Professional Basketball

McBride, Collier lead Lynx to victory, Sun-Lynx series tied 1-1


Connecticut Sun guard Rebecca Allen attempts a three-pointer over the outstretched arms of Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier during Sunday’s Game 2 of the WNBA Playoffs first round series at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Faced with playoff elimination, the Minnesota Lynx struck back against the Connecticut Sun in front of 6,673 at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday afternoon. Their 82-75 victory forces a Game 3 in the Round 1 playoff series set for Wednesday night at Target Center.

Unlike Wednesday when the Sun came out with intensity and ground the Lynx into an insurmountable 30 point deficit, the Lynx started strong out of the gate. Connecticut guard Rebecca Allen attempted to keep the magic going from Wednesday’s game by launching a three-point attempt. She missed the shot and Lynx forward Napheesa Collier came down with the rebound. Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman fouled Lynx forward Dorka Juhasz on the layup attempt. Juhasz made one of two free throws for the game’s first point. Minnesota had a 1-0 lead with 9:31 left on the clock. Thirty seconds later, Collier scored on a layup extending the lead to 3-0.

Connecticut guard Tiffany Hayes connected on a long jumper, followed by a layup by Sun forward DeWanna Bonner, which gave Connecticut a 4-3 lead. It was short lived when Lynx guard Tiffany Mitchell scored a layup to put the visiting team back in front.

Collier, who was hard on herself in the Game 1 loss for not doing enough, asserted herself into the game more. She hit a turnaround fadeaway jumper, stole the ball from Bonner, and then scored on a layup. With the score 9-6 in favor of Minnesota, Collier had scored six of her team’s points and there was still 6:53 left in the first quarter.

The Sun showed just how dangerous they are. After Collier hit another shot to put the Lynx up 13-8, Bonner scored on back-to-back triples to give the Sun a 14-13 lead with 4:16 left in the quarter. This was answered by a 7-0 Lynx run sparked by a three-pointer by guard Kayla McBride. When the quarter ended, Minnesota led 24-21.

Collier opened the second quarter with a jump shot, which was followed by a three-pointer by McBride. Bonner answered with a three-pointer of her own and Sun guard Tiffany Hayes made two free throws. Minnesota led 29-26 with 7:36 left in the half. It was the beginning of a 13-4 Connecticut run that found them leading 34-33 after a Bonner layup with 4:27 left in the second quarter.

Minnesota Lynx guard Kayla McBride shoots an open layup in the paint during Sunday’s WNBA First Round Game 2 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Sun guards Rebecca Allen (9) and Tyasha Harris (52) attempt to defend. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

McBride hit two three-pointers in the remainder of the quarter, which enabled Minnesota to stay slightly ahead of the Sun. Minnesota led 44-39 at the halftime break.

Collier continued to be persistent in the third quarter. She connected on two free throws after getting fouled on a shot, and then scored on a layup. Rebecca Allen and Tiffany Mitchell exchanged three-pointers, but then Collier went to the bench with 8:08 left in the third quarter with a mild back injury.

Minnesota was leading 51-44 when Collier left the game. The Sun took advantage of the momentary lapse. Hayes hit a jump shot and then forward Alyssa Thomas scored two free throws with 6:06 left in the quarter to make the score 51-48.

Collier checked back into the game which seemed to inspire her teammates. Minnesota went on a 12-0 run with a three-pointer by forward Bridget Carleton, a put back by guard Rachel Banham, and nine points from McBride, including her fifth three-pointer of the game. Minnesota led 61-48 with 3:01 remaining in the third.

If the Sun thought they were down, they certainly weren’t out. Thomas got the hot hand for Connecticut and willed her team back into it. She scored six points in an 11-0 run to end the quarter. Minnesota led 65-60 after three frames.

Bonner was injured after taking a blow to the right cheek just before the quarter ended. She checked back into the game a minute and a half into the fourth quarter, after a fadeaway shot by guard DiJonai Carrington extended the Sun run to 14-0 as Connecticut pulled to within two points, 65-63.

Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier and Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas fight for a loose ball during Sunday’s WNBA First Round Game 2 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Both teams then traded baskets. Minnesota went ahead by six, the Sun cut the deficit to three. Then suddenly the shots stopped falling for Connecticut. Allen missed a three-pointer. Bonner missed a three-pointer and then missed a layup. Carrington missed a put back. When all was said and done, Minnesota won the game 82-75 and tied the series 1-1.

Minnesota went 33-for-69 from the field (47.8 percent); 9-for-25 from three-point range (37.5 percent); and 7-for-10 in free throw shooting (70 percent). They committed nine turnovers that led to six Connecticut points.

“They [McBride and Collier] played great. When we play like this, we’re hard to beat. The other supporting cast for us, I thought they were solid. For us, it was about our defense. We were considerably better,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “From 0-6 to 40 minutes from the semifinals in the playoffs, what more could you ask for?”

Connecticut went 28-for-64 from the field (43.8 percent); 7-for-20 from three-point range (35 percent); and 12-14 from the charity stripe (85.7 percent). The Sun turned the ball over 11 times that led to 20 Minnesota points.

“[I’m] certainly disappointed that we weren’t able to close it out, but definitely not surprised at the way Minnesota came out and played,” said Sun head coach Stephanie White. “They [Minnesota] play with a lot of pride. They’re well-balanced. They’re well coached. They’ve got two vets who carry them in a big way. We expected them to bounce back and we just couldn’t match their energy and intensity play-for-play today.”

Kayla McBride led all scorers with 28 points. Napheesa Collier added 26 points for the Lynx and led all rebounders with 13. Dorka Juhasz dished out six assists to the lead Minnesota.

“This is what every athlete plays for – to play in the big moments and to play win or go home games and be able to have an impact,” said McBride.

Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner drives for a layup as Minnesota Lynx forward Dorka Juhasz defends during Sunday’s WNBA First Round Game 2 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Alyssa Thomas led the Sun with 26 points and DeWanna Bonner added 24. Thomas led the Sun with six assists while Rebecca Allen grabbed nine rebounds to lead her team.

“We didn’t come out ready to play. We knew what was at stake. Now, unfortunately, we have to go and play on their home court which is a tough thing to do,” said Thomas. “They outworked us. They hit us on the boards. They got transition points on us. We can’t let that happen. It takes a team out there. Everyone getting locked in and being ready to play. We can’t let things like that happen.”

Both teams know that it is a win-or-go-home game on Wednesday in Minneapolis.

For the Lynx, Reeve knows that she has to rely on her veteran players to set the pace.

“It’s kind of Batman and Robin, pick which night which one is which. Their chemistry and synergy is what this team feeds off of,” Reeve said pointing at McBride and Collier. “Much like Wednesday, the same thing is true. Their locker room is low, our locker room is high. Much like the last game, nothing matters that happened in Game 1 or Game 2 for Game 3. It’s a brand new situation and both teams will be ready to play on Wednesday night.”

White will also have to rely on her veterans to get through a challenging environment on the road.

“This is a veteran group. This is a group not used to anything being easy. Certainly when you look at the league this season, what does home court really mean? Anybody can win on any given moment,” said White. “We know it’s going to be a tough one. We know what the environment’s going to be like. We know that this team is really talented and we have to fix some things and adjust some things, but this team has gone on the road and won in tough environments with their back against the wall before. I expect us to come ready.”

The decisive Game 3 will be held at Target Center in Minneapolis on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT.

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