A playoff atmosphere simmered in a regular season game between the Minnesota Lynx and San Antonio Silver Stars Tuesday night at Target Center.
Thanks to a close playoff series between the two last year, a rivalry has formed, with the Lynx taking the latest chapter in a 96-84 overtime win.
“It was mostly about settling in to our offense, play inside-out instead of trying to get everything from the perimeter,” said Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus.
Two players who needed little time to settle for the Lynx (20-4) were forwards Rebekkah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin.
Brunson, famous for chasing rebounds in any area of the floor, earned her third straight double-double with 17 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.
“I wasn’t the best scorer, but I did whatever I could to keep myself on the court. That included rebounding and defending. They became my staples,” she said.
McWilliams-Franklin had a season-high 19 points and seven rebounds, including five offensive boards to pass Yolanda Griffith for most career offensive rebounds. McWilliams-Franklin has 1,052 offensive rebounds for her career and remains second in the overall category.
“I’m really thankful that I’m still able to play and contribute. That record shows contribution to each team I played on. It just makes it all that much better to do it in Minnesota,” she said.
Augustus matched McWilliams-Franklin’s point total of 19, and Lindsay Whalen chipped in 15 points and eight rebounds.
The series is described as a “chess match” by writers, as Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve battles her wits with her former mentor and head coach of the Silver Stars (17-7), Dan Hughes. Throughout regulation, both coaches made several checks, but could not pull off a checkmate.
“They sure have been great games. When you get on the road, playing good teams and they reach that kind of intensity, you find out what you do well and what you don’t do well,” Hughes said.
Minnesota was held to 32 percent shooting in the first half, but their advantage on the boards nullified the shooting discrepancy, leading to a 36-35 halftime score in favor of San Antonio.
The same contrasts continued in the second half, although the Lynx attempted to pull away in the fourth, when McWilliams-Franklin hit a four-foot jumper with 5:43 in regulation to give Minnesota a 71-62 lead.
The Silver Stars rallied with a 17-6 run before Maya Moore tied the score at 79 with a mid-range jumper. San Antonio had a final chance to win following a Minnesota turnover, but Becky Hammon was forced to take a tough shot that bounced off the rim as time expired.
“We turned it up. They still got some shots and second chance points. We just cut that out in the second half,” Brunson said.
Minnesota’s poor shooting vanished in overtime as they out-scored San Antonio 17-5, highlighted by a pair of Whalen three-pointers.
“We got a new play. It’s fist-out-four special, and that’s Whay just crank a three. She was feeling it,” Reeve said.
The Lynx edged just above the 50 percent mark for shooting in the second half, finished with a 52-31 pounding in rebounds against the Silver Stars, and beat them 29-11 in second chance points.
Sophia Young and Jia Perkins both scored 19 points to lead the Silver Stars, but the rest of the squad was inefficient, including a 4-of-16 shooting effort from Hammon.
“For us, it’s a mindset about will to win, because I don’t think the Lynx are a better team than we are,” Young said. “We’ll definitely take them next time.”
Both teams have already secured playoff spots, but seeding in the Western Conference was on the line. With Minnesota’s victory, they hold a 1.5 game lead over Los Angeles for first place and a three-game edge over San Antonio to guarantee home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
One game remains in the regular season series, but views have already turned philosophical knowing a post-season appearance awaits.
“It doesn’t kill us and we can still get first place. We just got to get our minds right,” Perkins said.