Lynx vs. Liberty final score: Liberty win fifth straight behind yet another comeback, 70-61

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 25: Lindsay Allen
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 25: Lindsay Allen /

The Minnesota Lynx are playing without Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen, but for a while, it looked like they were well on their way to a road win over a playoff team anyway.

Then the Liberty woke up.

New York out-scored Minnesota 42-28 in the second half, en route to a statement 70-61 win on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

With the win, the Liberty clinched a spot in the playoffs and have now won five straight. More impressively, the Liberty have knocked off the Sparks, Sun, and Lynx in consecutive games. Tina Charles, naturally, led the way with 19 points and nine rebounds, but Bria Hartley (nine points, six assists, four rebounds) and Epiphany Prince (15 points) were both key in swinging the momentum of the game.

Here’s what we learned:

Second-half team

The Liberty came into the game on a four-game winning streak while having trailed by double-digits in the first half of their last two games. In this one, the Lynx built an 11-point first-half lead while New York was trying to find itself offensively. Charles asserted herself in the third quarter, however, scoring six points and pulling down three rebounds. Prince led the Liberty with seven points in that period, then hit a momentum-shifting three in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.

The whole “falling behind by double-digits” pattern probably isn’t one that Bill Laimbeer would like to see continue, but over the past few games, fans have had a chance to see the Liberty at their best down the stretch. Conventional thought around the league had been that the Lynx (when healthy) and Sparks are in a class by themselves, but when the Liberty are on, they’ve shown that they do not much care for your common assumptions.

The Lynx still need to figure out how to survive short-handed

Playing without Whalen and Brunson is not an ideal long-term plan for Cheryl Reeve’s group, but it’s not like they have a choice. With the playoffs drawing closer and both still on the bench, we got to see the best and worst of this shorthanded team on Sunday. Jia Perkins and Plenette Pierson both provided valuable minutes as the Lynx built their lead, while Fowles and Moore put in standard, though not spectacular, performances.

But you don’t just replace two double-digit scorers.

When the Liberty got on their run and started limiting Moore’s touches and giving Fowles fits inside, the Lynx really had no one to turn to. Seimone Augustus had a few moments, but they were too few. On the other end, Hartley and Prince looked darn-near magical at times, scoring inside and out, with no one really able to stay with them. Whalen has not played since Aug. 3, and the Lynx have won just once since then.

The Liberty can be an exceptional defensive team

The Liberty came into the game leading the WNBA in field goal percentage defense (.412) and defensive rebounds per game (28.3), so we’ve known how effective they could be at limiting their opponents. But what we saw, both in the first half and as the Liberty built their lead late, was a team that had a clear game plan and communicated effectively on the court to limit Minnesota’s opportunities. It might not sound like much, but think back to the beginning of the season when defensive breakdowns and low-energy plays were more the norm than the exception.

Fowles and Moore are going to get their points, there’s hardly anything a team can do to stop that. But early on, New York doubled Fowles inside and forced Moore to take tough shots. As a team, Minnesota shot just 34 percent from the field and 26 percent from three.