The Lynx, coming off Friday’s loss in Chicago, didn’t practice Saturday. But, as assistant coach Shelly Patterson said, the coaching staff was already planting the seed with Rebekkah Brunson:
You’re going to be the one to stop Sophia Young-Malcolm.
Saturday morning, at shoot-around, the same challenge was issued. By the time Sunday night’s game against San Antonio started, Brunson, perhaps the most versatile defender on the team’s roster, was ready.
In Minnesota’s 66-49 victory, a bunch of numbers stand out. Like the six points the Stars scored in the first quarter, or the 49 points they finished with, or their 29-percent shooting, all three the lowest by a Lynx opponent this season.
Look at Brunson’s line — four points, five rebounds — and you might think she had a so-so game. You’d be so wrong.
Brunson was leader for a team that absolutely stymied a Stars team that — with some of their perimeter players hurt — had taken to pounding the ball down low.
Guarding Young-Malcolm — who had scored 27 points two nights before and had averaged 18.8 points and 57.7 percent shooting over her last four games — Brunson was the lead player on a Lynx defense that was as impressive as it’s been all year.
Brunson helped keep Young-Malcom scoreless in the first quarter, and limited to four points overall on 1-for-8 shooting.
As a result, a Stars team that had been living in the paint, were never really in the game.
Maya Moore scored 20 points with nine rebounds and three assists, getting 20 or more for her fourth consecutive game. Seimone Augustus scored 12 in just 19 minutes; one-sided games are a perfect time to get rest. The Lynx got quality minutes from Anna Cruz, Devereaux Peters and Tricia Liston off the bench.
But it was defense that beat the Stars (3-10), who dropped to 0-7 on the road.
When the Lynx are at their best, defensive stops turn into fast-break points. Sunday the Lynx started the game on a 15-2 run and were up 20-6 when the quarter ended, thanks to San Antonio’s 2-for-16 shooting and 12 Lynx fast-break points.
With Kayla Alexander and Kayla McBride both hurt, the Stars had become a post-centric team, averaging 40 points in the paint in the three games before Sunday. But the Lynx held them to 14-for-38 shooting and 28 points in the paint.
Much of that had to do with Brunson.
“Brunson is our best defender,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.
Added Moore: “We tried to set the tempo, starting with Rebekkah Brunson.”
To Brunson, it was just the sort of challenge she loves.
“I do,” she said. “I appreciate that [Reeve] had that much faith in me. That she’ll say, ‘Hey, this is a player that’s been going off for them, and we believe in you.’ I tried to make everything tough for her tonight.”
And that trickled down the Stars roster. After the Lynx opened the second half on an 11-2 run to go up 22 points, the game was all but decided. Darica Hamby (13 points) was the only Stars player in double figures. It says something about a team’s defense that the Lynx could tie their season low in points and still win by 17 points.
The victory moved the Lynx (9-3) back into a virtual tie for first place in the WNBA’s Western Conference, percentage points ahead of Tulsa (10-4). Tuesday the Lynx will travel to Connecticut to play the Sun, which is first in the Eastern Conference. They’ll need another defensive effort on a par with this.
Time to call Brunson, who also had two assists, three steals and a block Sunday.
“Brunson on Young-Malcolm was nothing short of impressive,” Reeve said.