For most of three quarters-plus Friday at Target Center, the Lynx answered every Las Vegas push with a shove of their own.
Down 15 points early in the third, the Lynx rallied for a one-point lead midway through the fourth. Down three moments later, Rachel Banham's three-pointer — one of her six on the night — tied the game with 4:22 left.
But the first-place Aces had the final push.
A 7-0 Las Vegas run after Banham's three was the difference in the Aces' 91-85 victory in the first of two straight games against the WNBA's best team. The two play again Sunday afternoon at the same venue.
"We didn't do a good job of getting stops, and we didn't get scores on our end," said Lynx guard Moriah Jefferson, who scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting. "They did a good job of moving the ball, and we have to be better at hitting the shots when they're open."
The Lynx (6-15) entered the game having won three of four games and were coming off a home rout of Dallas.
But they started the game slowly and were down 15 points almost immediately. It was one of two 15-point deficits the Lynx overcame.
But it didn't matter.
Chelsea Gray, who scored 21 points on 10-for-12 shooting, answered Banham's three with a baseline-driving three-point play, the first of seven straight points that put Las Vegas (16-5) up 86-79 on Dearica Hamby's layup with 2:22 left.
The Lynx got 35 points off the bench, 24 from Banham, 21 coming in the second half. She almost single-handedly got the Lynx back in the game and, briefly, in the lead. Minnesota had the edge in points in the paint, on second-chance shots, and on free throws.
But they couldn't stop the Aces' potent starting lineup when it mattered. Aces starters scored 80 points on 32-for-60 shooting, and they were hard to stop late.
"That's what they do every night," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said of the Aces starting five, all of whom scored in double figures. Kelsey Plum had 18 points with 10 assists, Hamby 16. "Nobody has been able to consistently slow them down. We created a five-minute game, we had it to a one-possession game. We were playing well."
The combination of a slow start and the reality that a few of the Lynx key players were struggling forced Reeve to stick with a group that included Banham, Natalie Achonwa and Nikolina Milic — perhaps too long.
After Banham tied the game, Gray responded with a three-point play. At the other end, Aerial Powers missed a three, then Aces star A'ja Wilson hit two free throws with 3:29 left. Moments later, Hamby turned a Lynx turnover into a fast-break layup and the Aces were up seven with 2:22 left.
After tying the game, the Lynx went 2-for-7 while being outscored 12-6 over the final 2:22.
"We didn't string together enough stops," said Banham, whose 24 points were the second-most of her career; she had 29 in the regular season finale in 2020.
"They're a very good offensive team," Banham said. "We knew that coming into it. We made some things happen on offense, for the most part. But we have to get stops, make it harder for them."