Lynx-Mercury takeaways: Bonner’s big night not enough

Minneapolis, MN-June 6: Minnesota Lynx guard Odyssey Sims drove against Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) in the third quarter at Target Center in Minneapolis. (Photo by Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via Getty Images)
Minneapolis, MN-June 6: Minnesota Lynx guard Odyssey Sims drove against Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) in the third quarter at Target Center in Minneapolis. (Photo by Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via Getty Images) /

If defense wins championships…

The message was from the Minnesota Lynx locker room was about getting back to defense on Thursday after their 58-56 victory over Phoenix. You can extrapolate from the final score alone that this was a defensive contest and you are correct.

Minnesota’s defense made hitting shots difficult for Phoenix. The visiting Mercury were held to just 36.8 percent shooting from the field and 23.1 percent from beyond the arc. Over the first three quarters, the Lynx held the Mercury to an average of 12 points per quarter.

However, it was also the Mercury’s defense that allowed them to charge back into this game. After trailing by as much as 16 points, Phoenix entered the fourth quarter down by 13 points. Making up ground was going to be difficult, but they did it with defense. While getting 12 points from DeWanna Bonner in the final frame alone helped, the Mercury also forced the Lynx into 33 percent shooting from the field.

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The Mercury found themselves in a tight game with a chance to win it, but Bonner’s 25-footer missed and the Lynx held on to the victory. Minnesota was fortunate to emerge victorious after not scoring in the final four minutes of the game.

After losing to 84-77 to Seattle in their previous game, the Lynx wanted to refocus themselves on the defensive end on Thursday and succeeded.

“We did want to come out and redeem ourselves with this win. We do know that
our defense gets us going and that’s always big for the Lynx,” said Lynx center Sylvia Fowles. “Defense gets us going. We just wanted to come out and redeem ourselves from that Seattle

Aside from Bonner, the Lynx did a great job containing the Mercury’s many threats and moving to 4-1 on the season.

Odyssey Sims led the Lynx with 15 points, five rebounds, and two assists. Lexie Brown added in 12 points and two assists off the bench for Minnesota as well.

Bonner led the way for the Mercury with 25 points, eight rebounds, and two assists.

Death by pick ‘n’ roll

Picking the Lynx’s guards to have such strong performances against the Mercury would have been difficult. The Mercury can throw so much size at a team with lineup after lineup that it makes you unenvious of smaller players.

To minimize the Mercury’s size advantage, the Lynx ran the Mercury through screen after screen, which allowed their guards’ decision-making skills to shine. Between Sims, Brown and Danielle Robinson, the Lynx’s backcourt tallied half of the team’s total points.

When you watch how the Lynx built their second-half lead to as much as 16 and had the lead they did through three quarters, you can thank their work in the pick ‘n’ roll. While Brittney Griner had her three blocks in the game, setting screens on her put her a step behind someone like Sims, who had enough time to get to the basket to scoop several layups in over Griner’s reach.

While Robinson shot just 1-for-8 in the game, her lone bucket came off a Fowles screen in which she blew right by Yvonne Turner and Alanna Smith for the lay-in.

The Lynx’s first action didn’t have to be perfect. When the Mercury trapped the ball handler, the Lynx were able to re-screen or kick it out to the player with the open look. This meant players like Brown and Jessica Shepard always needed to be ready and they responded well.

Embracing the challenge

Fowles versus Griner was arguably the main attraction entering Thursday’s contest. The two women are two of the league’s premier back-to-the-basket centers.

It’s safe to say that Fowles got the best of Griner in Thursday’s matchup with 10 points, six rebounds, and two steals. Fowles and the Lynx held Griner to just four points on 1-for-3 shooting and seven rebounds.

Despite Griner’s three blocked shots in the game, Fowles was able to mitigate Griner’s shot-blocking prowess by backing her underneath the basket. In fact, all of Griner’s points came in the first quarter and didn’t score in the final three quarters.

“Sylvia Fowles is just really hard to play against. Fowles and Brittney Griner say
that playing against each other is very difficult,” said Cheryl Reeve on Thursday night. “That’s why we were fortunate that Sylvia was able to get more shots, because they both defend each other really hard.”

“I thought we gave Sylvia really good help when there was a catch, and we
were able to get into the paint pretty well, so that was a focal point of the game,
and that was huge for us and we got that done.”

Fowles seemed happy to not have to chase around a shooting center and grind out the matchup with Griner down low.

“It’s always fun playing against BG (Brittney Griner). Just because she’s so big,
she’s a true five,” added Fowles. “I love playing against a true five, back to the basket. BG’s
bringing it. She has length. She has moves. I’m always looking forward to games
like this.”

If Fowles enjoyed facing Griner, she will no doubt look forward to Saturday’s matchup versus Los Angeles.

Bonner’s big night

One of the marks of a great player is that you know how they want to beat you and they do it anyway. This is true of DeWanna Bonner, too. You know that she wants to pick you apart from midrange and can do so efficiently. Her length makes stopping this threat more difficult for opposing defense.

Bonner connected on nine of her 18 shot attempts on Thursday and was the only Mercury player to finish in double figures with her 25 points.

She was also the reason the Mercury jumped out to an early 9-2 lead and totaled seven points in the first quarter on 3-of-5 shooting. Between the first and fourth quarters, 19 of her 25 points were scored in these two quarters.

Within the arc, Bonner was deadly. Seven of her eight 2-point attempts went in, including from that sweet spot on the elbow. When the Mercury set a screen and slowed Bonner’s defender, it was practically impossible for them to catch up. Considering Bonner was just 2-of-10 from beyond the arc, the Lynx would have liked to force her to take more 3-pointers.

Had Bonner scored 30, it’s likely the Mercury would have won. After the game, Bonner seemed disappointed that she couldn’t deliver the win.

“The ball went in. I missed a couple of easy shots but kept shooting. Once I saw
it go through the hole, I got a little bit more confident,” said Bonner. “We gave ourselves a
chance to win at the end, missed the last shot, but we can’t dig ourselves a hole
against a great team like that. They’re a great team, led by a great coach.”

Bonner seemed to lament the missed opportunity to win the game, but a miscommunication derailed the Mercury’s chances.

“The block…I don’t even know what play we were supposed to run, kind of got
screwed up at the end,” said Bonner. “The last possession…got trapped…really didn’t have that
much time, took a shot and gave ourselves a chance, it just didn’t fall.”

It’s unfortunate for Bonner that she wasn’t rewarded with a victory on her big night, but the Mercury would not have been in a position to win without her.

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