Just 83 seconds into Thursday’s game against the Las Vegas Aces, Lynx center Sylvia Fowles took a step on the court, then came up lame. Her right calf — which had kept her out of two of Minnesota’s first eight games — was hurting again. Apparently, badly. She had to be helped off the court.
The game changed.
The hope now for the Lynx is that the season won’t change, too, should Fowles’ injury prove significant.
Fowles’ loss was a blow it took the Lynx the rest of the first half to recover from. By then the Aces were up 16, and the Lynx couldn’t get closer than nine the rest of the way, losing 87-77 in a battle for second place in the WNBA.
“It was the kind of blow you’d think it would be,’’ Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Losing one of the best players in the league, an MVP candidate? Obviously not ideal.’’
Reeve had no update on Fowles’ injury; one could come Friday. But it could be the Lynx (6-3) — now part of a three-way tie for third place — will have to learn to operate without her for a while.
It took a while Thursday, but the Lynx — on their heels in the wake of Fowles’ injury — appeared to figure out some things. Napheesa Collier had 21 points and 14 rebounds to go with two steals and a block. Crystal Dangerfield had 14 points and four assists. Two baskets each by Collier and Dangerfield had the Lynx within nine with 5:45 left in the game. Backup center Kayla Alexander had 11 points in 12 minutes. Damiris Dantas had nine points and a team-high seven assists.
“It’s a huge blow losing Syl,’’ Collier said. “She’s such a big part of our offense and our team. It hurt losing her. But it’s on us. We have to make the best of it. We did get on our heels a little bit [after the injury]. And obviously that hurt us.’’
The Lynx struggled to contain the paint-pounding Aces in the first half, when they got to the line 19 times. That improved in the second half.
But it wasn’t enough against one of the WNBA’s hottest teams. The Aces (7-2) won their sixth straight game.
The Aces led by 16 at the half and by nine early in the third quarter before a strong Lynx run pulled Minnesota within nine entering the fourth.
But Las Vegas wouldn’t let the Lynx any closer. Angel McCoughtry scored 21 points, A’ja Wilson had 23 and Kayla McBride scored 17 with five steals on a night when the Aces turned 19 Minnesota turnovers into 24 points.
Reeve was happy with Collier’s big game; more of that will be needed. “Without Sylvia, she’s it,’’ Reeve said. “For her to play so well, rebound the ball so well? Hopefully this is a game that really gets her going. Because we’re going to need it.’’
The Lynx will need a lot from others, too. Odyssey Sims played in her first game, getting 15 minutes, scoring a point with an assist. She should improve as she works off the rust. The Lynx will need contributions from Alexander and Erica McCall as well.
Afterward, Collier pledged to become even more of a leader. “I was the only captain on the court today,’’ she said. “I’ll work on being more vocal, just trying to keep us together, on the same page. I need to take more responsibility now.’’
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.