Sunday afternoon at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., the Phoenix Mercury, led by Diana Taurasi, came out and dropped Minnesota down a deep hole.
For the final 30 minutes of the game the Lynx tried to crawl out of that crater. With three starters on the bench over the final 4 ½ minutes of the game, they got within two points twice in the final 15 seconds but couldn’t close in an 83-79 loss.
It was just Minnesota’s second loss to Phoenix in the past 16 meetings. But the Lynx (10-5) don’t have time to dwell on it with the Los Angeles Sparks waiting for them Monday night.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve gave credit to the Mercury (9-7), which has won three straight since a 10-point loss to the Lynx on Aug. 21. But she was also blunt about how badly the first 10 minutes went, when the Lynx gave up their highest first-quarter point total (33) since 2016. The Mercury made 12 of 20 shots overall in the quarter and five of nine three-pointers.
“It was really disappointing,’’ Reeve said. “I thought we were prepared for being able to maybe try to answer some of the things they were doing. But you have to give them credit. They came out and lit us up. They flat-out lit us up that first quarter.’’
Taurasi had seven of her 23 points with five rebounds in that quarter. Skylar Diggins-Smith scored 13 of her 25 points in the fourth quarter.
After allowing 33 points in the first 10 minutes, the Lynx allowed just 32 over the final 20. But the hole was too deep, as bad as 22 points in the second quarter.
“In the first half we just didn’t stick to the scouting report,’’ said rookie Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, whose three-pointer with 14.5 seconds left pulled the Lynx within 79-77. “I felt the second half we came out with more energy and were able to fight back.’’
It was a different-looking group doing that fighting. Reeve put Odyssey Sims in for Bridget Carleton with 5:54 left in the game. At 4:33 she put Herbert Harrigan in for Napheesa Collier and Erica McCall in for Damiris Dantas, giving the Lynx a lineup with only two starters — Crystal Dangerfield and Lexie Brown — on the floor with the team down 10 points.
“Did you watch the game?’’ countered Reeve. “It wasn’t going well. … We actually got back in the game when those guys weren’t on the floor.’’
After scoring just five points through three quarters, Dangerfield had 15 in the fourth. When she scored at 2:26, it was a five-point game. Two free throws by Sims at 1:27 cut the lead to three. Herbert Harrigan’s three out of a timeout with 14.5 seconds left made it two.
But Diggins-Smith, who scored the Mercury’s final eight points, hit four free throws down the stretch.
Reeve’s personnel decision almost led to an epic comeback.
“As a coach you kind of get to that space where you go, do you stay with what’s working or do you change?’’ she said. “I felt the players on the floor deserved a chance to see if they could get us back over the hump.’’
The Star Tribune will not be traveling to Florida for NBA and WNBA coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.