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Lynx ousted from WNBA playoffs after stunning home loss to Chicago

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Lynx ousted from WNBA playoffs after stunning home loss to Chicago

The reality of the WNBA’s playoff structure is a cruel one: For those outside the top two seeds, if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game in either of the first two rounds, you’re going home.

Or, in the Lynx’s case, staying home.

Minnesota’s 2021 playoff experience can be described as short and not so sweet.  After just one game — Sunday’s stunning 89-76 loss to sixth-seeded Chicago at Target Center — it’s over. The No. 3 seed is out in the quarterfinal round.

Minnesota picked the wrong time to play one of its worst games in months, and in the process spoiled what looked to have the makings of a special season.

The Lynx committed 20 turnovers. The Sky had 22 fast-break points, many coming off of those Lynx turnovers. More than half of Chicago’s points came in the paint (48).

The latter stat is the one that frustrated Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve most because, she noted, “it’s not that hard.” But in three tries against Chicago this season, while the Lynx beat the Sky once, they weren’t able to keep Chicago out of the paint.

“They played as they are. They know who they are and they’re so persistent in identity and we couldn’t break their identity. That’s a sign of a really good team,” Reeve said. “I don’t have an explanation for getting outworked in those areas. Layup after layup after layup (on defense), and obviously our offense wasn’t good enough. … We just didn’t get the job done.”

Minnesota floor general Layshia Clarendon played just 12 minutes, as Clarendon was clearly limited by the stress-related injury in her right fibula.

“They’re taking it really hard,” Reeve said of Clarendon’s post-game emotions. “But you can’t help those things. That was such a bummer. We need Lay. We need (Damiris) Dantas. We need those players.”

Sylvia Fowles established her presence early in the game, but Minnesota could get its start center any touches over the final three quarters. Fowles had 17 points on only nine attempts from the field as she quickly became the sole focus of Chicago’s defense.

“She was the only one that was established,” Reeve said. “So they literally were taking three or four people and saying, ‘You can throw it anywhere. You can take as many threes as you want to.’ … For Syl, it got harder and harder. And we don’t have great entry passers. Lay is one of our best.”

The Lynx did have success from the perimeter at points, going 9 for 18 from deep. Most of those makes came late.

The Lynx trailed by as many as 14 points in the final quarter, and while Minnesota made a push late — largely thanks to Aerial Powers, who led the way with 24 points and whose shot making kept the Lynx around. There was a stretch in which Powers hit two triples, Kayla McBride hit one and Napheesa Collier hit another. The three-for-all helped Minnesota trim the deficit to four.

But Chicago provided an answer, as it did all night. It was too little, too late for Minnesota.

Chicago (18-16) had five players score in double figures, led by Courtney Vandersloot’s 19 points, 15 of which came in the second half.

Next year appears to be bright for the Lynx (22-11). After an 0-4 start to the season and many early struggles that were a result of injuries, late arrivals and adjusting to plenty of new faces, they became one of the WNBA’s top teams over the second half. Minnesota won nine of its final 10 games to close the regular season.

BRIEFLY

Sylvia Fowles was named the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year earlier in the day Sunday. It’s the fourth time Fowles, who was named Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press earlier in the week, has claimed the WNBA’s honor four times.

The 35-year-old center finished second in the league in rebounds (10.1), steals (1.8) and blocks (1.8) per game, which makes her the first player in league history to finish in the top two in all three categories in a single season.

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