Minneapolis – Natalie Achonwa’s 17 points and nine rebounds paced the Indiana Fever past the defending champion Minnesota Lynx Tuesday, 71-59.
The win was only the second for Indiana on the season, and it snapped a seven-game Minnesota winning streak during which they had built momentum after a slow start to the season.
Rookie Victoria Vivians had 13 for the visitors – her fifth straight game scoring in double figures – and Cappie Pondexter added 12 points in the Fever’s first win at Target Center since 2011.
The Lynx’s point total was their lowest since June, 2013. The game marked only the third time since 2015 that both top scorers Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles were held to under 10 points, as they were held to nine and eight points, respectively. Forward Rebekkah Brunson was the only Minnesota player to score in double figures, with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Fever players erupted in joy after the win, Achonwa said, because of the way they played.
“We were screaming because we held the Minnesota Lynx to 59 points,” she said. “That’s why we were screaming, because we played great defense today. We won that because we played great defense. They didn’t give it to us – we took it.”
The game seesawed along through numerous lead changes and ties, with Indiana maintaining the momentum advantage. With 8:05 remaining, Minnesota reserve Temi Fagbenle completed a three-point play to tie the game at 51.
Then Pondexter, making her first appearance for the Fever after being signed Sunday converted a three-point play of her own on the other end, which sparked an 8-0 run. A Moore three-pointer at the 4:52 mark put the Lynx within four, but rookie Victoria Vivians answered with a long three, and the visitors scored 10 of the last 12 points of the match up.
Indiana coach Pokey Chatman praised Achonwa’s efforts against Fowles, the WNBA’s reigning MVP.
“Sylvia is a beast, she’s the best in the game at this position, and that can wear you down,” Chatman said. “Natalie has been efficient for us, and we were able to get the win against a big opponent against a big post opponent for her.”
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve wasn’t convinced that defense was the issue for her team.
“No, not putting the ball in the hole,” Reeve said. “They scored 71 points. We scored 59. So what was more frustrating was that we shot 32.8 percent, and Maya was 3-of-15, Syl was 4-of-12, turned the ball over, (both were) just unproductive. Brunson and Mone (Seimone Augustus) kind of did their thing.”
“Obviously, we got very little for a bench. Temi’s hustle plays; Temi probably should’ve played more than Syl tonight. Those are hard decisions when your superstars look absolutely awful. Do you kind of keep going with them and they turn it around or do you play someone like Temi, who doesn’t do anything right that’s for darn sure but competes her tail off and doesn’t turn it over and doesn’t get her shot blocked? So, this was obviously hard to watch from my vantage point.”
Vivians said her team won because they were able to set the tone.
“I feel like it was a controlled speed this game, you know, we’ve been having pretty rough games lately, but this game was controlled,” Vivians said. “We controlled the game. So, it was pretty good, and we need to play like that for the rest of the season.”
Moore was frustrated after the game, like many Lynx players in the locker room. As she took questions, she reflected on how much of a roller coaster this season has been, as it is now halfway complete.
“This is a midway point,” Moore said. “We are on our way. I don’t think we are satisfied with where we are. I still feel like I am on my way to where I want to be hopefully by the end of the season. That’s the fun of it too: it’s not that you do great things for a few games and then you’re done. It is a process. There are still things for us to master and try to continue collectively get better at.”
Minnesota hosts arch rival Los Angeles, who lost just after the Lynx did, on Thursday in what promises to be a hard-fought game.
The Fever’s win over Minnesota was No. 14 over that franchise in Indiana history. The Lynx leads the all-time series 23-14, including a 59-point win last season that is the largest margin of victory in WNBA history.
Before the loss, Minnesota was averaging 85.6 points per game during the team’s seven-game win streak. They are 7-1 this season when scoring over 80 points, and 3-6 when scoring less than 80.
Reeve is tied with the late Anne Donovan for seventh on the league’s all-time coaching wins list, with 205. Van Chancellor and Mike Thibault are the only other coaches in league history with 200 wins coaching one franchise.
Vivians came into the game off of a 27-point performance in Sunday’s win over Atlanta. It was the most by a Fever rookie since Tamika Catchings in 2002.
Candice Dupree and Achonwa each had nine rebounds for Indiana. The front court duo made 10 of their 17 shots in a combined 61:63 of play. Dupree played most of any player on either team, tallying almost 36 minutes of playing time.
The Fever played 11 players, while the Lynx played 10. Danielle Robinson (hamstring injury) didn’t play for Minnesota. The Lynx are down to 10 players after waiving reserve forward Lynetta Kizer Saturday.