With about 5½ minutes left in the third quarter in Indianapolis on Friday night, Emily Engstler took a pass from Tiffany Mitchell and scored to put Indiana up nine on the Lynx. At that point, the Lynx looked very much like a team playing on the second night of back-to-back games on a day that began with a 7 a.m. flight out of the Twin Cities.
And then something happened.
Out of a timeout, with a lineup of mainly reserves, a team playing for the third time in four nights found some energy. A team that had been together since meeting at its Mayo Clinic Square headquarters at 5 a.m. got the job done.
Over the final half of the quarter, with Kayla McBride and Jessica Shepard leading the way, the Lynx went on a 24-5 run. They defended, got steals. They ran the floor, got some easy baskets.
They took a 10-point lead into the fourth and eventually won 87-77.
"Everybody is playing for playoff position, including us,'' said McBride, who scored a season-high 28 points. "Something just kind of clicked. We just decided to get stops, bear down, get back to what we do to make us successful, which is our defense and playing off of that.''
The Fever went 0-for-7 with three turnovers during that 24-5 run.
The win moved the Lynx (10-16), who have won seven of 10, up a notch to 10th place in the WNBA, but just a game behind Atlanta and Los Angeles, who are in a tie for eighth, the final playoff spot.
"That was a group that just brought the energy,'' said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve of a lineup that included McBride, Shepard, Rachel Banham and Natalie Achonwa for much of the run. "That second group gives us so much energy. They play the way we want to play, getting the ball moving, side to side, sharing it.''
Shepard scored all of her 11 points in the third, and finished with five assists, too. Sylvia Fowles scored 22 points with 12 rebounds in 29 minutes.
It was a redemptive night for McBride, who has been struggling of late. In Thursday's loss to Dallas she made two of 11 shots. It is a testament to how much she has grown this season, Reeve said, that McBride was able to let that game go. McBride said she talked with her younger sister, Karlee, before the game, and got some good advice, on both her shot and her approach: Focus on the details and forget about all the bad stuff.
Down nine, the Lynx scored 15 straight. It started with Shepard's two free throws. Then she hit a 13-footer. Achonwa got a block, which resulted in a McBride layup. A Fever turnover ended with McBride scoring on the break. And then Moriah Jefferson stole the ball and went in to put the Lynx up 53-52. As it turns out, for good. McBride then hit a three and Shepard a layup. Just like that, 15-0 in less than five minutes.
"We came out of that timeout and we knew we needed to get stops to go on a run,'' Shepard said. "It started with our defense.''
And while beating the last-place Fever (5-20), who have now lost eight straight might not seem like such a big surprise, consider the circumstances: the schedule, the fact that two of those five Fever wins came against the Lynx. Tiffany Mitchell finished with 18 points for Indiana, Kelsey Mitchell with 17.
"It's not easy playing back-to-back,| McBride said. "I just kept believing in myself. I know my teammates and coaches believe in me. Just keep grinding."
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.