Damiris Dantas' trust in herself is a necessity for Lynx

Dantas is a commanding force when she's able to stay out of foul trouble

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Damiris Dantas recorded a career-high 28 points, seven rebounds, three steals and just two personal fouls in Minnesota’s Wednesday night 86-83 win over the Chicago Sky. Photo credit: NBA Content Network

Damiris Dantas knew she’d be targeted.

The Chicago Sky had run pick-and-rolls all night against Dantas and Crystal Dangerfield, attempting to land a mismatch between Stephanie Dolson or Cheyenne Parker and the Lynx’s 5’5 point guard. And they had been successful.

With 39.9 seconds remaining in Wednesday night’s game, the Chicago Sky ran pick-and-roll action for Courtney Vandersloot and Cheyenne Parker, attempting to narrow an 85-81 deficit.

Vandersloot began on the left side of the court, setting up Dangerfield for Parker’s screen which came at the top of the key. The screen was set poorly, allowing Dangerfield and Dantas to both set their attention on Vandersloot, but the All-Star point guard turned the corner, making her way to the right block where she drew a shooting foul on an unplanted Dantas with 34.4 seconds to spare.

But Dantas wouldn’t keep her guilty expression for long, though.

Napheesa Collier was called for an offensive foul after Vandersloot narrowed the deficit to 85-83 with two free throws, and the Sky called a timeout with 17.6 seconds left, crafting how they’d catch Dantas in another pick-and-roll foul.

But Dantas was ready.

“We knew that was coming, she was ready,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “So we knew coming out of that timeout that she’d once again be in the pick and roll, and she was ready.

“The plan was to try to slow Sloot down, not let her get her wheels rolling, because once she does that she gets by you, which she had just done.”

In Chicago’s final possession, Vandersloot received the inbound pass from Allie Quigley on the right side. She dribbled over to the top, left corner, waiting for her teammates to clear the lane. With 9.1 seconds remaining, Vandersloot used Parker’s screen, which this time caught Dangerfield, leaving Dantas in a one-on-one switch with Vandersloot. Collier came across to help at the block, where Dantas met her. Vandersloot dribbled too far under the basket and was forced to throw up a wild shot near the two forwards. But with her team’s lead on the line, Dantas trusted her defense without gambling and refused to give Vandersloot the foul she was seeking.

“It was a big-time possession,” Reeve said. “We finally came in and crowded it, and (Vandersloot) had no place to go. We got a really big stop.”

The final stop may have been overshadowed by Dantas’ career-high 28 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Understandably so.

Dantas was 10-for-13 from the field and a perfect 5-for-5 from 3-point range where she showed little hesitation and let her smooth stroke fly throughout the night.

“Before the game, (Rebekkah Brunson) talked to me in warmup,” Dantas said. “She said, ‘Today is good game for you,’ because I made a lot of shots in warmup.”

But Dantas’ final stop was what sealed the Lynx’s 12th win of the season, gave them the playoff seeding tiebreaking edge over Chicago and reassured Minnesota of Dantas’ reliability in crunch time.

“The coach talked to me last night about too much fouls before the game, and today I come for no fouls because no fouls you play more,” Dantas said.

That’s a lesson she’s learned the hard way.

Dantas has recorded three first-half fouls in four of the Lynx’s last seven games, two of which ended in losses to Atlanta and Phoenix. In those four first halves, Dantas has averaged 4.5 points and just 12 minutes of play.

Her shooting rhythm has been off in those games, too. She shot a combined 14-for-34 from the field (41.2%) and 2-for-13 from 3-point range (15.4%) in the recent games she’s been in early foul trouble.

And when Dantas isn’t on offensively, her absence is a massive loss for the Lynx.

Dantas has shot 53.8% from the field and 41.4% from 3 In the eight games the Lynx have played without injured center Sylvia Fowles. She’s also improving her touch in the restricted area where she’s shot 17-for-19 in Minnesota’s last eight games.

“Damiris is just really playing well, and settling into her spaces,” Reeve said. “Obviously, when she had (Fowles) in there, there are a couple tweaks we’ve made to give Damiris more opportunity. She’s also been good on the inside. Hard to play against down in the paint. And she’s rebounding the ball. Really happy with how she’s playing right now, and obviously was the factor in the win.”

But Dantas’ ability to defend without fouling may be as crucial as her offense going forward.

The Lynx will close their season next week with games against the Las Vegas Aces and Indiana Fever, who are first and third in the league in fouls drawn per game. The Aces, of course, also lead the league in percentage of points scored in the paint (48%). The Lynx aren’t in jeopardy of missing the playoffs (they clinched their tenth-straight playoff appearance on Tuesday thanks to Indiana’s loss to Atlanta) but entering the postseason with a confident Dantas — especially while Fowles is sidelined indefinitely — will be a necessity for Minnesota.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations with Coach, and everybody said I need more score,” Dantas said. “So, take your time but let’s go because we don’t have Syl now. With Syl not here, I need you. So I’m trying to score more, rebound. My teammates help me so I’m happy for 20 points today.”

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