Damiris Dantas sat down in front of the camera Sunday. But before she even answered a question, she told herself aloud: “No crying.”
Things ended hard at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The Lynx’s season of overachieving ended in a 92-71 loss to a Seattle Storm team that completed a three-game sweep in the WNBA semifinals. Suddenly the Lynx, who had bonded so tightly during two-plus months in the bubble, who had secured a fourth playoff seed despite an avalanche of injuries, who had advanced to the semifinals with a victory over Phoenix, were going home.
And that, frankly, was hard.
“I learned how much I love my teammates,” said second-year Lynx forward Napheesa Collier, who ended a strong series with a 22-point, 15-rebound, three-block game. “And how important it is to have that chemistry. I can’t wait to get back to that next year.”
That said, leave it to coach Cheryl Reeve to put it in perspective:
“I wish we would have ended it differently,” she said.
Seattle took this game over early. The game opened with Dantas — who scored 16 points — hitting consecutive three-pointers. But, over the next eight-plus minutes the Lynx missed 13 straight shots and turned the ball over five times in a 24-2 run that put the Storm in control for good.
The Lynx should be flattered the Storm abandoned its swarming, trapping defense early Sunday, opting to switch on the pick-and-roll. It took the Lynx a while to adjust. By that time it was too late.
But that doesn’t take away from the season. Not a lot was expected of the Lynx. And that was before Karima Christmas-Kelly was lost early because of an Achilles’ tendon injury and before All-Star center Sylvia Fowles’ calf injury kept her out of the final 13 regular-season games and limited her to half of the team’s first playoff game.
The Lynx won without Fowles, without Odyssey Sims to start the season and made do without assistants Rebekkah Brunson and Plenette Pierson down the stretch. Early on in camp Reeve said she sensed something special about this team’s chemistry, but wasn’t sure if it would translate to the court.
“This was a special season,” Reeve said. “This is a special group that accomplished special things together.”
The next step is translating a rather surprising 2020 season into 2021.
The Lynx will have to get better just to tread water. The pandemic and social justice issues kept many star players out of the bubble. Washington will be back at full strength with Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles and Natasha Cloud back. Las Vegas won the top playoff seed without center Liz Cambage and guard Kelsey Plum. Los Angeles will be healthy and Connecticut has pushed the Aces to a Game 5 in their semifinals without MVP candidate Jonquel Jones.
But the Lynx have a start. Collier likely will be named to an All-WNBA team next week. Crystal Dangerfield was Rookie of the Year. Dantas took an enormous step in her development, and the Lynx developed real depth in Bridget Carleton and Rachel Banham. Last season’s second-round surprise, Jessica Shepard, should be fully recovered from ACL surgery.
Fowles will be back healthy. All of the major players on this team are under contract or under team control for next year. The fact that so many key players — primarily Collier and Dangerfield — are on rookie contracts will give the Lynx room to make moves.
“We have money,” said Reeve, also the team’s general manager.
But the team will have to add a significant piece.
One possibility: Maya Moore. She has taken two years off to work for social justice, to get a conviction against Jonathan Irons overturned. She succeeded, and the two have wed. Will she want to return? It’s way too early to know.
But thinking ahead didn’t make Sunday’s present any easier. Six players scored 25 or more points in a game and seven players led the team in scoring during the season. But Sunday the Lynx bench struggled, getting outscored 32-7. Seattle, the 2018 champion, will be going for a fourth title.
Collier talked about how strange it will be to emerge from the bubble, not to see her teammates every day. She’s already looking forward to 2021.
“We can be really, really good,” she said. “We proved a lot of people wrong this year. We have a great base now.”
The Star Tribune did not travel to Florida for WNBA coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews.