Professional Basketball

Lynx outlast Dream in overtime


Atlanta Dream guard Allisha Gray (r) attempts to block a three-point attempt by Minnesota Lynx guard Kayla McBride during Friday’s game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine.

It was a decade ago, the last time the Minnesota Lynx and Atlanta Dream battled in the WNBA Finals for the right to be crowned WNBA Champions. Today the players are a lot younger as both teams have made it through a rebuilding effort, and on Friday they battled for a spot in the playoffs.

The atmosphere was highly charged and it took an overtime period in order to clear the air with the Lynx taking the 91-85 victory over the visiting Dream in front of an announced crowd of 7,114 at Target Center.

“I thought it was good playoff basketball. This is how things are going to be. Everybody’s fighting for their lives. Every little possession matters,” said Dream head coach Tanisha Wright. “We didn’t come out with the win today but I thought we showed great fight. This is playoff basketball where you have to make sure that every possession counts.”

At first it didn’t look like much. The Dream scored first with a four-foot bank shot by center Cheyenne Parker, but then the Lynx immediately pounced. With two defensive rebounds from forward Dorka Juhasz and a steal by guard Kayla McBride, Minnesota went on a 13-2 run and took a nine-point lead midway through the opening quarter. Dream forward Monique Billings answered Juhasz’s rebounds with two of her own plus a steal, and Atlanta was back in the thick of things. Atlanta led 21-20 at the end of the opening quarter.

Neither team could get separation as the second quarter began. There were three ties in the first two minutes, and Minnesota held a narrow 32-30 lead when the officials timeout occurred with 5:50 left in the half.

Minnesota went on a run with a three-pointer by McBride followed by rebounds and free throws by forward Nikolina Milic. The run gave the Lynx their largest lead, 43-34 with 2:49 remaining in the half.

But Atlanta had more to give. This time it was guard Rhyne Howard who led her team with two free throws and a putback layup. A putback layup by forward Naz Hillmon with a free throw after being fouled by Minnesota forward Bridget Carleton, brought the game to a 43-43 tie at halftime.

Minnesota Lynx forward Dorka Juhasz pulls a rebound away from Atlanta Dream forward Naz Hillmon during Friday’s game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Lynx forwards Napheesa Collier and Dorka Juhasz set a franchise record for being the only two players in franchise history to record more than 10 rebounds in the first half of a game. Several players have pulled down 10 rebounds in a half, but never had two players done it in the same half until now.

Both teams were locked and loaded coming out of the locker room. The third quarter featured five ties and neither team getting more than a four-point lead until Dream guard Aari McDonald scored on a cutting finger roll layup to give Atlanta a six-point lead with 1:48 remaining in the third.

Lynx guard Rachel Banham single-handedly answered with back-to-back three pointers to tie the game at 61-61. McDonald scored on a driving layup with just two seconds left to give Atlanta the 63-61 lead at the quarter break.

Parker began the final quarter of regulation on a solo 4-0 run, forcing Minnesota to call a 20 second timeout with 7:39 remaining.

The teams traded baskets for most of the quarter, which found Atlanta with a 74-67 lead with just 2:28 to go in regulation.

After Collier missed a three-pointer, Carlton grabbed the rebound and found Collier driving for a layup and an and-one after getting fouled by Howard on the play. Then Howard missed on a 19-foot jumper, which Carlton rebounded. Again, Collier cut in for a layup on an assist by Juhasz. Dream guard Allisha Gray missed an 11-foot jumper, which Carlton also rebounded but guard Tiffany Mitchell missed her open jumper.

Minnesota Lynx forward Diamond Miller attempts to drive along the baseline past Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard during Friday’s game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Parker was called for an offensive foul with 22.4 seconds left on the clock and the Dream leading by two. McBride scored on a driving finger roll layup with 11.1 seconds to ties the game at 74-74.

On the inbounds play, McBride fouled to stop the clock. Because Minnesota had a foul to give, there were no bonus free throws. Howard missed a 21-foot jump shot with 0.7 seconds left, which forced the overtime period. Atlanta did not score in the final 2:28 of regulation.

The overtime period became the Napheesa Collier show. She already scored five points in the 7-0 run to end regulation, but then scored an additional nine points in the overtime period. Turnovers, fouls and missed shots plagued Atlanta while Collier and the Lynx ran up the score. They held a nine point 87-78 lead with just 1:04 left on the clock.

