Arlington, TX — The Dallas Wings welcomed the Minnesota Lynx to College Park Center in Arlington, Texas for their home opener of the 2017 WNBA season with a new mascot and an enthusiastic crowd.
The Wings won the tip-off and a quick basket by Karima Christmas-Kelly put Dallas on the board first, but Minnesota immediately responded with a three-pointer from Maya Moore. The triple was only the beginning of Moore’s hot half as she tallied 16 in the first two stanzas.
Allisha Gray and her Wings teammates took a beat down from a monstrous Lynx defense that did not let up. In the first quarter alone, Gray was found sprawled on the floor with the entire lineup standing over her and later stunned to the jaw by an elbow, which jolted her head back causing Gray to propel backward.
Defended by the towers of Minnesota -- Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles -- the paint was troublesome to find for Dallas. Always shooting from afar, the young team struggled to gain offensive rebounds.
However, the Wings found a way to capitalize on Minnesota’s aggression: hitting free-throws. With Minnesota giving up six fouls, and two in the final minutes of the first, Dallas took the lead 21-20 heading into the second quarter.
One Dallas player who had a noteworthy performance in the second was Kayla Thornton in her seven minutes of play. She personally propelled the Wings on a run scoring nine points.
Even though Thornton jump-started Dallas’ offense, they did not retain the lead very long. The Lynx offense started to flow more as Minnesota outscored the Wings by 13 in the period. By the time halftime rolled around, the Lynx had started to leave Dallas in its dust with a 12-point advantage, 49-37.
“Definitely a game of runs,” said Moore. “Started out high-energy, we were trying to set the tone defensively, then fouled too much. Got them [Dallas] to the free-throw line, and I thought we did a good job in the second quarter, adjusting and not outing them on the free-throw line. That’s when we were able to open it up.”
Re-entering with confidence, the Wings captured the first four points of the third. Skylar Diggins-Smith stated, “We had to adjust to how (the refs) were calling the game. We got into a little flow, we got a little run, and we were able to get the crowd into it.”
Earnestly fighting, Dallas center, Courtney Paris found two baskets from underneath to get back within single-digits, 51-45, and then, their “little run” began. Rookie, Gray put up seven points, and the bench stepped up as well as the home team continued to chip away at Minnesota’s lead.
A three-pointer from Theresa Plaisance brought Dallas within one point, inching closer to the lead. Fowles did not sit back as the Wings made their comeback, knocking down two free-throws to put her point total at 19 late in the third.
As the only starter on the floor for Dallas, Diggins-Smith huddled her team with 46 seconds left in the third to unite. Sparked by the veteran’s pep talk, Kaela Davis drove to the basket, drawing a foul and continued her perfect record from the line. Once again Dallas’ deficit was only one-point again.
Before the period ended, Diggins-Smith heroically stole the inbound pass, passed to Plaisance who converted for a two-point basket giving the Wings back the lead going into the final stanza, 68-67.
The final period of play consisted of more lead changes. Following a steal from Glory Johnson, Diggins-Smith provided the Wings with their largest lead of the game, three points.
Eventually, Minnesota tied the game up yet again. Dallas’ Davis missed a three at the shot-clock buzzer and with one minute remaining, the score stood still at 86. The entire arena was on their feet for the final seconds.
Seimone Augustus banked in a jump shot for the Lynx with four seconds remaining on the clock. With a quick response, Diggins-Smith drove hard to the basket and while she missed the shot she did draw the foul and headed to the foul line.
Hoping to tie it once more, she hastily shot and missed the first. She quickly redeemed herself as she made the second free throw and pulled her team within one, 88-87, with a couple seconds left.
Immediately fouling, the Wings sent Moore to the line who shocked the crowd by missing her first attempt as well. She also redeemed herself on the second.
Dallas inbounded the ball to Gray, who was unable to clinch a shot over two Lynx defenders with 1.3 seconds remaining. Minnesota won its third game of the season, 89-87.
Despite getting handed their first loss, the Wings remain hopeful over growth shown. The Wings will have a shot at a rematch, June 11th again at home.
“It was a really exciting game,” said Dallas coach Fred Williams. “I thought our young ladies, especially our rookies really played well. They stepped up. We left too many second-chance points- loose balls, rebounds- we didn’t get a lot of those tonight. Playing against a team like Minnesota and those veterans that they have, they know how to get those.”
“We came down to the wire either way. Like I told the team, we just have to play through when the teams have a lead on us and I felt like we fought through that and made some big plays and almost came up with a victory. We came up a little short tonight.”