Almost every other WNBA team seemed to have a better chance at making the playoffs than the Minnesota Lynx when they got off to an 0-6 start to the season.
But this year’s late-season playoff push includes Cheryl Reeve’s team bunched together in the standings with other postseason hopefuls as the regular season winds down.
Needing just two wins to clinch a playoff spot with four games left entering Friday, the Lynx turned up their defense and saw Napheesa Collier’s 27 points and 17 rebounds ignite a late rally for a 91-85 overtime victory against Atlanta at Target Center.
“We talked about the game is supposed to be hard, where we’re at and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Reeve said. “It challenges you mentally, and it challenges you physically. You have to find a way to come out on top.”
The Lynx (18-19) avoided being swept this season by the Dream, who held the tiebreaker after two wins against Minnesota earlier this summer.
After dropping an important game Tuesday at the Mystics, the Lynx bounced back to move up to No. 5 in the standings ahead of Washington and Atlanta in the sixth and seventh spots, respectively.
Collier, who reached the 2,000-point mark for her career Friday, struggled earlier in the night to finish against Atlanta’s physicality. But after shooting 3-for-12 from the field in the first half, Collier had nine straight points to help erase a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit.
The all-star forward also scored seven points during an 11-1 run to give the Lynx an 85-76 lead in the extra period.
“It was a really important game because we’re fighting for a seed in the playoffs,” Collier said. “I’m really proud of the way we pushed through and the mental toughness we showed.”
The Dream (17-20) were held to just 36% shooting from the field and were outrebounded 50-45. The Lynx’s defense has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season — and it also gave them momentum to finish regulation Friday.
BOXSCORE: Lynx 91, Atlanta 85 (OT)
Helping on drives to the basket turned into key stops in crunch time. Kayla McBride’s layup with 11 seconds remaining sent the game into overtime. McBride finished with 20 points. Dorka Juhasz had 12 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and six assists.
“These are the games I like,” Juhasz said. “It has a lot of meaning for the playoffs. I’m glad we could win it. This was a good test for us.”
Atlanta had a seven-game winning streak after the last matchup against Minnesota, an 82-73 victory on July 18. Collier’s season-high 35 points weren’t enough that night to prevent a third straight Lynx loss.
So, how did the Lynx get themselves securely into the playoff picture?
Collier and company made an early-season turnaround with victories in nine of 12 games in June and July, highlighted by five consecutive wins. But after a brief slide, Reeve’s squad rallied to win eight of the next 13 games following that loss to Atlanta in mid-July. Back-to-back victories against Dallas had Minnesota looking at a top five playoff seed earlier before losing to New York and Washington to end the month of August.
Coming off a career-high 25 points at Washington, rookie Diamond Miller was limited to three points in 13 minutes. But McBride and ex-Gopher Rachel Banham (12 points) combined for seven of Minnesota’s eight threes. Nikolina Milic also had 10 points off the bench.
The Lynx host Phoenix on Sunday with a chance to make their playoff spot official with another victory. They’ll try to avoid having to win once on the road to end the regular season, with games Sept. 8 at Chicago and Sept. 10 at Indiana.
“I think this team feels good about itself,” Reeve said. “I know they feel good about this win because it’s obviously meaningful in terms of playoff positioning.”