MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When free agency began in the offseason, Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve made a call to 40-year-old center Taj McWilliams-Franklin.
Reeve figured the young Lynx could use a veteran presence. The second-year coach also figured McWilliams-Franklin could knock down the occasional jump shot, just as she had done when they were together in Detroit.
The pairing has worked out well.
McWilliams-Franklin scored 18 points, including the game-winning jumper with 1.3 seconds left, and added seven rebounds and the Lynx held on for a 62-60 win against San Antonio on Thursday.
“I don’t know if there’s a more consistent player than Taj, in that range,” Reeve said. “If you give her that shot, I feel like every time she shoots it, it’s going to go in from that range.”
Candice Wiggins added 15 points on a career-high five 3-pointers for Minnesota (15-4), which extended its franchise-best winning streak to eight games, the longest streak in the WNBA this season.
The Lynx have won 10 of their past 11 games and extended their Western Conference lead over San Antonio, Phoenix and Seattle to four games.
“Not our best performance,” Reeve said. “It’s not one that we will watch again, more than likely. All that matters is you got out of there with a ‘W’. You found a way. … Winning the game, no matter what it took or how it looked. Getting out of there with a ‘W’ is the most important thing.”
Sophia Young had 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Silver Stars (11-8), who have lost three in a row. Becky Hammon added 15 points.
Tied at 60 with 11.6 seconds remaining, Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen drove the length of the court and kicked the ball out to where Rebekkah Brunson and McWilliams-Franklin were open. The pass glanced off Brunson’s hand to McWilliams-Franklin, who connected from 18 feet.
“Lindsay sees a lot of things,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “I’m so slow, I was wide open.”
McWilliams-Franklin has scored in double figures in six straight games and is shooting 62 percent from the field during that time.
“She’s money in the bank from 15 feet, 15 to 17,” Reeve said. “It was comical to me because she didn’t find her range right away. Taj has been somebody that has been so focused on helping her teammates understand what we’re trying to do that her game suffered in the beginning, where she wasn’t focused on her own game. Now what you see from her is focusing more on how to get those shots.”
It was reminiscent of Sunday’s game between the two teams, when Whalen hit a game-winning jumper with 1.5 seconds left in a 70-69 Lynx victory.
“They’ve gotten us with one second left on the clock both times and that’s the way the game goes sometimes,” Hammon said. “But we’ve got to shake these off because we competed well. Down the stretch, we don’t know. We’ve got more games to come and playoffs in the future, so some of these little heartbreakers you’ve got to let go and do better next time.”
This game had a rough start.
The teams combined to shoot 19 percent (6 of 31) in the second quarter after a sluggish opening period. They combined for 15 points in the second and also combined for 17 turnovers in the first half.
Seimone Augustus, the reigning Western Conference player of the month, was 1 of 7 in the first half. Augustus and Whalen were a combined 6 of 26 for the game.
San Antonio led late in the fourth quarter until McWilliams-Franklin made two free throws for a 58-57 lead with just over a minute left.
The Lynx’s defense held on the ensuing possession as McWilliams-Franklin deflected a pass and the Silver Stars missed a desperate, deep 3-pointer. Minnesota added a pair of free throws, but Jia Perkins hit three free throws to tie the game 60-all.
McWilliams-Franklin knows a pair of last-second wins against the second-place team don’t come without a bit of good fortune.
“We’re really lucky,” she said. “The shot that Lindsay hit over Jayne Appel, you can’t draw things up like that. The shot today, hitting off some hands. You can’t say, ‘This is what we meant to do.’ It’s just basically lucky.”
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