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The Lynx Tank Has Gone Off The Rails

Napheesa Collier #24 of the Minnesota Lynx and DeWanna Bonner #24 of the Connecticut Sun looks on during the game on September 17, 2023 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Lynx are no good at being no good. They certainly gave losing a try this year, going 0-6 to start the regular season, looking in fine shape to #ClankforClark or #BeInDangerforAngel or #DisengageforPaige. The task they faced was a tough one. The WNBA’s lottery rules, which award odds based on teams’ two-year cumulative records, are meant to discourage brief flirtations with tanking, and for the best odds, the Lynx would have to make up a full nine losses on the Indiana Fever. In a May column considering the merits of a tank, the Star-Tribune's Jim Souhan reasoned that having the No. 1 pick in the Maya Moore draft was a turning point for the franchise. "The Lynx need that kind of luck again, and if luck is the residue of design, the Lynx need to design a very bad season," he wrote. 

And then, either by accident or design, they started winning. A late-July three-game win streak against the Sun, Liberty and Mystics proved they just weren’t cut out for the tanking grind. On Sunday, the Lynx strengthened their case for worst tanking team ever, defeating the No. 3 Connecticut Sun in Game 2 of the first round of the WNBA playoffs, 82-75, and setting up a deciding Game 3, which will of course be played on No. 6 Minnesota’s home court. (The WNBA is so weird.)

Minnesota can thank-slash-blame Napheesa Collier for the way their season has gone this year. After giving birth and missing all but four games in 2022, the Lynx's lone All-Star returned to MVP-candidate form, enjoying the best scoring season of her career while staying the shrewd, active defensive player she's long been. Collier even won a share of the AP’s Comeback Player of the Year award this year, (splitting the honor with Brittney Griner) which was exciting to those of us who thought there was no way the field could come close to Russian detention as award-winning adversity goes.

Collier's is a detail-oriented game, so a simple highlight reel of the 26 points she scored on Sunday probably doesn't do her justice. She also finished with 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block, all while battling a back injury in the second half. With her skill, instincts, and 6-foot-6 wingspan, she creates serious mismatch problems for opponents, and her coach is keen to show those off. "We're just doing what I would call fun things with a player," Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said in late June, when asked about Collier's emergence as a scorer. "You don't care whatever number you guys want to call her positionally. We really don't care. We're running her stuff as a guard. We're running stuff as a post depending on matchups. And she's just excelled with all of it."

Collier had been held to 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting in the first game of this series and she responded with a 10-point first quarter in Game 2. Shooting has been a struggle for this Lynx team all season, and it helped them to get a monster game from Kayla McBride, who went 6-of-11 from three, and seemed to really lock in when the back injury began to limit Collier. The Sun suddenly looked overmatched on both ends of the floor against a Lynx team that plays with lots of size and outscored the Sun 42-32 in the paint. 

The league's revamped playoff format did away with controversial single-elimination games and replaced them with a controversial best-of-three series where the third game takes place on the worse team's home court. Is this fair? Maybe not! But it's definitely funny. The Lynx now have the opportunity to tank all the way to the next round of the playoffs in front of their own fans. "From 0-6 to 40 minutes from the semifinals," said Reeve postgame. "What more could you ask for?"

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