Streaking Lynx win 5th in 7 games, take down first-place Chicago 81-78

Here is further proof of how far the Minnesota Lynx have come in the last two-plus weeks:

Wednesday, in a matinee vs. Chicago in a Target Center filled with 11,103 fans — many of them screaming kids — the Lynx saw a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead evaporate in a cloud of missed shots and turnovers, going nearly five minutes without scoring a point.

But this time it wasn’t a problem.

Down a point with a 1:12 left after Allie Quigley had cut through the lane for a layup, the Lynx did what they had to do to pull out an 81-78 victory. They scored, they got stops, forcing Quigley, the reigning WNBA three-point shooting contest winner, to miss twice in the final 10 seconds.

The Lynx (8-15) have now won two straight against the league’s top two teams. They’ve won five of their last seven. The team heads into the All-Star break in a much better place than it was a month ago.

“We’re turning the corner,” said Aerial Powers, who led all scorers with 22 points. She has 54 in the last two, victories over Las Vegas and Chicago. “A little late. … But we are where we always thought we would be.”

The Lynx still are mired low in the standings, 11th in the 12-team WNBA. But they are 2½ games out of the final playoff spot.

And they are trending. As coach Cheryl Reeve said, they’re finding an identity on defense.

“This team, at this point, is defending,” she said. “The mindset of, ‘If we don’t score, they don’t score,’ this team has gotten more of an identity with that. And that’s how we’re able to come out of here with a W.”

Chicago is the best at shooting overall (47.3%), shooting from three (36.8), and entered the game tops in points in the paint (40.3). The Lynx held the Sky to 39.7% overall, 10-for-33 from three, and to 28 points in the paint. The Lynx have held consecutive opponents (the Aces and Chicago head into the break tied for first) under 40% shooting, improving to 138-5 since 2011 when doing that. Kahleah Copper scored 20 for Chicago; Quigley had 18.

“We feel we can compete with anybody,” said Kayla McBride. She scored 15 points. Her final two came on free throws with 12.4 seconds left that put the Lynx up three. “We don’t feel our record shows exactly who we are. I’m really proud of how we continue to fight. It’s not easy. We were rough, and now we’re putting the pieces together and having fun together, have our confidence back.”

After Quigley’s layup, Moriah Jefferson (six assists, five steals) got the ball to Jessica Shepard (10 points, six rebounds), who drove for a score, was fouled, and hit the free throw with 60 seconds left for a two-point Lynx lead.

Jefferson then stole a bad Candace Parker pass, getting the ball to Sylvia Fowles (14 points, seven rebounds), who hit two more free throws with 33.7 seconds left. Parker then hit a three, making it a one-point game with 15.8 seconds left. Out of a timeout, McBride was fouled and hit both free throws.

That set up the final sequence: Quigley missed a well-contested three, but the ball went out of bounds off a Lynx player with 5.9 seconds left, giving Chicago another chance. This time Quigley got a decent look, but it was 28 feet out, and it went off the iron.

After the game Napheesa Collier, who just arrived in town with her baby, celebrated with the team on the court.

“Their record doesn’t dictate how good they are,” said Chicago coach James Wade after the game. Wade is a former Lynx assistant. “I think they’re one of the best teams in the league, honestly, especially when they’re healthy. And they’re a team everybody is going to have to watch out for.”

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