Minneapolis, MN — The Minnesota Lynx are winners. Fact. It's what the defending WNBA Champions do best. With a combined 47 years of professional experience between the starters, any given game could see a different star steal the show. Tonight it was Lindsay Whalen's turn to take the reins.
With the WNBA season re-booted after the Olympic break, it was understandable that the Lynx weren't quite as refreshed and relaxed as the other teams. Whalen, along with teammates Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles did account for a quarter of the USA gold winning team in Rio, after all.
But with the season quickly drawing to a close and a battle for the top seed in the playoffs brewing between the Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks there was no time for fatigue or resting on their laurels. With a loss to Connecticut Sun in their season re-opener to avenge, Minnesota returned home to take down the Seattle Storm for the fourth time this season.
The Lynx bolted out the gates to an 11-0 start, ignited by six points from Fowles. The Storm eventually clawed its way back into the game, helped mostly by last season's Rookie of the Year, Jewell Loyd, and this season's likely recipient, Breanna Stewart. Seattle managed to end the first quarter down just five.
The first half pace was sluggish with the both teams juggling the lead. The Storm, however, managed to pick up some momentum in the final minutes of the half, going on a 7-0 run to leave the court up 47-41.
Minnesota Head Coach, Cheryl Reeve complimented Seattle's tough offense, but said her team also made it easy for them to score in the first half.
“It took everything we had to be able to gut out a win, which is what this league is like when we’ve got people vying for playoff positions and really, really hungry,” Reeve said.
“So I appreciated (it) after a first half that was probably sub-par for us.”
In the third quarter, the veteran Minnesota team schooled the young Seattle Storm. Whalen found a way to elevate her game in a way she hasn't been able to in recent seasons. She commanded the attention of the 12,000 people packed inside the Target Center with her relentlessness and dominance.
This was Whalen's game.
However she wanted this game to be played, Seattle had no choice but to play along.
Playing catch-up may be more accurate, as Whalen pushed the pace. Her take-over gained momentum as she launched herself to the basket and drew a foul for the three-point play late in the third quarter.
Her assertiveness persisted for the rest of the game, much to the Storms dismay. Whalen and her All-Star co-stars outscored Seattle by 14 in the quarter and their 34 points tied for the team's most points in a quarter this season.
Veteran Storm guard Sue Bird knows Whalen's tenacity, oh too well, with the pair being teammates just one week before in Rio.
“When she gets aggressive in transition and looks to push it, it builds her momentum, and it’s tough to stop her. She did a good job at that tonight,” Bird said.
The home crowd roared as Whalen picked up where she left off to start the final quarter. A blocked shot by Jia Perkins and an lob from Natasha Howard gave way for Whalen to fly straight to the basket. She took no prisoners adding another two points as the Storms saw its playoff hopes slip a little further away.
Whalen finished with a season-high 24 points off 60 percent shooting in the 92-80 take down over Seattle. Augustus added 18 points and for the second time, this season the pair combined for more than 40 points.
It was a big night for Rebekkah Brunson, too, who grabbed three offensive boards to overtake Taj McWilliams-Franklin for the most offensive rebounds on the league's all-time list. She played the feat off, saying it's just a bonus.
“It’s fun; I might send her (McWilliams-Franklin) a little message tonight,” Brunson had 10 total rebounds to help the Lynx outrebound the Storm 24-10 in the second half, while Fowles posted a double-double with 11 points and rebounds.
This Minnesota team shows no signs of slowing down. Against Seattle, it was Whalen's time to shine, but up next on Friday against the Washington Mystics it's anyone's guess which of the Lynx's stars will step up next to lead the charge.