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Natasha Howard has big night on return but Liberty loses to Lynx, 88-78

New York Liberty v Minnesota Lynx Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Three-time WNBA champion Natasha Howard returned from an MCL strain Sunday and put up 30 points, but the Liberty couldn’t stop the Lynx’s winning streak and came away with a loss, dropping them two games under .500.

The loss came on the league’s first day back from its Olympic break. It was also Howard’s first game since late May. The 6’2” Howard was, along with Betnijah Laney, the Liberty’s big off-season acquisition, but she went down after three games.

Howard, a three-time WNBA champion and Defensive Player of the Year two seasons back, was 13-of-22 from the field, including 2-of-4 from deep, She also grabbed four rebounds. Laney, Sabrina Ionescu and Sami Whitcomb all finished in double figures with Ionescu going for 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

But despite all that, the Lynx won their eighth straight game. The game was close up until the final three minutes. Coming out of a timeout with 2:58 left, Bridget Carleton and Kayla McBride hit threes to lead an 8-0 run that put the Lynx up nine and in control for good. Over those three minutes, the Liberty went 2-of-8 and were outscored 14-5.

“I don’t think we executed down the stretch. We took some rushed shots and one time didn’t run a play, those last five minutes, I thought our offense wasn’t great.” said Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins

“I think what we didn’t do a good enough job of was recognizing switches and capitalizing on them,” he added talking about the team’s defense. “It’s something we prepared for heavily.”

On the other hand, Hopkins loved what he saw from Howard, who exploded for 20 points in the first half.

“It was really a matter of seeing how she looked — the minute restriction wasn’t hard and fast,” Hopkins added. “She felt great, she looked great. Doing what she did having not played in a game for so long, it was remarkable.”

However, Howard didn’t score in the final 3:42 of the game as the Lynx pulled ahead. The Liberty will need Howard if they’re going to make the playoffs. During the two months she was out, they missed her inside presence on both ends.

Here’s the game highlights...

For the Lynx, Olympic gold medal winner Napheesa Collier had 18 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and four assists. Sylvia Fowles also finished with a double-double with 20 points and 11 boards.

“Our energy is through the roof,’’ Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said post-game. “The days of practice we had were so fun to be around. It was our first time getting to that level with the team.’’