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    Tuesday, July 23, 2024

    Lynx force a winner-take-all Game 3 with 82-75 win over Sun

    Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier (24) celebrates during the Lynx’s 82-75 win over the Connecticut Sun in Game 2 of their WNBA first-round playoff series on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White reacts to a scuffle during Sunday’s WNBA playoff game against the Minnesota Lynx at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Connecticut’s Tiffany Hayes (15) attempts to steal the ball from Minnesota’s Rachel Banham (15) during Sunday’s WNBA playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Minnesota’s Diamond Miller gets to the basket ahead of Connecticut’s Rebecca Allen (9) and Alyssa Thomas during Sunday’s WNBA playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas (25) and Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier (24) dive for a loose ball during Game 2 of their WNBA first-round playoff series on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Mohegan — The pride and the will of the Minnesota Lynx to send their WNBA playoff series back home won out over the Connecticut Sun’s hope for a sweep.

    Kayla McBride scored 28 points, with six 3-pointers, and UConn grad Napheesa Collier had 26 points and 13 rebounds — Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve referred to the tandem as Batman and Robin — as the sixth-seeded Lynx won Game 2 of the best-of-three series 82-75 Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

    The Lynx responded to a 90-60 loss in Game 1 Wednesday to send the series to a deciding game at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Minnesota (ESPN).

    “I think it was just the will,” McBride said of the turnaround. “It didn’t feel very good sitting up here the other day knowing that we only scored 60 points.

    “Watching the film and stuff, it just looked like we were a little bit tentative, so in those moments (with the Sun cutting into the lead in the fourth quarter), I think we just needed to pick up our aggression and kind of throw caution to the wind, as coach would say, and just give it everything that we have. We just had to keep continuing to answer.”

    Alyssa Thomas had 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Sun, trying to reach the WNBA Finals for the second straight season, and DeWanna Bonner finished with 24 points.

    Sun head coach Stephanie White, in her first season with Connecticut, was named the WNBA Coach of the Year earlier Sunday.

    Minnesota led by as many as 16 points after a 14-1 run in the third quarter put them up 65-49.

    The Sun responded with a 14-0 run, beginning with a three-point play by Bec Allen at the 2:25 mark of the third and ending with a drive by DiJonai Carrington which pulled Connecticut within 65-63. Minnesota’s Bridget Carleton ended that run with a 3-pointer.

    With 2:33 to play, Bonner, who returned to the game after a smash to the nose sent her sprawling to the floor and then back to the locker room with a towel to her face, hit her sixth 3-pointer of the game to bring the Sun within 76-73.

    The Sun missed scoring their next two trips down the floor, however, and followed with a turnover, as Minnesota pulled away with baskets by Collier, McBride and Rachel Banham, which allowed the Lynx lead to balloon to 82-73.

    “Certainly disappointed that we weren’t able to close it out, but definitely not surprised at the way Minnesota came out and played,” White said. “They’re a team that ... they play with a lot of pride. They’re well-balanced. They’ve got two vets that obviously carried them in a big way.

    “They’re well-coached. We expected them to bounce back. Overall, they flipped the script on us and now we’ve got to respond.”

    The Sun won Game 1 of the series in a rout, setting a franchise record for most 3-pointers in a playoff game with 16. Allen had five and Tiffany Hayes four.

    In that game, Connecticut also made Minnesota pay with 30 points off 19 Lynx turnovers.

    Collier, a WNBA All-Star this season, was among the most disappointed members of the Lynx after the loss, having scored 14 points. On Sunday, Collier played like a one-person wrecking crew, in double figures by the end of the first quarter. She left the floor with a back injury in the third quarter and almost immediately checked back in.

    “I think just the mentality throughout the whole game is I want to leave it out there on the court and do whatever I can for my team,” Collier said. “This is some of the last opportunities you have this year. You want to advance as much as you can.

    “We know that if we bring it back to Minny that we have a really good chance (in Game 3) and we were able to execute that.”

    The Sun also had to win on the road in the first round last year against Dallas before reaching the semifinal round against Chicago and the finals against Las Vegas.

    This season, Connecticut went 27-13 in White’s first season, despite losing head coach Curt Miller (Los Angeles Sparks) and former MVP Jonquel Jones (New York Liberty) in the offseason. The Sun also lost starting center Brionna Jones to a ruptured Achilles tendon after 13 games.

    White often describes her team as “gritty” and expects nothing less than that resolve Wednesday in Minneapolis.

    “This is a veteran group and this is a group that’s not used to anything being easy,” White said. “We know it’s going to be a tough one. We know what the environment’s going to be like. We know this team is really talented and we have to fix some things and we have to adjust some things, but yes, this team has gone on the road and won in tough environments with their backs against the wall before.

    “Certainly, we missed an opportunity here at home but we just didn’t match Minnesota’s level of intensity and physicality. But we have another opportunity.”

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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