Jim Souhan
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They played overseas, ended their seasons, flew to Minnesota, went through COVID protocols and only then — fatigued and jet-lagged — started practicing with the remade Minnesota Lynx.

Kayla McBride, the Lynx's top free-agent signing, arrived just in time to play in the regular-season opener, but not in time to know the plays.

Napheesa Collier, their rising star, missed three games, and on Sunday night her coach, Cheryl Reeve, said she still doesn't know the plays. "Hopefully, the more she plays, the more knowledgeable she'll get,'' Reeve said. "I asked her, 'Could you act like you've been here for a couple of years?'"

Pointed humor works pretty well after you've won three straight with your most efficient and dominant performance of the season.

Facing a remarkably difficult opening stretch of games, the Lynx held what Reeve called a "terrible'' training camp, then started 0-4. They were playing poorly against excellent teams.

On Sunday night at Target Center, McBride and Collier turned in dominating performances as the Lynx won their third straight with their best first half and total game performance of the season in a fast-paced 100-80 victory over Atlanta.

McBride unleashed her quick-release shot accurately enough to score a season-high 19 points.

Collier showed off the versatility that makes her a difficult matchup for almost any opponent.

McBuckets & Phee could be the hit new series of the summer.

McBride figured to fit in well with the Lynx because the team needed three-point shooting. In the past two games, McBride has hit nine of her 16 three-point attempts. Sunday, she scored a team-best and season-high 19 points in just 23 minutes with efficient shooting — 7-for-14 from the field and 4-for-7 on threes — then became the Lynx's most enthusiastic towel-waver.

The question facing Collier was whether she would continue to be valuable because of her versatility, or whether she could make the leap to becoming a leaguewide star. Maybe those are contradictory pursuits.

Sunday, she scored 14 points, had six rebounds, six assists and no turnovers to produce a game-best plus-22 rating.

Her size and long arms make her disruptive defensively. She's a strong rebounder. She sees the floor well. And she appears to have improved her ballhandling to the point where she can run the fast break or beat defenders off the dribble from the perimeter.

The Lynx dominated despite missing two starters — guard Aerial Powers and forward Damiris Dantas — yet this was the first time this season when the game flow looked more like art than work.

"I feel like my teammates are starting to trust me a little bit more,'' McBride said. "A lot of people forgot about my ability to shoot last year and the year before. But that's what I do, and that's what coach brought me here to do.''

McBride and her teammates were active defensively, clogging passing lanes, tipping passes and closing out on three-point shooters. On one play, McBride grabbed the ball from a passing opponent and held on, getting flung to the floor while creating a turnover.

"It's about trust and being connected, and that starts on defense,'' McBride said. "When our defense is able to stand up, you can get out and run. When you're constantly getting scored on and taking the ball out and playing five on five ... you don't want to play that way. The last few games, it's been fun flying around on defense and getting out and running.''

That style of play created fast-break layups and open three-pointers. The Lynx scored 100, and missed a half-dozen easy opportunities.

McBride specializes in difficult shots — three-pointers and off-the-dribble pullup jumpers.

"Just being that person who can space the floor is my job,'' McBride said.

McBride said she chose the Lynx for "many'' reasons, then named one of the most important.

"Championship culture,'' she said. "Obviously, we're still figuring things out this season, but having that culture to stand on is so important.''