Layshia Clarendon made an instant impact for the Minnesota Lynx.
Clarendon scored five straight points in overtime, was a spark at both ends, and the Lynx rallied to beat Connecticut 79-74 Sunday for their first win of the season.
Clarendon, a nine-year veteran who averaged 11.5 points last season with New York but got caught in a numbers crunch this season, finished with 12 points after signing with Minnesota on Sunday.
“Difference in the game, no doubt about it,” said coach Cheryl Reeve.
Clarendon hit an apparent game-winner from just inside the midcourt logo at the fourth-quarter buzzer, sending the crowd into a frenzy. However, video review showed the ball was released a split-second late.
“I think it hyped the crowd and gave us the excitement that we aren’t losing in overtime in our house,” Clarendon said.
It was an opportunity the cold-shooting Lynx barely deserved.
Minnesota (1-4) shot just 4 for 19 in the fourth quarter, and trailed 63-55 late before Kayla McBride and Damiris Dantas hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Crystal Dangerfield scored with 2.3 seconds left to tie the game.
Connecticut (6-2) shot 4 of 16 from the field in the fourth quarter and finished with 22 points in the paint, 17 below its average. Minnesota allowed 57 to Seattle on Friday.
“Far and away our best defensive game of the year. That was what I think gave us that life, and then we hit shots at exactly the right time,” Reeve said.
Sylvia Fowles was dominant inside with 24 points and nine rebounds to pace Minnesota, and Napheesa Collier and McBride each scored 11. Collier and Dangerfield had seven rebounds apiece, a career high for the latter.
But this was about Clarendon, who said her head was spinning before the game. Her orders were to simply play, and they improved the Lynx defense and helped settle down the offense.
“(Coach) was calling plays and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what that is,’” Clarendon said.
“She knows the personnel, she just knows how to play at the pace that we wanted to,” McBride said. “I thought she was great top to bottom, even defensively, just kind of being thrown into it. … That’s her being a vet and her being ready and staying ready.”
Collier scored five straight points in overtime — her first points since the opening quarter — to put the Lynx up 70-69 almost midway through the extra frame.
Jonquel Jones, who led Connecticut (6-2) with 22 points, hit a 3 to give the Sun a 72-70 lead, but Clarendon countered by scoring on a drive and followed with a shot from outside the arc on the next offensive series for a 75-72 Lynx lead.
Coming off a nightmare Friday in Seattle, where the Lynx trailed by as many as 29 points in the second half, Connecticut entered as the league’s top team record-wise.
Yet, it looks like the Lynx might be OK.
“Our communication was a season high, our collective will was at a season high,” Reeve said. “We were kind of shooting ourselves in the foot quite a bit, but hanging in there. They didn’t stop believing and that felt really good for this team.”