Even though she’s only 32, Seimone Augustus has fielded questions about her retirement plans for the past two years. “In human life, that’s still really young,” the Lynx guard said. “But in basketball years, that’s 100 years old.”
The Lynx pushed back convincingly this season against the perception they were over the hill, earning the WNBA’s best record and advancing to the league Finals for the fifth time in six years. But the idea was raised again less than an hour after Thursday’s 77-76 loss to Los Angeles, which ended the Lynx’s bid for a fourth WNBA title.
Though it’s usually posed in delicate terms — with words such as “veteran” or “mature” — discussion of the Lynx’s advancing age is likely to linger through the upcoming offseason. Coach Cheryl Reeve said Friday that her team plans to combat it aggressively. Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson, both 34, will skip overseas play this winter and stay in Minneapolis to prepare for next summer’s WNBA season. Augustus will do the same, spending the winter in her hometown of Baton Rouge, La.
All of them are committed to giving the Lynx their best, Reeve said, after what she called “one of the most fulfilling seasons” of her career. Though she was still bruised Friday after a wrenching loss that included an officiating error, the prospect of next season brightened her mood.
“I’d like to think if this group is together, we’ll continue to be one of the better teams in the league,” Reeve said. “It’s hard to project that right now, but I like the way this team got ready. I like the way they prepared their bodies. I like the commitment we made to each other and how much they cared for each other, and the commitment to winning no matter what.
“We were written off in many facets going into this season. Then you play the season, and it turns out we were pretty good.”
Despite lingering pain over a disappointing end, Reeve called the WNBA Finals “the best series in the history of the league.” The Lynx lost Game 5 — and a chance to tie the league record of four championships — when the Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike scored on a put-back with 3.1 seconds left.
Much of the postgame discussion centered on Reeve’s public evisceration of the league’s officiating. The WNBA issued a statement Friday admitting that a basket that gave the Sparks a 73-71 lead with 1 minute, 14 seconds left should not have counted, because it came after the shot clock had expired. Officials could have reviewed the play but did not.
As steamed as Reeve was, she was careful to point out that the Lynx contributed plenty to their own demise. A team built on defense and rebounding underperformed in those areas in the second half, and the Sparks pounced.
Los Angeles won its first WNBA title in 14 years by shutting out a screaming Target Center crowd announced at 19,423 — fifth-largest in Finals history — and making a series of big-time plays late in the game. In a fourth quarter that featured nine lead changes and two ties, the Sparks scored eight second-chance points off of six offensive rebounds. They outrebounded the Lynx 19-9 and shot 56 percent in the second half.
“I’m proud of my team. We never gave up,” Brunson said. “It’s unfortunate. We knew [defense and rebounding] were going to be the keys. We just didn’t get it done.”
The loss in the Finals did not dim Reeve’s pride in what the Lynx accomplished. They became the first WNBA team to reach the Finals five times, and their 28-6 regular-season record was the best in the league. Their 28 victories also were the most in franchise history.
Sparks coach Brian Agler called this year’s edition of the Lynx the best he has seen. Their success over the past six seasons, he said, has pushed other teams to improve — including his own. “It’s good for the league to have a team like that,” he said. “When we were putting our team together this year, it was about, ‘What do we need to do to beat Minnesota?’ ”
The next question for the Lynx is: What do they need to do to stay on top? Reeve lauded her entire roster for its “great vibe” and expects it to remain mostly intact.
All five starters are under contract for next season, as are reserves Jia Perkins, Renee Montgomery and Natasha Howard. Janel McCarville will become an unrestricted free agent. Reeve said she wants to bring back forward Keisha Hampton, while guard Anna Cruz will have to work around her commitment to the Spanish national team.
After Game 5, Reeve joked that perhaps critics should again call the Lynx “old and washed up.” She speculated that might have motivated them. Deep down, though, she knew what really drove her team.
“The Lynx mean so much to them, and they’re willing to go all-in and make that their first priority,” she said. “I’m always proud of them. They’re special in so many ways.
“Eventually, Father Time is going to catch up. They’ll all know when it is. But it’s just not right now.”