On Tuesday night the offense came and went, but the Lynx defense was rock-solid.
It was both necessary — and, to coach Cheryl Reeve and her players, something of a relief.
Sunday the Lynx were scorched by the L.A. Sparks, whose 65.5% shooting was the best by a Lynx opponent. Ever.
Tuesday? The Lynx defense was so good that even the worst offensive quarter in team history couldn’t stop Minnesota from breezing to a 68-48 victory over Washington at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“It was the focus,” Lynx forward Napheesa Collier said. “It’s something we’ve talked about throughout the year, but especially [at Tuesday’s] shootaround. [Reeve] kind of gave us the numbers about how we’ve really fallen behind on what we want to do defensively. So it’s what we really wanted to lock into.”
To be fair: The talented Sparks and the coronavirus-depleted Mystics are in different places these days. After a surprising 3-0 start to the season, Washington has lost five in a row.
But the defense was a focus. Reeve wasn’t pleased with her team’s defense and defensive rebounding even in an 87-80 victory over Indiana last Friday. And then Sunday, the Sparks were ridiculously efficient, including a 13-for-22 performance on three-pointers.
Not so much Tuesday. The 48 points were the least allowed by the Lynx since New York scored 47 in August of 2013. Washington’s 29.5% shooting — the Mystics were 4-for-19 (21.1%) on three-pointers — was the lowest by a Lynx opponent in four years.
It was so different from Sunday. This time the Lynx denied the ball in the paint. There was good pressure on the perimeter. And, Tuesday, the help defense was there.
“We weren’t happy,” Reeve said. “And we were 11th in defensive rebounding. So that was our focus. If you want to be a special team, you can’t be 11th in defensive rebounding, period. You can’t be easy to play against. We talked about that.”
It helped that Sylvia Fowles — who missed her second game Sunday because of a sore calf — was able to play. She had 16 points and 13 rebounds in only 25 minutes.
The Lynx were up five in the second quarter when the rookies roared. Crystal Dangerfield and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan each had seven points in a 16-0 finish to the first half that had the Lynx up 48-27.
And then the third quarter happened. The Lynx scored four points. They shot 2-for-20. Washington outscored them by 13 to cut that lead to eight. But it could have been worse. Even with the offense struggling, the defense was smothering, holding Washington to 6-for-17 shooting.
Then Fowles came out in the fourth and scored six points in a 10-0 run and the Lynx were in control for good.
“It was something we stressed coming into this game,” Fowles said of the defense. “Coach broke some things down for us.”
The Lynx, who will battle 6-2 Las Vegas for second place Thursday, should have guard Odyssey Sims available for the first time. Out of quarantine and having served her two-game suspension, Sims will add to what has been a surprisingly effective Lynx backcourt.
The Star Tribune is not traveling to Florida for NBA and Lynx coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.