Sylvia Fowles didn’t take it personally. Last Saturday, as the Lynx defeated Atlanta to end the regular season, she heard coach Cheryl Reeve scolding her throughout the game — despite her 30 points and eight rebounds.
Wednesday, Reeve revised her original assessment after a review of the video, saying Fowles “was pretty good.” But the center was perfectly OK with that harsher initial opinion. After being named the Associated Press’ WNBA defensive player of the year on Tuesday, Fowles credited the high expectations of her coaches and teammates for prodding her to that level, and she knows she can’t back off if the Lynx are to repeat as WNBA champions.
The Lynx ended a three-day break Wednesday, beginning preparations for their playoff opener next Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center. As the top overall seed, they advance directly to the semifinals, where they will face the lowest remaining seed from this weekend’s second-round games.
“A lot of [the award] has to do with coaches and teammates pushing me through the whole year, just wanting me to be great,” said Fowles, who also won the league’s defensive player of the year award in 2011 and 2013. “They push me to be the best I can be.
“Mentally being there, focusing on the good, the bad and the ugly, is going to be important [in the playoffs]. When things aren’t going my way, I have to make sure I’m locked in, because it’s bigger than me.”
A more polished defender
Fowles said defense remains her “comfort zone,” as it has been since the days when she learned the game by playing with her brothers in their hometown of Miami. The Lynx’s leading rebounder (8.5 per game) and second-leading scorer (13.9 points per game), she ranked fourth in the WNBA in rebounds, blocked shots (1.7 per game) and field-goal percentage (59.5).
Though Fowles didn’t join the Lynx until July 27 of last year — via a three-team trade — her proficiency in the low post was instrumental as the team captured its third WNBA championship. She was named the most valuable player of the WNBA Finals even as she and her team were still adjusting to one another.
This year, she came to Minnesota before training camp started, so she could deepen her knowledge of the Lynx’s defensive system and coaches could devise ways to maximize her impact on offense.
In good health and good condition from the beginning of camp, Fowles has polished the details of her game. She has improved her ability to read defenses and make quick decisions. She also has worked on being more aware of everything happening around her so she can give more help to her teammates.
Fowles has helped the Lynx defense hold opponents to 77 points per game and a 41.7 field-goal percentage, both second best in the league.
“She’s been phenomenal,” Reeve said. “Our defense has been number one [in the WNBA], and Syl is a huge reason why. I’m thrilled that was recognized.”
Happy with Lynx
With 10 days between the end of the regular season and their playoff opener, Reeve will keep the Lynx sharp by re-creating game situations in practice.
She also used the final three regular-season games to prepare for postseason play. Reeve insisted the Lynx tighten up in some areas, such as defensive coverage, that will be essential to playoff success.
She knew she was nitpicking Fowles’ play in the Atlanta game, but with good reason.
“I wanted to push her to be great at both ends,” Reeve said, adding that a focused Fowles could have a substantial impact in the playoffs.
That’s a message that meshes with Fowles’ goals.
“Defense is something I really had to tune in on if I wanted to be good,” she said. “To get [the AP defensive] honor is a blessing. At the same time, I’m happy to be in this place at this time with this group, because we have a lot of good defensive players on this team.’’