Rebekkah Brunson continues to leave mark on Lynx, WNBA

ByPat Borzi ESPN logo
Friday, July 6, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Lynx locker room had almost cleared out Thursday night after an 83-72 victory over the Sparks, but Maya Moore still had something to ask Rebekkah Brunson, the newly crowned WNBA career rebounding leader. Brunson sat at her locker, both knees wrapped in ice, checking out dozens of texts blowing up her smartphone when Moore yelled over from across the room.

"Hey BB," said Moore, using one of Brunson's nicknames. "Now that you've got the record, you going to start letting me get some rebounds?"

Brunson laughed heartily. She began the night needing 11 rebounds to pass the retired Tamika Catchings for the record. She finished with 12, giving her 3,318 for her career. And the Lynx needed them all, along with her three 3-pointers among 15 points. Two nights after the Lynx fumbled away a seven-game winning streak with an inexplicable home loss to Indiana, the worst team in the league, Brunson and Sylvia Fowles (27 points and nine rebounds) put the 11-7 Lynx back on track in this latest renewal of the WNBA's best rivalry.

Early in the season, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve tried limiting Brunson's minutes to ease the strain on her 36-year-old knees. No longer. Thursday night Brunson went a season-high 37 minutes, the full 20 in the second half. She passed Catchings' record with a defensive rebound with 7:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.

"If you were to cut her open and look at her heart, that's what makes her great," Reeve said. "[People think] it's more than that. It's always, 'It's analytic things,' or 'She studies the way it comes off.' No. She just wants it more than you, and that's the tenacity she's always brought."

The win made Reeve the winningest woman coach in WNBA history with 206 victories, breaking a tie with her mentor, the late Anne Donovan. But Reeve wasn't around at the finish. Moments after Brunson grabbed her record-setting rebound, Reeve was ejected for drawing two technical fouls.

A physical half-court game between the league's two best defensive teams featured plenty of contact, and an angry Reeve appeared to chase down an official to object to a non-call on Fowles, double-teamed and tied up in the low post.

"Anybody who watched the game could see it was either a jump ball or a foul, but it was not nothing," Reeve said of the Fowles play. "That's what kind of created the situation. I was actually calling a timeout and received a technical for calling a timeout. The second T, I had no idea why."

The Target Center sellout crowd of 9,303 wasn't thrilled with the officials, either, giving Reeve a standing ovation as she left.

"It sucked for me to be in the locker room," she said. "I told our team I can't do that. I'll talk to the league about exactly what the issue is/was, and were they correct in all that. But obviously I can't do that."

It has been an odd season for the four-time WNBA champions. It began with an uncharacteristically poor 3-6 start that saw the Lynx veteran starters -- Moore, Brunson, Fowles, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen -- appear a beat slow and disconnected. Then came the winning streak, with Moore scoring 20 points in all seven victories.

That's what made the 71-59 clunker against Indiana on Tuesday so jarring. Moore and Fowles combined to shoot 7-for-27 from the field for 17 points as the Lynx scored their fewest points in a game since 2013, and fewest at home since 2010.

The one bright spot that night was Brunson, the only Lynx player in double figures. Her 13-point, 12-rebound, 6-assist effort marked only her third career game of 10-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and 5-plus assists, and her first since 2013. On Thursday night, Brunson knew the Lynx needed more than rebounding and defense against the Sparks (12-7), who already had beaten the Lynx twice this season, here and at Staples Center.

"Going against L.A., they're a great team," Brunson said. "You have to know what you have to bring from the beginning of the game. One of those things is energy, some of the things that would help us win -- the hustle plays, 50-50 balls, things like that. I just decided before the game I was going to give it everything I have."

That included 3-point shooting. About 40 minutes before tipoff, with early warm-ups over, Brunson was still on the court putting up 3-pointers. In the first quarter she hit one from straightaway, off a Fowles feed from the low post, to give the Lynx a 17-9 lead.

The Sparks cut the lead to 38-35 at the half, but Brunson was relentless. Early in the third quarter she ran down a loose offensive rebound near midcourt and fed Whalen for a wide-open 3-pointer, capping an 11-6 run to give the Lynx some breathing room at 49-41. The lead never was less than six points after that. It was 68-57 when Reeve was ejected, and Fowles -- who made 10-of-11 from the field and added a career-high seven assists -- scored the next six Lynx points, four on foul shots.

"In big moments they made some really big plays," Sparks coach Brian Agler said. "Sylvia had a big night. We didn't do as good a job on her as we might have liked. They hit some timely shots and shot the ball really well from the 3-point line. I thought we had some chances to get over the hump and just never got over it."

Candace Parker (22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) and Nneka Ogwumike (15 points, eight assists) had strong games, but the Sparks didn't get much from anyone else. Alana Beard and Essence Carson limited Moore to eight points on 2-for-13 shooting, her second consecutive subpar game. But Fowles and Brunson carried the Lynx. Especially Brunson.

"BB is the heart and soul of our defense," Fowles said. "She stepped out there tonight and put us on her back. As a teammate, you have no choice to bounce back the way she bounced back."

In addition to passing Catchings in rebounding, Brunson notched her 82nd career double-double, breaking a tie with former Sacramento teammate Yolanda Griffith for sixth all-time.

"To just be in the conversation with [Catchings] is a blessing on its own," Brunson said. "Then to be able to pass her in something I know she was great at, it's just a blessing.

"Rebounding was something I learned early on was going to allow me to help my team, so I just kind of embraced it and went after it all the time. I learned early in just to be relentless, to keep going. You're not going to get them all, but if you keep going, you get some. I just have that attitude every time I'm on the floor."

And Moore, joking aside, loves every bit of it.

"She's the real deal, as far as the motor she brings, her tenacity," Moore said. "And we're forgetting she oftentimes is guarding the best player every night, as well as her rebounding job. I admire the way she's owned that rebounding role on our team. It's not a coincidence she has the most rings of anybody and the most rebounds in the history of the game. I'm truly happy we were able to celebrate her tonight with a win at home."

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