Minneapolis, Minnesota- Minnesota returned home Wednesday night, ready to ail their two-game losing streak that tarnished their perfect 13-0 start to the season.
The Lynx were coming off their worse loss of the season, 87-63, Sunday night against the Washington Mystics.
While humbled, Minnesota entered tonight's matchup against a steady New York Liberty team, confident, and ready to silence any doubt there may be that they aren't worth all the early season hype.
Disclaimer: That Lynx confidence was heightened when news broke that Liberty's shining star and scorer, Tina Charles, would be sidelined for tonight's game. Charles broke her nose back on June 22 against the Atlanta Dream, which required a medical procedure.
Though New York would play without Charles, Liberty Head Coach Bill Laimbeer remained confident in his lineup and their style of play.
"We're competitors," said Coach Laimbeer, "We compete. Everyone knows their roles on this team, and they execute."
The two that stepped into their roles early were Liberty center Amanda Zahui B, and a familiar face to Target Center, Liberty guard Sugar Rodgers.
Rodgers, head down, got to work when she drained her first three-point shot of the night off an assist by Zahui B. Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen, responded with a jumper of her own to make it 4-5.
However, Rodgers made it clear quickly that her exponential numbers this season had no signs of crashing, as she hit a pair of three-point shots, with the third one coming off an assist by center Carolyn Swords, to give New York a comfortable lead midway through the first, 15-6.
Feeling uneasy, Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve called a timeout, knowing they could not fall behind early like they did in Washington a few days earlier when they were outscored 13-33 in the first quarter.
Minnesota guard Renee Montgomery and center Sylvia Fowles reacted. Fowles, who was limited to 13 points in her last outing, hit back-to-back layups, paired with Montgomery's two-point shot to tie up the game with a little over a minute left in the first, 19-19.
But New York center Kiah Stokes, who has struggled as of late from outside, put up her first two points to close out the quarter with the Liberty up 21-19.
The second quarter showcased, that while Charles may be out, Laimbeer's roster has depth. Most notably, was guard Shavonte Zellous and Zahui B, who combined had 13 of New York's 24-second quarter points.
"This is something we told Amanda when she got here," said Zellous, "that we were looking for her to be a big presence and be able to give Tina at least a two, three-minute sub break. Tonight was one man down so another one had to step up and [I] give credit to all us [for] pushing Amanda, cause she worked extremely hard every day in the gym to do what she did today."
Zahui B steadily created space for the Liberty with a pair of jumpers, made worse by Zellous' layup to give New York a 34-26 lead.
But any nerves the Lynx may have had were calmed when Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus, finally found the basket late in the second.
Augustus, who had gone 278 consecutive games with a basket, had fallen silent for the last five quarters (dating back to their last game), remaining scoreless until she hit a jumper off an assist by Rebekkah Brunson to bring the Lynx within four, 32-36.
A much-needed intermission proved necessary to cure Minnesota's deficit, and more importantly put an end to their two-game losing streak that loomed.
Reeve prescribed the same medicine she turned to all season, Lynx forward Maya Moore. While New York had been successful in containing Moore in the first half, she becomes almost intolerable in the third quarter.
Moore wasted no time ripping the Band-Aid off, tacking on seven points in a little under two minutes to start the second half, putting the Lynx up 50-47.
"The third quarter was great for us," explained Moore, "just a combination of defense and offense."
Rodgers six points in the quarter would keep the Liberty in contention, but Moore refused to be shown up by her former teammate.
"I was just being aggressive," said Moore, "knowing we needed to pick it up and my teammates and I did a good job of executing what we were trying to do. We had a good rhythm and combine that with some pretty solid defense."
Moore hit a jumper off an assist by Natasha Howard, but more impressively was Moore on a coast-to-coast assist to Howard, who got the layup to give the Lynx their biggest lead of the night, 68-58.
An impressive stat is the Lynx are 124-8 when leading after three quarters of play dating back to 2011. And Minnesota was leading after three-quarters, substantially- 72-60.
Things became bleaker for New York, when Moore hit her 21st point of the night to give Minnesota a 15-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, 81-66,
Moore combined her offensive strike with her defensive prowess, displayed on the block that stuffed Liberty guard Brittany Boyd's driving layup, leaving the ball lifeless and shrinking New York's window for redemption.
However, if anyone should know that all hope isn't lost until the final buzzer sounds, it's Moore, especially with Rodgers on the other side of the ball.
The pesky Liberty hung on, desperate to beat one of the best teams in the league and continue their winning ways.
New York went on a late 15-3 run, with Rodgers hitting a three-point shot to bring the Liberty within reason, 75-81. But it was her 25th point of the night that would matter most.
Rodgers on an assist by Tanisha Wright stepped back with the final seconds of regulation ticking down. Calm, composed, and locked in, she hit the three-point shot to tie the game and send the game into overtime at 83-83.
It should have been Minnesota's night, but New York was simply more prepared for the moment at hand. As they entered their sixth overtime this season, the most by any team this year.
The scale tinkered in the additional five minutes of play, with Fowles striking first for Minnesota, refuted by Zellous' jumper to keep things even at 85-85.
"Well I think we like overtime," said Zellous. "This is our sixth game in overtime, but in the end, we executed well. We knew we were down our best player in Tina Charles, and everyone came in here, and everyone contributed when they had the opportunity to."
But it was Rodgers who made tonight her own personal homecoming, one to be sure Minnesota was not happy about. As Wright, off a steal from Brunson, found Rodgers at the other end. Rodgers, ball in hand, and the final 90 seconds dwindling down. She let the ball fly.
In front of her old home crowd, alongside her former teammates, dancing against the likes of Moore all night, she would find the basket, and give New York just enough to get the win, 95-92.
"It would be an understatement to say that was incredibly disappointing," said Coach Reeve, "I'm sure that Sugar Rodgers enjoyed handing us 30 points - I'm sure she enjoyed that."
Rodgers finished the night with a career high of 30 points, along with two blocks, two assists, and three rebounds. However, Coach Reeve is not giving all the credit to Rodgers, putting the blame elsewhere.
"For 13 games we were pretty good," said Reeve, "but I've got to tell you, offense was a big Band-Aid through a lot of that. We're going to come out and score 11 in the fourth quarter - and not even get a shot off at the end of the game. It's obviously coaching, and I have to do better."
Minnesota (13-3) will look to bounce back and break their now three-game losing streak when the struggling San Antonio Stars (3-12) come to town on Saturday.