Almost exactly a month ago the Lynx lost a home game to the Las Vegas Aces. It was their fourth straight loss and their third straight at home. After a promising 3-0 start the Lynx were 4-5.
This is when the team was introduced to “Angry Syl.”
That’s center Sylvia Fowles — the perennial All Star, two-time WNBA Finals MVP, the one holdover from the Lynx title seasons currently playing.
This was not easy for Fowles. Gregarious off the court, Fowles has rarely felt comfortable being the loudest voice on the court. Nicknamed Mama Syl by her teammates, Fowles always has been more comfortable nurturing than nagging.
But enough was enough. When you talk about the impact a player can have on a team — and Fowles, named this week to her sixth WNBA All-Star Game, has continued to have that with her play — this might have been the most important thing Fowles did for her team so far.
“I couldn’t find a happy medium of trying to make everyone feel comfortable,” Fowles said.
But: “When I’m mad, I’m mad,” she said.
In the days following that loss, in practice, Fowles was relentless, loud. And her teammates listened. Move forward a month and the Lynx have won six of their past eight games, have improved to 10-7, are in fourth place in the WNBA, just 1½ games out of first.
When Fowles was added as an All-Star reserve Monday, it was because of the numbers. Sunday she set the WNBA’s all-time double-double mark with her 158th such game. She is averaging 14.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
More importantly, Mama Syl has become the mother of all motivators.
“It came when we weren’t so successful, and she’d had enough,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “And she imposed her will on the team. She looked around and recognized it wasn’t going to come from anywhere else. Seimone [Augustus] is very vocal, but she’s not playing. So you need that voice. She’ll tell you it’s not something she really wants to do. But she knows what the team needs.”
Fowles is peaking at just the right time. Nursing a sore elbow back to health kept her from playing overseas in the offseason. Reeve said Fowles reported to camp this spring healthy, but rusty, and not in the greatest shape.
Add in an almost entirely new roster and there were going to be some growing pains.
And then there is the officiating …
Yes, Reeve has been saying it for years: Fowles doesn’t get the calls she deserves in the paint. But this year it might be more true than ever. For proof look at Sunday’s game against Phoenix, which matched Fowles against Phoenix All-Star center Brittney Griner. The two battled each other all game, but combined to shoot zero free throws.
“The paint is being officiated differently,” Reeve said. “Meaning it’s a little of ‘anything goes.’ There’s contact that’s going uncalled. I don’t necessarily know if it was a mandate or a directive, but it’s what’s happening. When you have a player like Syl who is counting on getting position in the paint, getting those touches, it’s been a lot harder.”
Speaking of Angry Syl. The frustration with the lack of calls, frankly, got under Fowles’ skin.
“It’s pretty much the story of my life, not getting any calls,” she said. “I think it is worse this year than any other year. I had my moments a couple games back. But, at the end of the day, I had to let it go.’’
Fowles’ scoring is down slightly. But so, too are her free throw attempts. She attempted five free throws per game in 2018, just 2.5 this season. If she were getting to the line more often, those scoring numbers would be about the same.
Meanwhile, Fowles has upped her game, with four straight double-doubles heading into Wednesday’s game with Seattle at Target Center.
“She’s finding a way to be successful anyway,” Reeve said.
If Odyssey Sims was over the moon when she found out about her first All-Star Game berth, Fowles was more, well, underwhelmed.
But in the context of her career, it’s important. At 33 there are fewer All-Star Games in her future than her past.
Her first All-Star nod came in 2009, when Fowles was 23. The other starting center in that game was Lisa Leslie, the player whose double-double record Fowles passed on Sunday.
“I was a happy fan,” Fowles recalled.
Now she’s the old guard [or center] who appreciates the honor, but craves the rest.
“It’s an honor to get picked,” she said. “But I want to relax and let the other young players play.”
• Sims had her first court appearance Tuesday stemming from her DWI arrest in June. Her next court appearance is slated for Sept. 10, two days after the Lynx finish the regular season.
• Lynx forward Damiris Dantas will miss Wednesday’s game because of a calf injury but could be back as soon as Sunday’s game in Las Vegas.