Professional Basketball

Lynx Crowned 2024 Commissioner’s Cup Champions


Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier shoots over the outstretched arms of New York Liberty guard Leonie Fiebich during Tuesday’s WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship game at UBS Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Napheesa Collier scored 21 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished three assists and made three steals to take home the MVP honors as the Minnesota Lynx defeated the New York Liberty 94-89 in front of an announced crowd of 7,015 at UBS Center in Elmhurst, New York on Tuesday night.

The visiting Lynx sent a message right after the opening tip. Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu scored on a layup just ten seconds into the contest, but the Lynx responded with a 7-0 run with a midrange jump shot from guard Courtney Williams, a jump shot from guard Kayla McBride, and a three-pointer from forward Bridget Carleton.

The Liberty bounced back, showing why they are the first place team from the Eastern Conference. Three pointers from Ionescu, guard Betnijah Laney-Hamilton, and forward Kayla Thornton gave the Liberty a 13-11 lead with 3:56 remaining in the opening quarter.

Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot made her first appearance for New York, after missing eight games in order to be with family upon the passing of her mother, Jan, who passed away June 15 after a two-year battle with multiple myeloma. She scored a mid-range jump shot with 2:13 remaining in the first quarter to give the Liberty the 20-15 lead.

The five-point lead was quickly erased with a layup from Lynx forward Dorka Juhasz and a three-pointer by McBride, to tie the game at 20-20.

Again the Liberty tried to show their Western Conference rivals that the game was being played in their house. New York guard Kennedy Burke made a layup and a three-point shot, while forward Breanna Stewart, appearing in her third Commissioner’s Cup championship game, scored her second layup of the game. The Liberty took a 27-20 lead, then Lynx forward Cecilia Zandalasini hit a jump shot and was fouled by New York guard Leonie Fiebish. Zandalasini made the free throw for the three-point play. New York led 27-23 at the end of the first quarter.

New York Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot attempts a layup over Minnesota Lynx guard Courtney Williams during the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship game at UBS Center. This was Vandersloot’s first game after missing the last eight for personal reasons. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Zandalasini show continued at the beginning the second quarter. She hit a jump shot for two points, a three-pointer and was fouled by Vandersloot which gave her two more free throws. She made a personal 10-3 run to tie the game at 30-30 with 7:57 left in the half.

Thornton, who hit the three-pointer in the middle of the Zandalasini run, stopped the run with another three-pointer. After a Juhasz turnaround jumper, Ionescu went on a 7-0 run of her own with a jump shot, three-pointer and a running floater to give the Liberty the 40-32 lead.

Ionescu made a layup and then stole the ball on the next possession, driving the length of the court for a fast break layup. The Liberty now led 47-37, the 10 point lead being their largest of the game with 4:08 left in the half.

It was Minnesota’s turn to respond. Collier and Carleton each scored three-pointers and Collier added a jump shot for an 8-0 run which cut the deficit to two points. New York led 50-47 at halftime.

The Minnesota Lynx proved that they belong in the championship game by the way they handled the third quarter. They made several defensive adjustments which made life hectic for the Liberty. Minnesota scored 19 points in the quarter with three pointers from Carleton, Collier, Zandalasini and guard Courtney Williams.

The Liberty, meanwhile, were held to a mere 10 points, six of which game from the foul line. Stewart went 2-for-4 and shot three free throws for seven points total to lead her team during the quarter. New York went 2-for-13 for 15.4 percent, and turned the ball over seven times during that 10 minute span. Minnesota led 66-60 at the end of the third quarter.

New York Liberty center Jonquel Jones fouls Minnesota Lynx forward Bridget Carleton in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship game at UBS Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Minnesota continued to dominate when the fourth quarter began. Guard Natisha Hiedeman scored on a fast break layup, which was followed by another Zandalasini jump shot. It capped a 10-0 run that began in the third quarter. Minnesota now led 70-60 with 9:02 left on the clock.

Stewart, the MVP of the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup in 2021, took matters into her own hands to try to get the defending champions back into contention. She sank two three-pointers plus scored on a layup while getting fouled by Hiedeman. Her 9-0 run cut the Liberty deficit to a single point.

Williams responded with a jump shot. Lynx center Alanna Smith stole the ball from Ionescu and passed the ball to Carleton who scored a fast break layup. Liberty center Jonquel Jones fouled Carleton on the shot. The resulting free throw gave the Lynx the five-point lead.

The teams traded baskets over the next couple of minutes. Thornton and McBride exchanged three-pointers. Collier and Laney-Hamilton also made a couple of exchanges. When Carlton hit a three-pointer with 1:51 left on the clock, it appeared like the Lynx might have sealed the deal with the 88-77 lead.

New York bounced back with a 7-0 run yet again. Ionescu hit a layup, Jonquel Jones was fouled by Juhasz. The two free throws were her first points of the game. Then Laney-Hamilton hit a three-pointer. The score was now 88-84 with just 35.5 seconds left in regulation.

McBride was fouled by Stewart with 24.1 seconds left. Her two free throws made the score 90-84 leaving just a glimmer of hope left for New York.

Minnesota Lynx forward Cecilia Zandalasini shoots over New York Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot. Zandalasini, the last remaining member of the Lynx championship teams, scored 15 points in the effort. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

On the next possession, Ionescu missed a three pointer which was rebounded by Vandersloot. Courtney Williams grabbed the ball out of Vandersloot’s hands for the tie up with 15.1 seconds on the clock. Minnesota committed a lane violation which gave the Liberty possession.

