For 37 minutes it had been a grind.
Bumps, bruises. In Sylvia Fowles' case, more: A dislocated finger on her left hand, put back in place during the course of a 20-second timeout, not slowing her a bit.
So, the Lynx and New York spent much of Sunday's game at Target Center trading figurative punches and swapping momentum.
Until: Coming out of a timeout with 2:58 left, the Lynx grabbed hold of the game and didn't let go. Bridget Carleton and Kayla McBride hit threes in an 8-0 run that put the Lynxup nine and in control for good in an 88-78 victory in front of 3,534 fans allowed, for the first time this season, to sit down by the court.
"That's what most games are,'' Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "Hang in there and make sure they don't go on any big runs. I just told them, 'Hang in there. We'll break through offensively.' ''
The Lynx (13-7) won for the first time in a month, coming out of the Olympic break. Still fourth in the WNBA, they are two games behind co-leaders Seattle and Las Vegas, with back-to-back games coming at third-place Connecticut.
That eighth consecutive victory was won in the final 2:58.
"The conversation went like, 'Don't let them do anything easy,' " said Fowles, who in her first game back after winning her fourth Olympic gold medal had 20 points with 11 rebounds, two steals and one dislocated index finger. She was talking about the conversation in the huddle during that late timeout. "Make them use screens so we can help. And make our own breaks. We didn't look back from that point forward."
They did not. In a game so close that neither team held a double-digit lead until McBride hit two free throws with 16.9 seconds left, the Lynx did what good teams do — grab games when it matters most.
Out of that timeout Carleton took a pass from Layshia Clarendon and hit a corner three. After a New York miss, Clarendon scored in the lane. Moments later, after another miss, with 1:30 left, McBride hit a 27-footer and it was 83-73.
Sunday, in her third game of a season slowed by a knee injury, New York center Natasha Howard scored 30 points in 30:06 of playing time. But she did not score in the final 3:42. Sami Whitcomb and Sabrina Ionescu combined for 26 points and 11 assists while running the Liberty's deadly pick-and-roll offense. But in the final 178 seconds New York went 2-for-8 and was outscored 14-5.
The final box shows Fowles with another double-double. Napheesa Collier with 18 points, 10 rebounds and a career-best five blocks. McBride with 16 points and 3-for-5 shooting from three.
But a Lynx team getting healthier got some key contributions elsewhere. Carleton, who played for Team Canada in Tokyo, scored five points, but all five came in that 14-5 run to end the game. Center Natalie Achonwa, back from Tokyo and back from a knee injury, had eight points, six in the fourth quarter.
After New York scored 65 points through three quarters on 48-percent shooting, the Lynx held the Liberty to 13 points and 6-for-17 shooting in the fourth.
"I like being healthy,'' Reeve said. "I really do. We have to play around with lineups, figure out the minutes.''
Reeve said her message was to forget that 7-0 roll into the break and focus on what was ahead. Thus, she was talking about her team's one-game winning streak after Sunday's game.
"Our energy is through the roof,'' Reeve said. "The days of practice we had [leading up to the game] were so fun to be around. It was our first time getting to that level with the team.''