Fresh off a 14-win regular season and a thrilling second-round victory over Phoenix, Minnesota will take on Seattle in a best-of-five semifinal series opening at 2 p.m. Sunday.
This season has been nothing but a feel-good story for Minnesota, overcoming a number of obstacles to get here. It has done so under the watchful eye of newly-named Coach of the Year Cheryl Reeve and behind the standout play of Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield. Damiris Dantas has emerged as a top-tier offensive weapon, and Napheesa Collier built upon her stunning rookie campaign to earn second-team All-WNBA honors.
Regardless of what happens this series, this season is a success.
You won’t find anyone picking Minnesota to take down Seattle, the overwhelming title favorite. Heading into the postseason, five out of six ESPN experts picked the Lynx to fall to Phoenix. Those same six experts all picked the Storm to eventually win the WNBA title.
This is the same Seattle team that rocked Minnesota in two regular season meetings to the tune of 15- and 24-point victories. Three more games like that are expected on the near horizon. Good season, Minnesota.
“This is a competitive group. They certainly understand how to have perspective. They feel great about our accomplishments this season and how we’ve come together to mine success,” Reeve said. “But I think, in some cases, they’re green and they know that we’ve played Seattle two games, and we were horrendous in a couple situations that just can’t happen. I’m eager for them to get another crack at it, another few times, and let’s see.”
Minnesota points to the fact that the first loss was so early in the season, and Rachel Banham said the Lynx just didn’t come out with energy the second time around. Seattle is certainly the superior team, but it hasn’t taken Minnesota’s best shot.
“They didn’t see the best of us. The way we played as a team isn’t what we’ve shown during the year. It definitely isn’t our best,” Collier said. “So I’m excited to go out there and play the game that we know how to play. Not turning it over so much, being aggressive on defense, doing what we do on offense, things like that. We haven’t played well against them yet.
“I am really excited to go out there fists flying.”
You would expect nothing less from this group. This isn’t a group that’s likely to lay down and die. You don’t do what Minnesota did this season only to fold when you reach these types of heights. On their best day, the Lynx can defend at a high level and score enough to keep up with anyone.
The reality is they’ll need three “best days” in five tries to win this series. Is that feasible? Maybe not. But it’s what they’ll attempt to do.
Reeve has two games of information about what won’t work against Seattle. So it’s a great bet she’ll try something else. And if that doesn’t work in Game 1, the Lynx will have a new trick to try come Game 2.
Reeve’s experience and acumen could benefit Minnesota in this series as much as it did throughout the regular season. No one adjusted better on the fly this summer — both throughout the campaign and even within games — than the Lynx.
“Whatever you got in the first game, you’re not finding in the second game, so you’ve got to find a new way to get things done defensively or offensively. That’s the fun of it,” Reeve said. “The ups and downs of a series, how a win affects you, how a loss affects you, and just teaching this group, I think this will be a tremendous experience for them and teaching them. … Definitely just teaching them big picture. I could tell this group was very intrigued by that. … I think they’re excited about that and I’m excited to try to help guide them through it.”
Reeve has done a lot of teaching this season. This is a young team whose best basketball is to come in the seasons ahead. But that doesn’t mean the Lynx will take this opportunity for granted. Collier noted how locked in her team has been in recent days. She’s excited to get this series kicked off “with a bang.”
“This is not a ‘Hey, you’ve got nothing to lose’ (situation). That doesn’t work,” Reeve said. “We have a certain mentality that I will be really disappointed if we don’t come out with, that we are in this series to win the darn thing.”