Since the July trade that brought her back to Minnesota, Renee Montgomery has been waiting for this, praying for this, preparing for this.
“I just needed one big game,” she said. “I’m happy it happened at a big time.”
With Seimone Augustus already out because of a foot injury, and with Lindsay Whalen out of the final 2 ½ quarters of Sunday’s game because of bursitis in an ankle and pain in an Achilles’ tendon, Montgomery took advantage of her opportunity to score 11 of her 15 points in the second half — including eight in the fourth quarter — as the Lynx rallied for a 71-61 victory over the Phoenix Mercury at Target Center.
Yes, it was big. The Lynx entered the game having lost two consecutive and four of their past five. Phoenix entered the game just two games behind the Lynx in the WNBA’s Western Conference. The victory helped the Lynx (20-10) avoid a losing record in August and moved them three games ahead of the Mercury (17-13) with four regular-season games to play.
But it wasn’t only Montgomery. Or Maya Moore, who fought through double teams to score 28 points with nine rebounds, five assists and four steals. Or center Sylvia Fowles, who ground down Phoenix star center Brittney Griner, holding her scoreless in the second half.
It was a team effort. Montgomery and Anna Cruz played great perimeter defense in the second half. Moore battled all night. The Lynx, down by as many as seven points in the first half, came back for a victory that, yes, was important.
“We’ve been working towards this, what happened today,” said Cheryl Reeve, who coached her 200th Lynx game Sunday. “Our cohesion might have been at a season high. It was a collective effort. … When you do that, it’s tough to break a team that connected.’’
Phoenix tried. The Mercury, which got 15 points from DeWanna Bonner, 14 from Candice Dupree and 13 points, seven rebounds and nine blocks from Griner, shot 55.6 percent while building a 39-34 halftime lead.
But, without Whalen, the Lynx changed the narrative. Despite struggling with their shooting much of the game, the Lynx stepped it up on defense, holding the Mercury to 30 percent shooting in the second half, only 4-for-15 in the fourth quarter.
Fowles, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds, outscored Griner 10-0 in the second half. Montgomery came through. And Moore battled all night.
“Everyone was communicating, on the same page,” Moore said. “We were very connected. Locked in. Awesome body language. Just really determined.’’
A 10-2 run to start the third quarter gave the Lynx their first lead. Down two entering the fourth, Montgomery hit a two-pointer and then a three-pointer. Moments later a 13-foot jumper from Moore put the Lynx up for good; Minnesota would spend the rest of the quarter pulling away.
For Montgomery, the former Lynx player and former college teammate of Moore at Connecticut, there will be more opportunity in the short run. Reeve said Whalen is unlikely to play the rest of the regular season. Whalen has been dealing with the pain in her ankle and Achilles’ for a while. Midway through the second quarter Sunday it became too much.
The good news? She is expected back by the playoffs. Ditto for Augustus. Injuries, scheduling and adjusting to the midseason additions of Fowles and Montgomery took their toll.
“We probably wouldn’t have done that, for a variety of reasons, before this,” Reeve said of her team’s perseverance. “We have to bottle this. It was important. Good riddance to August.”