The Dream made one final push as McDonald nailed a three-pointer to cut the deficit to six. McBride was fouled by Howard but only made one free throw with 34.7 seconds left.

“Thirty four seconds can seem like an eternity in this league, at least for us. I don’t know why that is,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.

Parker hit a four-foot bank shot and then Collier turned the ball over. Billings hit an easy two-foot jumper to cut the deficit to three, 88-85 with just 14.9 seconds left.

Billings fouled Mitchell, who converted two free throws, and Parker fouled McBride who converted two more. Minnesota won the game 91-85 when the final buzzer sounded.

“The game is supposed to be hard, where we’re at, what we’re trying to accomplish,” Reeve said. “McBride came out after we kind of got a little bit of separation and she’s like, ‘This is what it’s supposed to feel like, it’s supposed to feel like this.’ It’s hard. It challenges you mentally, challenges you physically. And you got to find a way to come out on top.”

Minnesota was led by 27 points from Collier and 20 points from McBride as the Lynx went 36-for-83 for 43.4 percent field goal shooting. They went 8-for-25 in three-point shooting (32 percent) and 11-for-15 in free throws (73.3 percent). Collier led all rebounders with 17 while Juhasz added 16 rebounds and six assists.

Atlanta Dream guard Allisha Gray attempts a short jumper during Friday’s game at Target Center. Gray scored 11 points for the Dream. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Atlanta was led by 20 points from Parker and 16 from Howard. Atlanta shot 32-for-88 in field goal shooting (36.4 percent), 5-for-19 in three point shooting (26.3 percent) and 16-for-20 (80 percent) from the charity stripe. Billings led the Dream with 10 rebounds.

Atlanta held a 46-44 margin in points-in-the-paint; 20-15 in second chance points; and 8-4 in fast break points. There were 11 ties and 13 lead changes.

“We had looks. We had opportunities throughout the game. We got the looks that we needed. We have to knock them in, and we have to be sharper in terms of our execution for playoff basketball,” said Atlanta’s head coach Tanisha Wright.

“This was a good game for us. It was a good game because with just the atmosphere and what the implication is. We didn’t win it but for us to understand this is going to be playoff basketball. We can go back. We can learn from it and look at different possessions where maybe we didn’t get the best shot or defensively we didn’t execute the defensive scheme,” she added.

Reeve knows that this is a good game for her squad as well.

“I think the team’s confident. We know what we have to do, it’s just can we do it? Can defense be something that gets us to a place where it helps us win a game?” Reeve asks. “I know they feel good about this win because it is meaningful in terms of playoff positioning. We can’t control what everybody else does. If we just win our games, easier said than done, but the idea of two home games this weekend – see what you can make of it. This was a good start to the weekend.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier finished Friday’s game with 27 points, 17 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in the game and is the seventh player in league history to finish with at least 25 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks in a game. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Collier, who finished with 27 points, 17 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in the game, is the seventh player in league history to finish with at least 25 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks in a game.

“Winning that way means a lot because you really fought for it,” said Collier. “Sometimes it’s kind of fun, honestly. One thing I love about basketball is how physical it is… it gets fun because you feel like you dug within yourself and you were really physical and you got that win.”

Juhasz scored 12 points, pulled down 16 rebounds, dished six assists and had no turnovers in the effort. She is the third rookie in league history to finish with at least 10 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. A’ja Wilson and Candace Parker are the other two.

“[I’m a] little exhausted but I feel like these are the games that are like, you put so much work in it throughout the whole season and it comes down to games like this that have a lot of meaning,” said Juhasz. All that work that you put in and after you win, it’s just a great feeling. I’m really happy that we were able to pull it out. I think that it was a good test for us as a group.”
The win puts Minnesota (18-19) in fifth place and a half game from clinching a playoff berth. The Dream (17-20) drops to seventh place, a half-game behind the Washington Mystics (17-19).

The Lynx host the Phoenix Mercury at 6 p.m. CT on Sunday at Target Center. A Lynx win or a loss by the Los Angeles Sparks (15-21) puts Minnesota in the playoffs. Atlanta is off until Wednesday when they host the Seattle Storm (11-26) at 6 p.m. CT. Seattle and Phoenix have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

Even though the playoff seeding has not been set as of yet, we can be assured that Minnesota and Atlanta are just as competitive as they were a decade ago and will be teams to keep an eye on during the upcoming postseason action.

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