A double-digit Lynx lead was down to two and there was less than a minute left when the Phoenix Mercury got the ball to DeWanna Bonner, the hottest player on the Target Center floor Thursday night.
She had scored 25 points so far, 12 in a fourth quarter in which the Lynx offense had gone into a deep freeze. Bonner had the ball on the wing, guarded by rookie Napheesa Collier. With the shot clock winding down, Bonner put up a three-pointer. Lunging, Collier blocked it.
Moments later, out of a timeout, Bonner had the ball again. The Lynx sent Collier some help and tried to trap her. As the clock wound down, Bonner was forced to attempt a step-through, off-balance three that went long.
Lynx 58, Mercury 56.
A rookie on one of the WNBA’s best scorers? Give this one to Collier.
“I was just trying to keep her in front of me,” Collier said. “I know she likes to do a lot of shot fakes, up and under things. So, staying down, being calm.”
After three strong showings to start the season, the Lynx found themselves defenseless in Seattle in a Tuesday loss.
But that defense returned Thursday in a big way as Minnesota improved to 4-1.
On a night when the Lynx’s offense — quite clearly a work in progress — was at times difficult to watch, their defense was a thing of beauty. By some numbers:
• The Mercury’s 56 points was a season low, and the lowest by a Lynx opponent this year. The Mercury scored only 19 points in the second and third quarters combined.
• After surrendering the lane in Tuesday’s loss, the Lynx locked it down, holding Phoenix center Brittney Griner to only three shots (and four points) and the Mercury only 18 points in the paint. The Lynx had a 35-25 rebounding edge.
• The Mercury (1-2) shot 36.8%. The league’s best three-point shooting team entering the game, Phoenix made only six of 26 Thursday.
“We left whatever that was in Seattle,” Reeve said, joking that the screening process at the airport had returned the team’s defense. “We took it back with us. To this point, it is what has carried us. When we’ve played it, we’ve won. And when we didn’t, we didn’t.”
The offense? Well, Reeve noted that assistant Shelley Patterson, in charge of the offense, has promised improvement.
But Thursday it was enough. Odyssey Sims led the Lynx with 15 points. Lexie Brown came off the bench to score a career-high 12; she had five of the Lynx’s nine fourth-quarter points (yes, only nine), including a three-pointer mid-quarter. Center Sylvia Fowles had 10 points and six rebounds while battling Griner.
The Mercury started strong, with Bonner scoring seven points in a 9-2 start. But over the next 26-plus minutes, the Mercury went 5-for-23 and scored only 15 points. Even an offense that’s struggling a bit can take advantage of that and the Lynx did, pushing their lead to 40-24 midway through the third quarter.
From there, the Lynx basically held on. Bonner got it going again in the fourth, scoring 12 as the Lynx’s lead was whittled down. Collier took over responsibility for covering her when a Mercury substitution moved Bonner to small forward with three minutes left. Bonner scored only two points after the switch.
“Collier rises up for those situations,” Reeve said. “I thought she did a great job.”
Reeve said everything on offense is up for review. Is she calling the right plays? Are they putting players in the best position to succeed? Is scheme or execution to blame when they don’t?
“Anything is on the table,” Reeve said.
But having a shutdown defense can help while trying to revive the offense.
“We did want to come out and redeem ourselves defensively,” Fowles said. “We do know our defense gets us going.”