It’s difficult, sometimes, to know how Seimone Augustus is feeling — at least on the court.
She keeps a deadpan expression. It can be unnerving for an opponent to have Augustus use her killer crossover for an open jumper, then act as if it’s no big deal.
But play with her for a while and you can tell.
Lindsay Whalen can sense when Augustus is ready to go to another level; after all, it’s Whalen’s job to help her get there. Maya Moore talked Wednesday about a look Augustus gets in her eyes when she is about to let loose.
“I love it when she gets that face,” Moore said.
It is that Augustus — maybe a little agitated, perhaps a bit angry — that Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve wants to see more of as the Lynx start their best-of-three WNBA Western Conference final series with Phoenix at Target Center on Thursday night. With all the talent on the two teams, perhaps the most important matchup could be Augustus vs. Phoenix star Diana Taurasi.
They won’t guard each other always, but often. The Lynx won’t necessarily admit it, but Augustus may be their only player who can hang with Taurasi one-on-one defensively, quarter after quarter.
And so Reeve’s job is to get Augustus to the right mind-set before the series begins.
Augustus’ play is often the team’s barometer. So Reeve sat down with Augustus before the playoffs began to motivate her.
“ ’Mone is not good until she gets pissed off,” Reeve said. “ ’Mone is a lover, not a fighter. So if she can, she’ll want everybody to have fun. You have to find something to piss her off. And If I have to be the one to piss her off, I don’t care. Because a pissed off Seimone, a motivated Seimone, is a really good player. And I’ll take one for the team if I have to.”
Good, but can get better
It’s not as if Augustus had an off year. Despite coming back from Europe with sore knees and having to come back from a midseason ankle injury, she shot 51.6 percent and averaged 16.3 points per game.
But Reeve knows Augustus was the one whose relentless scoring led the Lynx to the title in 2011. She’s the one who, more than anyone, can create her own scoring chances with the shot clock winding down. She’s the one who can stay with a player like Taurasi.
So Reeve pushed.
“She shot a sniper rifle last week, right at my heart,” Augustus said. “But it hit home. I understand the situation that is at hand. I know what she expects of me, so I took it in stride. I always get in trouble because I don’t show as much emotion as the other players do. People don’t know what’s going on in my mind. So coach is trying to figure out, are you ready? And the Seattle series kind of showed.”
In a two-game sweep of Seattle in the Western Conference semifinals, Augustus scored 19 points on 9-for-15 shooting in the first game. In the clutch-and-grab second game, Augustus struggled with her shot, going 2-for-10 over the first three quarters. But she was 3-for-6 in the fourth quarter, hitting the game-winner from 15 feet out with 21.1 seconds left.
Still, when asked to assess her season, Augustus gave herself a B-minus, mainly because of the nagging injuries.
“But I’m fine now,” she said.
And now we’re ready for the latest installment of the Augustus-Taurasi story.
This one dates back nearly 20 years, when Taurasi’s team beat Augustus’ in an AAU tournament. Since then they’ve been both opponents and teammates. Twice they were on gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic teams together.
But most often, they have competed, the impassive Augustus vs. the fiery Taurasi.
“I love her as a person, off the court,” Augustus said. “But … she cusses, she spits, she does everything you can think of on the court. She’s trying to get you out of your game plan.’’
Early in the 2009 season the Lynx were playing the Mercury when Augustus, bumped by Taurasi on a fast break, landed awkwardly on her left leg, tearing her ACL and ending her season; Augustus has always maintained Taurasi was not trying to hurt her. Two years later, in the 2011 playoffs, Augustus led the Lynx in scoring in a two-game sweep of Phoenix in the conference finals. And here they are, again. Let the battle begin.
“That’s my ‘frenemy’ now,” Augustus said of Taurasi. “We always use that terminology, head of the snake. She’s the head of the snake, and we have to figure out a way to cut that off. It’s a tough task for me. But I have to do what I can do to put my team in a great position.”