Tuesday night at Target Center, the Lynx played a Phoenix team so in need of a victory that one could practically see the desperation oozing from the players’ pores.
The Mercury held the Lynx to 37-percent shooting. The Lynx were outrebounded and allowed 46 points in the paint.
And, of course, they won.
In front of a crowd that went from disgruntled to deafening, the Lynx kept their heads up and ultimately wore the Mercury down, winning 89-81 on a night when nothing went right early but little went wrong late.
“If you told me we’d shoot 37 percent vs. Phoenix I’d say we lose by 20,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I was proud of our team, just finding a way.’’
Rebekkah Brunson’s grit saved the Lynx in the third quarter, and center Sylvia Fowles’ fourth-quarter scoring burst — coming with Phoenix center Brittney Griner on the bench with five fouls — put Minnesota over the top, pushing the Lynx to 8-0 after a three-game season sweep of the 2-6 Mercury. The Lynx followed a season-low 32 first-half points with a season-high 57 in the second, outscoring Phoenix 51-33 over the final 16:32.
It is the second-best start in franchise history; the 2012 team started 10-0.
Brunson scored eight of her 12 points in the third quarter, all coming during a 10-3 run after Minnesota had fallen behind by 10.
Fowles scored 21, with eight coming in a 12-0 run that put the Lynx up nine with 6:31 left.
Guards Renee Montgomery (18) and Jia Perkins (11) both scored in double figures off the bench. Brunson’s pass to a wide-open Montgomery with the shot clock winding down led to her three-pointer with 1:42 left that put the Lynx up eight and sealed the game. The Lynx had opened the game shooting 0-for-10, with three turnovers.
“We’re never going to put our heads down,” Brunson said. “We’re a resilient group. We know what it takes to win. Not everything is going to be easy. But we know, if we stick to our game plan, continue to play together and not get frustrated, then we have a good chance to get a win.’’
Griner and DeWanna Bonner led the Mercury with 14 points. But it was Griner’s foul trouble that might have been the difference.
Lynx guard Seimone Augustus was lost with 8:44 left in the third quarter when, while taking a shot, it appeared she took a Sonja Petrovic elbow to her head. Augustus is now in the WNBA’s concussion protocol. Within a few minutes, the Mercury’s lead grew from six to 10.
Enter Brunson. In the ensuing 10-3 run, the Lynx found a rhythm and Griner got in trouble. She picked up her fourth foul and was benched. But, with the Mercury lead down to one, Mercury coach Sandy Brondello gambled and put Griner back in with 2:04 left in the third quarter.
Less than a minute later, Griner got No. 5 and had to sit starting the fourth. And that’s when Fowles took over. With the Lynx down three, Fowles had consecutive three-point plays. Moore hit a 17-footer, then Fowles scored again. In all, she scored 10 points while Griner watched, taking full advantage.
“Yeah, why not?” she said. “At that point in time, it was my time to take over the game. And my teammates had an understanding of how to get me the ball.”