Jim Souhan
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As the Lynx's 2023 season began, you had to wonder whether they were tanking. Then you had to wonder why they weren't.

They lost their first six games. In a league filled with stars and topped with new-age super teams built via free agency, they struck out in free agency and the best player on the roster, Napheesa Collier, was recovering from her pregnancy.

Two star players from the Midwest, Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark, would be available soon in the WNBA draft. Why spend a season fighting back toward .500 when you could play to improve your draft positioning?

The Lynx provided a vehement answer to that question Sunday afternoon in Connecticut. They were facing elimination against the Connecticut Sun, who finished third in the WNBA regular-season standings, have one of the world's best players in Alyssa Thomas and watched their coach, Stephanie White, receive the league Coach of the Year award in a pregame ceremony.

On Wednesday night in Connecticut, the Sun defeated the Lynx 90-60, and yes, the game really was that lopsided. The Lynx were clearly outclassed, and what would you expect from a group that had to overachieve just to secure a No. 6 seed in a 12-team league?

On Sunday, the Lynx took control of the game in the third quarter, withstood the inevitable Sun run and cruised to an 82-75 victory.

Collier left the game because of a back injury before returning. Rachel Banham inadvertently smashed Sun star DeWanna Bonner in the face with an elbow. Thomas played her usual emotional game, and so did Lynx rookie Diamond Miller, who tangled with Thomas literally and figuratively. Kayla McBride, the Lynx's second-best player, scored 28 points and added eight rebounds while making many of the game's biggest shots.

"It was fun," Collier said.

Reacting to one game, in any sport at any time, can prove foolish, but the Lynx on Sunday at least offered reason to believe that they can remain relevant and competitive without tanking — the practice of losing on purpose to improve draft position.

This season, Collier has improved from quality all-around player to star. McBride, who often during her Lynx tenure has slumped or disappeared offensively, played well enough this season as Collier's co-star that Reeve signed her to a multiyear contract extension.

Miller, the second pick in this year's WNBA draft, has performed sporadically but has size and talent and no fear.

Dorka Juhász, the 16th pick in that draft, started a playoff game Sunday and continued to contribute more than most WNBA second-round picks after making the AP all-rookie team.

On Wednesday, the Lynx will play a home game for the right to advance to the league semifinals for the first time since 2020. "Who could ask for anything more?" Reeve asked with a smile.

Those spoiled by the Lynx's championship run might not be overly impressed with one first-round playoff victory, but this is a triumph for Reeve. The Lynx's roster was not considered strong or deep by most league analysts before the season began, and they've had to play long stretches without Jessica Shepard, their original starting center this season, and starting point guard Lindsay Allen.

Of course, the Lynx were so poorly rated in part because of their failures in free agency. McBride has proved to be a winner. She was signed in the same class as dynamic guard Aerial Powers, who has barely played for the Lynx despite being healthy this season, and post Natalie Achonwa, who missed this season because of pregnancy and didn't perform well last season.

Last winter, Reeve went hard after Breanna Stewart, one of the two best players in the world, and star point guard Courtney Vandersloot in free agency. Both signed with New York, providing a super-team competitor to defending champion Las Vegas and seemingly leaving the rest of the league fighting over crumbs.

That's why many analysts, including me, believed the Lynx should consider tanking.

After Sunday, Reeve has every reason to say we were wrong.

She has brought another big game to Target Center.

Against all odds, and despite all obstacles.