The Lynx went to Las Vegas on a roll, having won five straight, in third place in the WNBA but sniffing at the heels of the second-place Aces.
They left choking on the Aces' dust after a 102-81 loss Wednesday, in fifth place, a half-game behind red-hot Phoenix, after allowing 100 points for just the second time this season.
For one main reason:
"From start to finish we didn't defend,'' Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "We were fortunate in a [27-point] first quarter we were able to score, otherwise it would have been out of hand in the first quarter. We didn't play a lick of defense. This is a team that is very persistent about being in the paint. And, apparently, that surprised our team this evening.''
With the game tied after the first quarter, the Aces (21-8) started playing some defense. That resulted in a 28-14 second quarter that put Vegas up 14. They were up 15 entering the fourth. The Lynx rallied to within nine points on Napheesa Collier's three-pointer with 7 minutes, 51 seconds left. But the Aces quickly scored six straight, reasserting control.
"I guess we didn't come out ready,'' Collier said.
The Lynx weren't awful offensively. They scored 81 points, had four players in double figures — Aerial Powers had 20 off the bench, Collier 18, Sylvia Fowles and Kayla McBride 10 each.
But the team clearly missed point guard Layshia Clarendon, who missed a fourth straight game with a right leg stress reaction. Clarendon had averaged 19 points and eight assists in two wins vs. Las Vegas earlier this season.
The Aces, playing without center Liz Cambage (COVID-19 protocol) won this game in the backcourt. Starting a three-guard lineup of Jackie Young, Riquna Williams and Chelsea Gray, that group combined for 53 points on 24-for-39 shooting. Young scored a career-high 29 points and Gray matched a career high with 14 assists. The Aces shot 55.1%, got 20 points from A'ja Wilson, and had a 52-30 scoring edge in the paint. Again the Lynx struggled to get to the line, with Powers (4-for-5) the only player to get there.
"It was career night against the Lynx,'' Reeve said.
This after a four-game homestand in which the Lynx held all four opponents under 40% shooting.
"We didn't play anything the way we were supposed to play it,'' Reeve said. "Simple schemes. I'm talking about simple schemes. I'm not talking about dynamic schemes here. We know the actions. We knew every one of the actions they were running, what they were trying to get, when they were going to get it. We tried to impart that to the players. We were not locked in.''
Though the Lynx did have four players with 10 or more points, they needed more. Bridget Carleton, starting in place of the injured Damiris Dantas, struggled. So did Crystal Dangerfield, starting in place of Clarendon, and Rachel Banham, the first guard off the bench.
Those three totaled 21 points on 9-for-24 shooting. Both Carleton and Banham failed to score in the first three quarters.
"We couldn't play the pick and roll the way we wanted,'' Reeve said. "And that was a big part of our mindset going into it. It was disappointing.''
Now the Lynx, with four more regular-season games to go, have three straight against last-place Indiana. But it won't matter if the defense doesn't improve.
"We didn't give a lot of effort on the defensive end,'' Powers said. "And it comes down to effort.''
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.