With just over nine minutes left in the Lynx’s game with Indiana on Sunday, the Lynx held a two-point lead when Danielle Robinson was called for a clear-path foul on the Fever’s Betnijah Laney, giving Laney two free throws and Indiana the ensuing possession.
Laney made both free throws, tying the score. On the ensuing possession the Lynx’ Damiris Dantas stole the ball from Candice Dupree, resulting in Odyssey Sims’ 10-foot jumper.
The Lynx never trailed again.
Sims’ basket started a 14-4 run over a span of about 3½ minutes that put the Lynx up 10. A lot has changed at crunch time for the Lynx, who have learned to close out games as they get set to close out the regular season with road games Friday at Phoenix and Sunday at Los Angeles.
Minnesota now controls its fate for a first-round home playoff game because the Sparks smashed Seattle 102-68 on Thursday, putting the Lynx a half-game ahead of the Storm. If the teams finish in a tie, Seattle will be the home team.
Because Seattle won the season series, if the two are still tied at season’s end, Seattle would get the sixth spot and a home game in the first round, while the Lynx would get the seventh spot and a very-likely trip to Seattle.
But the Lynx (17-15) are coming off a 4-0 homestand — one that included victories over Las Vegas and Chicago — in which the Lynx did a good job of finishing what they started.
After Sunday’s game Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve talked about how the coaches have pared down the playbook, keeping it simple and stressing execution. Her end-of-game rotations have tightened.
“The players are more comfortable,” Reeve said. “There is a comfort level having played together more. It’s just familiarity.”
In the 20 games before the All-Star break, the Lynx had a net rating of plus-1.3, meaning they outscored opponents by 1.3 points per 100 possessions. But in the fourth quarter, they had an offensive rating of 89.4 and a defensive rating of 101.8, a net of minus-12.4.
In the 12 games since the break the Lynx have a 105.7 offensive rating in the fourth quarter — their best of any quarter — and a defensive rating of 97.8. That’s a plus-7.9.
And that’s a big turnaround.
The individual numbers bear this out as well. Sims had a fourth-quarter net rating of minus-16.6 before the All-Star break, plus 12.0 since. Napheesa Collier has gone from minus-9.8 to plus-18.1, Fowles from minus-8.0 to plus-15.8.
“We were passing up a lot of shots,” Fowles said. “Sometimes that’s a good thing. But sometimes it can be a bad thing. So we let each other know it’s OK to miss a shot if you’re open. We’re playing for each other, and we’re holding ourselves accountable.”
A young team with new guards Sims and Lexie Brown and a rookie forward in Collier who is playing the most minutes on the team needed time to gel. Collier, in particular, has grown into her role as a go-to player.
Reeve said the coaches looked hard at substitution patterns, making sure players weren’t tiring down the stretch. The rotation was tightened and Reeve has been more likely to stick with someone who is hot — like Brown was Sunday — than make a substitution for someone who’s not.
“Those shortcomings in the early part of the season caused us to take deep dives into what we were doing,” Reeve said.
The bottom line is a team heading into it’s final two games with a four-game winning streak and a lot of confidence.