Tuesday, the Lynx ended a four-game losing streak with a victory, on the road, against the team with the worst record in the WNBA.
The 85-69 victory at Atlanta was much-needed, but it was not necessarily proof that the Lynx — 11-11 in an up-and-down season that has seen two four-game losing streaks — have figured things out. An upcoming stretch against quality opponents, including Friday’s game with first-place Connecticut at Target Center, will be a good gauge.
But coach Cheryl Reeve will tell you it’s no coincidence that the latest victory came on the day Seimone Augustus made her 2019 debut. It was not a coincidence that after falling behind by 11 with just under six minutes left in the third quarter they were able to rally, finishing the game on a 42-15 run.
Finishing has been such a problem for this Lynx team, which lost a game in which it led by 20 points for the first time in franchise history, at Indiana on Saturday. But Tuesday, their 30 fourth-quarter points were a season high.
For weeks, since May 30 surgery on her right knee — she has had three surgeries on each knee — Augustus has been an extra coach. Vocal, demanding at times, trying to get a younger Lynx team in transition to win.
But now, finally, she is able to lead by example.
“They have to see it before they understand what I’m seeing from the sideline, or what I see on the court,” Augustus said. “So we did a few things, and Syl [Fowles] was able to get some easy buckets. And it was like, ‘Oh, that’s what I’m supposed to do. OK, the cloud is gone.’ It was great. After that you saw players being more confident in making passes they probably wouldn’t have made in previous games.”
Going forward, Augustus’ time on the court will be carefully controlled. She will play in spurts of three or four minutes. Reeve will try to keep her under 20 minutes per game.
But her impact on the floor will be felt. It was Tuesday, even though she scored a relatively modest eight points on 3-for-9 shooting in 21 minutes. But she had two steals with four assists, assisting on all but one of Fowles’ baskets. Her presence created spacing that got Odyssey Sims more looks at attacking the basket. Reeve said her presence made the team more confident on the floor.
“She’s finally showing ’em, after all these games,” Reeve said. “We’ve been talking to our players about what we’re trying to get, what we’re trying to do. And then Seimone just goes out and does it.”
Augustus has adapted her game throughout her career. She was a pure scorer early. As the Lynx started to win championships, she became more of a defender. In recent seasons — especially when it comes to playing with Fowles — she had become a passer. This year she has added being a vocal leader, one finally able to do so while also leading by example.
“In some ways she’s ready for it,” Reeve said. “She doesn’t have the help around her she’s used to having, as far as leadership. She had to step up.”
Having Augustus back, even with limited minutes, gives Reeve another option; the Lynx were especially effective going with a smaller lineup in Atlanta, where rookie Napheesa Collier had one of her best games playing primarily big forward, scoring 13 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter.
“I want this team to do what it needs to do to play Lynx basketball,” Augustus said. “Now I’m back out there, I’m able to set a tone, get us going in the right direction.”
Eighth-place Minnesota plays five of its next six games against teams ahead of the Lynx in the standings, four of them on the road.
“There is a chance for us to play our best basketball,” Reeve said. “But we have to be confident in what we’re doing. Seimone was a big reason why we gained some confidence in that last game. Hopefully, the best is yet to come.”
lynx vs. connecticut 7 p.m. Friday (no TV)