When Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve learned that Aerial Powers’ knee would keep her out of Sunday’s game with Atlanta at Target Center, plans for Napheesa Collier got moved up.
Just 10½ weeks after giving birth to daughter Mila, after just one full practice with the team, Collier made her first start of the season in Minnesota’s 81-71 victory over the Dream.
Playing in small spurts, Collier finished with six points and two rebounds.
But she had a key three-point play during a 10-0 fourth-quarter run after the Dream (14-19) had pulled within a point. And it was an emotional return for Collier, who helped the Lynx (13-20) pull within a game of the WNBA’s final playoff spot with three games to play.
The Lynx got 20 points and six assists from Kayla McBride and 18 and six assists from Moriah Jefferson. Rachel Banham scored 12 off the bench. Center Sylvia Fowles had eight points and eight rebounds, and her three blocks moved her into third place all-time in WNBA history with 718.
Atlanta, which played without Tiffany Hayes, got 16 points from both Rhyne Howard and from Aari McDonald off the bench.
Down eight late in the third, the Dream closed to within three to start the fourth. Naz Hillmon scored the opening basket of the final quarter and it was a one-point game.
But Jefferson scored, and the Lynx got a stop. Banham scored, and the Lynx got a stop. Then Collier got the ball on the perimeter, faked her defender up, drove, scored, was fouled and made the free throw. Moments later McBride hit a three and the Lynx lead was up to 11.
With McBride and Jefferson hitting three-pointers, the Lynx started the game with an 8-0 run. Jefferson’s three-pointer with 2:14 left in the quarter put the Lynx up 20-11. But Minnesota didn’t score again in the quarter, going 0-for-3 with two turnovers – and Atlanta was able to finish the quarter on a 5-0 run to draw within 20-16 entering the second.
With 46 seconds gone in the second quarter Collier took a pass from Jefferson and hit a three-pointer from just left of the top of the key, putting the Lynx up seven.
Moments later, after a Dream turnover, Banham hit a three and the lead was 10.
But the Lynx just couldn’t expand on that lead, despite going 9-for-18 in the quarter. Atlanta – getting another four points from the free throw line – eventually pulled within 39-36 on Howard’s basket with 49 seconds left in the half before Natalie Achonwa’s mid-range jumper pushed the lead back to five, 41-36, at the half.
Minnesota’s lead was up to eight after McBride hit two free throws with 3:20 left in the third quarter. But then the Lynx were out-scored 8-3 the rest of the quarter as that lead dwindled to three entering the fourth. The Dream scored nine of their 21 third-quarter points off five Lynx turnovers in the quarter.