Cheryl Reeve stood next to her point guard, facing the basket at Target Center, same as always, except that almost everything had changed.
The point guard standing next to her for the traditional pregame strategy session was Danielle Robinson, not Lindsay Whalen.
The Lynx’s talented forward from Connecticut was Napheesa Collier, not Maya Moore.
The shooting guard who used to wear purple and gold was former Sparks rival Odyssey Sims, instead of former LSU star Seimone Augustus, who missed the game because of knee soreness.
A mere 80 percent of last year’s starting lineup was missing on Saturday night as the Lynx started their 2019 season at Target Center. Moore, Augustus, Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson, who is dealing with concussion symptoms, helped make the Lynx a dynasty.
Star center Sylvia Fowles was the only key player in the starting lineup who was healthy and productive for the Lynx last year. Collier wasn’t expected to start, but did because of Karima Christmas-Kelly’s continuing recovery from knee surgery.
All week, Reeve fretted over her team’s readiness, even making two trades for veterans in the days leading up to the opener. What Reeve couldn’t have known was that she won this game in April, when she drafted Collier with the sixth pick in the draft, and Jessica Shepard with the 18th.
Collier played a game-high 33 minutes, producing a game-high 27 points and six rebounds, as the Lynx beat Chicago 89-71. She was also a plus-28. (Sims, with a feisty performance, was a game-best plus-30.) Shepard played 27 minutes, producing a game-high 13 rebounds and a team-high six assists.
Collier moved well without the ball, displayed a knack for drawing fouls and made three of her four three-pointers. Transitioning from a back-to-the-basket college forward to a WNBA small forward, she set a record for points by a Lynx player in her debut.
“I just said to her, I don’t think she scored 27 points in three weeks of training camp,” Reeve said. “It was good to see her unleash on Chicago tonight. She had a great feel for what she was trying to get done. My goodness, did she raise the bar. Now we expect this every time she plays, right?”
Shepard rebounded fiercely and displayed a knack for finding Collier on cuts. Combined, the two produced 30 points, 19 rebounds and six assists. Collier did not have an assist but did threw a beautiful back-door bounce pass to Robinson that led to a foul.
Just as important as their production was the way they fit into the Lynx’s new style of play. They moved the ball and moved without the ball. They scrambled on defense and looked more fluid on offense.
One of the perils of overhauling the roster and making two trades the week of the opener is defensive communication. The Lynx were lost in the first quarter and impressive thereafter, and held Chicago to 40 percent shooting.
“I missed a couple of easy bunnies early, so I made up for it with rebounding,” Shepard said. “To me, rebounding is effort.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, Collier caught a pass beyond the three-point line, feinted, and unleashed her unusual-looking shot. It swished through and she allowed herself a smile as she backpedaled downcourt.
“We told her how we wanted to get to her; I don’t think she was clear on how that was going to happen,” Reeve said. “A couple of in-depth conversations we had, was just: Impose your will on the game. We’re not going to run a lot of plays for you; you have to impose your will. And I think that’s what she did tonight.
“She’s a great cutter. She and Jess are a great combination. Jess loves to pass and Phee loves to cut. So they help each other out in terms of making each other look good.”