup.
To the Lynx's credit, they did not quit. Powers hit a three, and the Lynx got a stop. Powers hit another three, and the Lynx forced a shot clock violation. McBride hit a three and the Lynx got another stop. With 3:47 left Collier hit a 25-footer to cap a 12-2 run and it was a four-point game.
"We stayed resilient,'' Collier said. "Even though we were down late. Some teams would fold, we knew what we could do as a team. It was exciting when we went on that run. I wish it could have gone a little longer.''
Out of a timeout Allie Quigley hit a three for Chicago. Moments later Vandersloot stole the ball from Crystal Dangerfield and scored. It was the start of a 12-3 finish for the Sky.
"They controlled the game, in terms of overall activity, ball movement, aggressive play,'' Reeve said.