Lynx score two at buzzer when they needed three, lose 96-95 to Aces

Sunday in Las Vegas, the Minnesota Lynx scored a season high, both in the first half and for the game. They hit a season-high 11 three-pointers. They got a season-high 34 points from the bench, and scored 13 points off 11 offensive rebounds.

The Lynx did so many things. But they didn’t win, falling to the first-place Aces 96-95.

And if the reason was frustratingly familiar — another poor start to the third quarter — the fact that the Lynx stayed in the game was promising. But, ultimately, difficult for a team playing without injured center Sylvia Fowles.

“I think we knew the team we’re capable of being,” said Jessica Shepard, who came off the bench to have career highs in both points (22) and rebounds (19). “I think we’re all focused on putting 40 minutes together. We can’t come out in the third and get beat like we did.”

The Lynx (3-13) dropped their fifth straight game. But, after losing the first two of those five games by a total of 36 points, they have lost the past three by just seven. That includes a two-point loss to Seattle.

Close, of course, doesn’t matter.

Especially when the reason is so familiar.

Minnesota played one of its best halves of the season while building a 50-39 halftime lead. That lead grew to 14 moments into the second half after Nikolina Milic hit a three. But here’s what followed:

A 22-6 run by the Aces (13-2) that gave Las Vegas the lead back, setting up a back-and-forth finish to the game. Las Vegas scored 34 third-quarter points, 57 in the second half, the most by a Lynx opponent this season.

“We hung in there,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I don’t know what else to say. I was happy with their resilience overall. This is a first-place team with some good players. But we’re a team that wants to win.”

Moriah Jefferson scored a season-high 23 points with seven assists. Kayla McBride had 11 points.

A’ja Wilson scored 25 for Las Vegas, which shot nearly 54% in the second half. All five Aces starters were in double figures, including Kelsey Plum (21) and Dearica Hamby and Chelsea Gray, who had 16 each.

The Lynx took the Aces’ hit in the third, but got up and finished the quarter strong, entering the fourth with a one-point lead and led by as many as three early in the fourth. Minnesota was still within two when Jefferson scored mid-fourth. But Hamby scored at the other end. Then, after a Lynx turnover, Wilson hit a three with 2:59 left to put Vegas up seven.

The Lynx had one more comeback left. McBride hit a three, but Wilson answered with a drive. Jefferson fed Shepard for a score. The Lynx got a stop, then Shepard scored again to pull Minnesota within 93-91 with 1:38 left. The Lynx got consecutive stops, but couldn’t score, then Hamby hit a three with 16.2 seconds left.

Shepard scored again with 5.3 seconds left. Out of a timeout, they got Vegas to commit a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play. But without a timeout left, the Lynx were forced to run a play and Shepard, thinking it was a two-point game, hit a 9-footer as time expired.

“That’s on me,” Shepard said.

Said Reeve: “Jess feels bad about that, but she played a hell of a game. If not for her 22 and 19 we’re not in the game.”

In the end the Aces’ 17-6 edge in free throws made was too much to overcome. Even on a night when some good things happened. “We see glimpses,” Shepard said. “But we have to do it for 40 minutes.”

The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the event.

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