The Minnesota Lynx entered Tuesday night's matchup with the Connecticut Sun riding high on an eight-game winning streak, which was the longest any team in the league had recorded all season. A few hours later, that streak was history, as the Sun secured a 72-60 victory to hand the Lynx their first defeat since prior to the Olympic break on June 19.
Missed dunk aside, Jonquel Jones furthered her MVP case with 17 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three steals in a typical all-around performance. But while she was terrific yet again, the main reason the Sun ended the Lynx's streak was their brilliant effort on the defensive end.
Thanks to an inside-outside attack led by Sylvia Fowles and Kayla McBride, the Lynx came into this game with the fifth-best offense in the league. You would have never guessed that was the case while watching this game. The Lynx had no answer to the Sun's pressure, and turned in one of their worst offensive outings of the season.
First a quick run-through of some stats:
- The Lynx were held to 60 points, which was their lowest total since 2019, and the seventh-lowest total for any team this season.
- The Lynx shot just 41.7 percent from the field and 31.3 percent on 3-pointers
- The Lynx's 80.0 offensive rating was their worst for a game this season
- The Lynx turned the ball over 18 times, which was their fourth-most this season
In short, the Lynx had absolutely nothing going for them. Now let's take a look at how the Sun made that happen.
On the first possession of the game for Minnesota, Jasmine Thomas picked up Layshia Clarendon 90-plus feet away from the basket. That set the tone for the rest of the night, as the Sun hounded the Lynx up and down the court and made them work to even get into their offense.
"If you watch Connecticut, you know defense is where they hang their hat," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "They physically dominated us. That was the story of the game."
It wasn't just about picking the point guard up early, either. The Sun were immediately on top of whoever had the ball on the perimeter. Here's a good example from the first quarter, as Brionna Jones picks up Fowles -- who has shot one 3-pointer in her entire career -- at the line and then pokes the ball away from Napheesa Collier on the drive. The Lynx eventually get an offensive rebound, but this shows how the Sun were operating.
Here in the second quarter, we again see how the Sun's pressure just mucks up everything the Lynx are trying to do, and eventually Damiris Dantas has to hoist an awful turnaround fadeaway.
Eventually, the Sun's effort started to wear down the Lynx, and they were able to start turning the Lynx over. Here in the fourth quarter, DeWanna Bonner makes Natalie Achonwa so uncomfortable that she eventually just flings the ball away in to traffic.
"They made it tough on us," Rachel Banham said. "They took passes away. ... We gotta be able to use it against them, their pressure. Drive and take back cuts. ... We didn't respond well. We have to do better with that next game."
Protecting the paint
The Sun's pressure outside set the tone, but they were working around the basket as well. Coming into the game, the Lynx were second in the league in points in the paint at 38.2 per game, and scored nearly half (45.7 percent) of their points there. The Sun weren't having that.
"We made [their looks] difficult, and really pleased with how we defended and gave some help," Sun coach Curt Miller said. "Our post players really worked. On points in the paint, [Minnesota] can really dominate you."
That didn't happen on Tuesday, as the Sun held the Lynx to just 14-of-30 shooting and 28 points in the paint -- their third-lowest total of the season. Prior to this game, the Lynx were averaging 19.2 made shots in the paint per game, and shooting 55.3 percent on their attempts.
Sometimes it was the initial perimeter defense that made things easier. Like on this play, as Thomas chases McBride around multiple screens, makes her put the ball on the deck and then cuts off the drive to prevent her from getting to the rim. At that point, the Lynx guard has to settle for a tough look.
Other times, it was just pure determination on the block. Again in the third quarter, we'll see Bonner nearly take the ball right out of Achonwa's hands before forcing a terrible shot.
Whether it was inside or outside, the Sun dominated on the defensive end and picked up one of their most impressive wins of the season as a result. Now 16-6, the Sun are proving that their strong first half of the season was no fluke, and will finish the night in no worse than a tie for second place. With Jones leading the way and the best defense in the league, this team is the real deal. They have what it takes to make the Finals for the second time in the last three seasons.