Lynx loses 78-73 to Sun, losing Napheesa Collier to a foot injury

With just over 2½ minutes left in the third quarter of the Lynx’s game against Connecticut at the Target Center on Thursday, in front of the Lynx bench, star forward Napheesa Collier made a cut.

She arrived limping, with no visible contact, but she left the game with what the team called an injury to her left foot and did not return.

It was not yet clear on Thursday evening how serious the injury was that Collier, who is participating in her second Olympic Games this summer and leads the Lynx in all areas, had sustained.

But that might have been the hardest part of Minnesota’s 78-73 loss to the Sun. It was the first time the Lynx (14-6) have lost back-to-back games this season. Seeing that happen with your best player on the bench only made it worse.

“I mean, she’s an MVP candidate,” said Kayla McBride, who made three of six 3-pointers and had 13 points with eight rebounds and four assists. “We want her on the court with us, her dominance and her presence on both ends. We needed her at that moment.”

When Collier left the game, the Lynx trailed 55-53 after blowing a 10-point lead earlier in the third quarter. And if it didn’t hurt the Lynx right away, it did in the end. After Diamond Miller’s three-point play with 7:35 left in the game tied the score at 64, the Sun (16-4) went on a 10-0 run to take a 74-64 lead on Tiffany Mitchell’s driving layup with just under three minutes left.

It was the decisive run in a match that saw many such runs.

According to Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, with or without Collier, the Lynx didn’t do enough to win.

“You can’t respond to a team’s physicality by demanding mistakes,” Reeve said. “We have to respond with aggressive play. When the ball is in your hands, don’t stand on your heels. All the basic stuff. We just have to play a little harder, physically. There were times we did that, there were times we didn’t do it enough.”

For example, in the first quarter, Connecticut got off to a hot start and built a 20-9 lead, led by DeWanna Bonner, who scored 11 of her 24 points in the first seven minutes.

For much of the rest of the game, the teams traded runs. The Lynx took the lead and Connecticut answered back. Trailing 34-27 with just four minutes left in the first half, the Lynx went on a 24-6 run over the next six minutes to take a 48-38 lead early in the third, only to have Connecticut score the next 10.

Trailing 64-58 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Lynx tied the score at 64-64 thanks to a three-pointer from Miller.

And then Alyssa Thomas took over. In the final 7½ minutes of the game, Thomas — who finished with a 13-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound triple double — didn’t score. But she assisted on four of Connecticut’s five field goals and grabbed five rebounds.

“Over the years, we’ve tried a lot of things,” Reeve said of Thomas. “After every game, we say, ‘It didn’t work.’ She’s just that good. She’s smart enough to know where to put the ball.”

SCORECARD: Connecticut 78, Lynx 73

The Lynx had four of their five starters in double figures: Alanna Smith (14), McBride (13), Courtney Williams (12) and Bridget Carleton (12). They shot 45.2 percent. But at the most basic level, they simply couldn’t match Connecticut’s level of intensity for the full 40 minutes.

Now the Lynx will be without Collier for at least a while. And maybe also reserve guard Olivia Époupa, who left the game in the first half with a thigh injury.

“Phee knows we’ve got her back,” McBride said. “No matter what the circumstances are. We want her to be healthy. She’s our leader. But when you don’t have her? We’ve talked all season about it being a team effort. Everybody has to step up a little bit on both sides.”

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