Only three games in and things have changed for the Lynx.
Rookies Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Crystal Dangerfield got to the WNBA’s bubble at the IMG expecting to watch and learn. On Thursday night, Herbert Harrigan was on the court for the game’s most important possession and Dangerfield was in the starting lineup for the first time in her young career.
Adjusting on the fly, and executing just well enough in the clutch, the Lynx improved to 2-1 with an 83-81 victory over Chicago that wasn’t over until Gabby Williams’ catch-and-shoot attempt missed as the buzzer sounded.
Afterward Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was torn between being annoyed at the mistakes her team made while allowing a 12-point lead to dwindle with just over four minutes to being proud of the way they handled that self-induced pressure.
“Look at some of the stuff we did,’’ Reeve said. “They turned it up, we didn’t respond. We drew up plays and they didn’t execute them. But I also told them they need to go through this challenge … and get a stop.’’
The Lynx earned the victory with youth in the rotation, with veteran Sylvia Fowles on the bench down the stretch after fouling out with 2½ minutes left and the Lynx up seven, and with Napheesa Collier once again saving the best for last.
Collier finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, getting 10 of those points and six of those rebounds — five on the offensive end — in the fourth quarter.
But this was a team win. Nine players saw action, seven scored at least eight points. Damiris Dantas had 14 points, Fowles 10 with seven boards. The starting backcourt of Shenise Johnson and Dangerfield scored 18 points between them while holding the Sky’s stellar duo of Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot in relative check.
Rachel Banham (13 points on 5-for-6 shooting) played her best game yet.
And then, the rookies. Dangerfield with nine points and three assists. Herbert Harrigan with eight points — she hit two of three three-pointers — with three rebounds and a blocked shot in 17-plus minutes.
“I understand it’s a process,’’ Herbert Harrigan said. “If I don’t play, I’m the team’s biggest cheerleader. If I do play, I have to lock in and do what I need to do.’’
The rookies were needed in large part because of the season-ending foot injury suffered Sunday by Karima Christmas-Kelly, and Lexie Brown being sidelined because she's in the league's concussion protocol.
Up three entering the fourth quarter, the Lynx were up 76-64 on Dangerfield’s two free throws with 3:26 left.
Over the next two-plus minutes that lead evaporated. Cheyenne Parker scored the first seven points for Chicago in a 17-7 run that drew the Sky within 83-81 on Allie Quigley’s three-pointer with 38.2 seconds left.
Moments later Johnson missed a three, setting up a wild finish. Vandersloot missed a layup. Collier got the rebound but was tied up by Azura Stevens and lost the jump ball with six seconds left. Vandersloot missed another layup, but the ball went off a Lynx player out of bounds with 0.8 left. It was enough time for Williams to get one last chance.
“I think we did get a little frazzled,’’ Collier said. “Syl was out. But we tried to keep our composure and get the win.’’
After Tuesday’s loss to Seattle, Reeve stressed the need for her backcourt to be more aggressive and for her team’s transition defense to improve.
Both happened. And the Lynx got a win, thanks in large part to rookies in big roles.
• The Lynx claimed forward Erica McCall. She was available immediately because she was already in the WNBA’s bubble. She was waived by Atlanta earlier this week.
The Star Tribune will not be traveling to Florida this summer for MLS, NBA and WNBA coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.