While the Phoenix Mercury were storming through the WNBA, the Minnesota Lynx were quietly keeping themselves within striking distance without their full complement of talent.
And in tonight's nationally televised game on NBA TV, the Lynx showed just how dangerous they can be at full strength by ending the Mercury's league-high 16-game winning streak with a 75-67 win in Minneapolis. Neither team played particularly well, but in a significant regular season game that got increasingly physical throughout the starters that had been missing for so long loomed large for the Lynx.
Playing just their third game with their full starting lineup after getting Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson back after the All-Star break, the Lynx shot just 37.7% from the field in the game and struggled to score in the third quarter. Yet in a game that wasn't quite as outstanding as fans might have hoped, Augustus' ability to create shots for herself in a variety of ways for 19 points was a major asset throughout the game despite her inefficiency. And Brunson's team-high 12 rebounds led an absolutely dominant rebounding effort by the Lynx that limited the Mercury to just two offensive rebounds all game.
And it was that interior play that really made a difference in the fourth quarter.
4Q decided it: MIN 23pts (8/16 FG 2/4 3ptrs) 11rbs PHO: 16pts (5/16 FG 1/7 3ptrs) 5rbs Plus PHO had 5 TO's for 8 MIN points.— Alan Horton (@LynxRadio) August 1, 2014
While the Lynx were able to move the ball to find high percentage shots, the Mercury often settled for jumpers and star center Brittney Griner became a non-factor offensively as she went just 1-for-1 in the fourth despite still finishing the game with a team-high 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting. With shots not falling and the Lynx dominating the boards - the Mercury didn't have an offensive rebound in the fourth quarter - the Mercury were facing an uphill battle.
And that's even without MVP candidate Maya Moore heating up to give Minnesota 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting in the final period to help hold off a Phoenix team that wasn't going to cede the league's longest winning streak easily.
It's only one regular season road loss in an otherwise dominant season for the Mercury, but the Lynx did send a message that all the caveats about them being at less than full strength to this point were justified - at the very least, they proved that they won't be giving up their title easily as the 2014 WNBA Playoffs near. More concretely, they're now on an eight-game winning streak of their own and just 1.5 games behind the first place Mercury in the Western Conference standings.