Ionescu hit a floater with 7.1 seconds on the clock. Collier was fouled on the inbounds by Laney-Hamilton. Collier’s free throws put the Lynx up 92-86.

Collier ended up fouling Jonquel Jones who was trying to receive a deep pass down court. Jones made her first shot but intentionally missed the second. Stewart grabbed the rebound and scored on a put back layup. It was now a three-point game, 92-89, with less than two seconds left.

The Liberty had one final chance to force a turnover and a score. It ended up in a transition take foul by Laney-Hamilton that put McBride on the free throw line with just 0.3 seconds left. McBride converted both free throws to secure the Lynx 94-89 victory and their first WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship.

Minnesota was 33-for-69 (47.8 percent) from the field; 14-for-29 (48.3 percent) from three-point range, and a perfect 14-for-14 (100.0 percent) from the free throw line. They committed 11 turnovers that led to nine New York points.

“What an incredible game. Obviously it’s more incredible when you win, but it was an incredible game,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “What I’m proud of is that we answered every run on the road. That tells you everything about our basketball team.”

New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu scores on a floater during Tuesday’s WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship game at UBS Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Liberty went 31-for-69 (44.9 percent) from the field; 12-for-29 (41.4 percent) from three-point range, and 15-for-18 (83.3 percent) from the free throw line. They made 20 turnovers which led to 27 Lynx points.

“We’re our own worst enemy and yet we’re right there,” said Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. “It’s a good learning experience. We rebounded well, but the turnovers were our Achilles heel.”

“They lifted up their intensity. They were in more passing lanes. They made us speed up. They were playing with a little more poise, more physical,” she added when asked about why the Liberty only scored 10 points in the third quarter. “We tried to establish J.J. [Jonquel Jones] down low but we got too many turnovers and had to get away from it.  That was taking us out of the rhythm that we get there.”

New York held the 30-26 advantage in points-in-the-paint and 13-9 margin in second chance points. Minnesota led 20-6 in the fast break points category. There were seven ties and seven lead changes. New York’s largest lead was 10 while Minnesota’s was 11 points.

“We have a level of toughness. When we show up, people aren’t afraid of us, but our level of toughness I’ll put up against anybody,” said Reeve.

The Lynx were led by 23 points from Bridget Carleton and 21 points from Napheesa Collier, who was named the game’s most valuable player. Cecilia Zandalasini added 15 points, Kayla McBride scored 12 and Courtney Williams chipped in with 11 points. Collier and Alanna Smith each grabbed six rebounds to lead the Lynx, while Williams dished out eight assists.

Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier was named most valuable player of the 2024 WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship game. She had 24 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 1 block in the effort. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“Obviously this game meant a little more,” said Carleton. “Every game’s important but obviously there’s a lot on the line tonight. I have so much trust in my teammates and my teammates have trust in me. They found me in good places, especially in the first half, and I got hot. Then I was confident in the second half to shoot my shot. That’s the way we’ve been playing all season.”

Breanna Stewart led the Liberty with 24 and Sabrina Ionescu added 23 points. Kayla Thornton added 17 points and Betnijah Laney-Hamilton scored 13 points. Jonquel Jones pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds, while Laney-Hamilton led New York with six assists.

“They executed better than us. Really, that’s it, on both ends of the floor,” said Stewart. “We weren’t able to get anything that we wanted, and they kept finding, no matter who it was, one of their players – corner three, late shot clock three, late shot clock something, and that’s going to make it difficult for us. And 21 turnovers is never going to win the game.”

When Collier was awarded the MVP trophy, she really thought that it should have gone to Carleton. Nonetheless, Collier knows that this is a team game and there is more work to do.

“We’re not even halfway through the season. There’s a lot of games to be played and we want to build upon this. We don’t want to peak here,” said Collier. “We’re locked in for our game. We’ve got another one in two days. It’s at noon, so it’s like a day and a half, really, with travel. This is amazing, but at the end of the day, we have some things that we want to do. We want to achieve bigger things at the end of the season.”

Minnesota Lynx players Napheesa Collier (L), Kayla McBride (C) and Dorka Juhasz (R) celebrate their 2024 WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship at UBS Center on Tuesday. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Those bigger things including winning the WNBA Championship. Minnesota won four championships, the last coming in 2017, but only Zandalasini remains from that squad. Collier was drafted in 2019. Still, winning the Commander’s Cup brings on some legitimacy for Reeve, who feels that the team is being overlooked by most media members.

“You got to talk about us. Now you got to say, we just beat a Superteam. Do you know how hard that is to do?” she said addressing the media pool at UBS Center. “Because you guys love your Superteams, man. You love your Superteams. That’s all you want to talk about is your Superteams, right? Well, we just beat a Superteam. Let’s talk about it.”

Regarding Zandalasini, Reeve told a story.

“So Diana Taurasi refers to her as ‘that effing Italian.’ Years ago when D [Taurasi] was playing overseas, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we had signed her, that she was coming over. Well, that effing Italian was really good tonight,” Reeve laughed.

The Lynx held the customary champagne shower in the locker room after the game. Now that the page is turned, both teams know that it is back to regular season business.

The Minnesota Lynx (13-3) travel to the Dallas Wings (3-13) for a Thursday matchup beginning at Noon CT. The New York Liberty (15-3) hosts the Atlanta Dream (6-9) at Noon CT on Sunday. Minnesota and New York will meet again in New York on July 2 at 6 p.m. CT from Barclays Center. After the Commissioner’s Cup, it might be a preview of a potential playoff matchup.

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