She’s done it all season long.
From the start Crystal Dangerfield has saved her best for last, treating the fourth quarter as hers. Why should Thursday night have been any different?
Ultimately the Lynx outlasted a tenacious Phoenix team 80-79 in a second-round WNBA playoff game at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., advancing to a best-of-5 semifinal series against Seattle that starts Sunday afternoon.
Thursday’s was a game of runs, with both teams looking unbeatable at times, and both teams looking lost at times.
The Lynx were down 12 in the first quarter, down 11 early in the third. Dangerfield? She was given the Rookie of the Year award after the morning shootaround, then she went out and had one of her worst first halves of the season.
Dangerfield scored nine of her team’s 20 points in the final 10 minutes, making four of six shots. In a game against a Phoenix team that brags the high-scoring backcourt of Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith, it was Odyssey Sims and Dangerfield who won the day in the clutch, putting the Lynx in the semifinals for the first time in three seasons.
It was the seventh time the Lynx have rallied from down double figures to win this season; this was the Lynx’s biggest playoff comeback since 2014.
Coach Cheryl Reeve needed both Dangerfield and Sims to step up. Center Sylvia Fowles returned after missing slightly more than a month with a calf injury, but she struggled to six points on 2-for-8 shooting; she was on the bench when the Lynx sealed the deal in the second half. Napheesa Collier, getting all sorts of double teams, took just six shots and scored seven points.
“For whatever reason, this team, they just keep playing,” Reeve said. “Crystal gets better as the game goes on. We’re thinking of sitting her in the first half, saving her for the second.”
Damiris Dantas came through with 22 points. But at crunch time it was the Lynx backcourt that moved to the forefront.
“This was a win-or-go-home situation for us,” said Dangerfield, who finished with 17 points. “And we weren’t ready to go home just yet.”
Sims and Dangerfield scored 25 of Minnesota’s 43 second-half points. Sims was given the job of guarding Diana Taurasi, who scored 28 points. But she was held to 3-for-10 shooting in the second half. Sims finished with 14 points and four assists. She also had four steals, the most in a playoff game by a Lynx player since Fowles had four in 2017.
Sims also had 10 of the team’s 20 deflections.
“I was assigned to Diana from the start of the game,” Sims said. “She’s good. I just did my best to guard her. I left it all out there.”
The Lynx were down 52-41 with 7:23 left in the third quarter when Sims and Dangerfield started the comeback. Over the next 10½ minutes Dangerfield had 12 points and Sims seven in a 31-14 run that put the Lynx up 72-66 with 6:36 left.
Then things got interesting. A couple of four-point plays by Taurasi didn’t help. The Lynx led by three when Sims scored with 2:31 left. Neither team scored for nearly two minutes until Diggins-Smith scored with 35.3 seconds left. Dangerfield missed on a drive with 14.5 seconds left, but Phoenix turned it over. Fouled, Dantas missed both free throws with 6.1 seconds left, but Diggins-Smith’s last-second three was off the mark. She finished with eight points.
Afterward Collier marveled about Dangerfield, who was the second-best fourth-quarter scorer in the league this year. “She has ice in her veins,” Collier said. “She just comes alive in the fourth.”
The Star Tribune is not traveling to Florida for NBA and WNBA coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.