Aerial Powers helped the Washington Mystics win a WNBA championship in 2019. Sunday, in the Lynx's regular-season finale, she was playing in front of her former home fans for the first time since that title.
"The gym didn't feel new,'' she said after scoring a season-high 27 points in Minnesota's 83-77 win. "I felt the rims, I just felt good in the arena.''
Layshia Clarendon had missed seven games with a right fibula stress reaction. Clarendon returned to the starting lineup Sunday and packed eight points, six assists, two key free throws and a crucial steal into 16 minutes of playing time.
"I felt good,'' Clarendon said. "I love this team so much, it was nice to be back on the court again.''
Call this a playoff primer.
The Lynx needed the win to remain in the third seed for the upcoming playoffs. The Mystics needed to win to make the playoffs, period.In an intense, physical game in which both teams traded figurative punches and literal elbows, the Lynx (22-10) ended Washington's season.
The Lynx ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak and having won nine of 10 games. The third seed comes with a first-round playoff bye and the right to host the lower-seeded team to emerge from the first round. It also means the Lynx wouldn't play the league-leading Connecticut Sun until the finals.
"We knew how hard it was going to be,'' Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "Our best players weren't playing great. But it was a great experience for us to be able to go through something like that.''
With the Mystics determined to take center Sylvia Fowles out of the offensive mix — she was limited to six shots — and make things difficult for Napheesa Collier, others had to step up.
Fowles had 13 rebounds to go with eight points, but took just six shots. Collier had 14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals, but shot 4-for-15 from the field.
Kayla McBride scored 10. Clarendon had eight, as did Crystal Dangerfield off the bench.
Washington was led by Natasha Cloud's 22 points and Ariel Atkins' 17. Tina Charles, the league's leading scorer, was held to 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting, getting just four in the second half.
There were enormous momentum swings in this game. The Mystics used an 15-0 run in the second quarter to take a 41-38 lead in the final minute of the half. But from that point until the end of the third quarter the Lynx outscored Washington 30-10 — with Powers scoring 11 — to go up 10 entering the fourth.
"We were able to regain control a little bit,'' Reeve said of her team, which scored the final three points of the first half. "The first time we were here (a four-point loss in Washington in early June) we could never get our feet again. We did that at the end of the second quarter, and I thought that gave us the right mind-set.''
With that 10-point lead whittled to two on Atkins' free throws with 47.4 seconds left in the game, Clarendon drew a foul and made both free throws with 27.5 seconds left. On the ensuing possession Clarendon stole the ball and got the ball to Powers, who was fouled. Her two free throws with 14.6 seconds left sealed the game.
"We weathered the storm,'' Clarendon said. "We were able to stifle their runs. Stopping runs is what you have to do in the playoffs. We showed a lot of resilience.''
The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the event.