The Minnesota Lynx entered Sunday afternoon’s WNBA regular-season finale knowing a first-round playoff bye was secure.
It still turned out to be a successful learning experience.
In a back-and-forth game that had the feel of a win-or-you’re-done contest, the Lynx held on to beat host Washington 83-77.
“That was a single-elimination game right there,” Lynx forward Layshia Clarendon said. “… The pressure, the adrenaline, the moment, everything that it’s going to be and more. Even in terms of the physicality that Washington brought to the game was big. We’re really fortunate to have gotten that right before (the playoffs).”
Minnesota (22-10) enters the postseason on a roll — and as the WNBA’s No. 3 seed, having won four straight and nine of 10.
The Lynx will be at Target Center next Sunday for a single-elimination playoff game. Tip time has yet to be announced.
Minnesota will find out its opponent in the eight-team playoff field on Thursday when No. 7 Dallas plays at No. 6 Chicago, and No. 8 Los Angeles or New York travels to No. 5 Phoenix in the first round. The Lynx get the lowest remaining seed after those games. Had Washington beaten the Lynx, the Mystics (12-20) would have earned the final seed.
“We knew how hard it was gonna be,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Anytime you’re trying to end a team’s season, be it to make the playoffs or when you get to the playoffs to win a series, I thought it’d be a great experience for us to have to go through something that difficult.”
Minnesota’s lead whittled from 12 points midway through the fourth quarter to two with 47.4 seconds left before Clarendon made a pair of clinching free throws with 27.5 seconds remaining for an 81-77 Lynx lead.
“Those are the moments you’re going to face in a Game 5 in a playoff, in a single elimination, where you’re up and a team is desperate and you’ve got to knock down those,” Clarendon said.
Clarendon got a steal, then Aerial Powers made two free throws with 14.6 seconds remaining to secure the victory.
“It feels great because it was a tough game. Washington needed that to get a playoff spot so they came out really strong, and I was happy how we matched their energy,” said Lynx forward Napheesa Collier, who recorded her fifth double-double of season with 14 points and 10 rebounds. “We needed this game too because we wanted to secure that three-spot,”
Powers led Minnesota with 27 points, matching her career high. She has scored at least 20 points in four of her seven games since returning from a thumb injury that keep her out of 13 games.
Veteran center Sylvia Fowles was held to eight points, but she grabbed 14 rebounds, including five in the fourth quarter. Kayla McBride scored 10 points.
“I really feel like we’re a championship team,” Powers said. “We have the inside presence in Phee and Syl, and we have the outside presence. It’s really hard when we have all of those going. … On the other end, I feel like we play defense pretty good.”
“Nobody said it was going to be easy. I just love how we kept our head, and I love the leadership on this team,” Reeve said. “I love that our best players weren’t playing great. I love the interactions, the conversations they were having among themselves. I loved how they came out of the locker room.”