Of all the problems that can develop during a long hiatus, overexcitement had Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve most concerned.
"I had to talk to them about being energetic ... not spastic," Reeve said before her team tipped off for the first time in 36 days. "We have to be poised and patient."
With three Olympic-groomed gold medalists leading the effort, the coach's worries quickly faded. The Lynx looked as sharp as they have all season, just missing their fourth triple-digit output of the year in a 98-69 rout of the Washington Mystics on Friday night at Target Center.
Reeve knew the vibe of her team would show quickly. The defense required a few minutes to warm up, while the WNBA's top offense didn't miss beat. Five Lynx finished in double figures, including the Olympic trio of Seimone Augustus (20 points), Maya Moore (17) and Lindsay Whalen (10). Monica Wright added 17 points and Rebekkah Brunson 11.
The well-rounded effort, which included a season-high 29 assists, is what most impressed Reeve. Other than a few miscues, it was hard to tell the team hadn't played together in more than a month.
Center Taj McWilliams-Franklin praised the level of play of her Olympian teammates, but was just as impressed with that of the eight who had remained in Minnesota for the long break.
"Our Olympians actually played and played well. That elevates our level of game," McWilliams-Franklin said. "It also helped that the eight players here played together and didn't have to step up a lot. We didn't want them coming to us and [feeling like] we were sluggish."
The big victory almost came at an even bigger cost. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Augustus silenced Target Center for a moment when she hit the ground midway through the third quarter. The guard was slow to get up, but limped off the court without help.
With no reason to push for a return, the sprained right ankle kept her out the remainder of the game. The Lynx (16-4) extended their lead to 30 points just moments after the guard was sidelined, but Augustus was ready to go if needed. She said after the initial shock of going down, there was nothing keeping her from returning if necessary.
"I'm injury-free," she said. "I was more scared when it happened than now."
The Mystics (4-16) led two minutes into the game at 6-4, but were steamrolled after that. The Lynx picked up the defense and went on an 11-2 run to end the first quarter.
"That was really, really good team effort after not being together so long," Moore said. "But we have high expectations."
A sold-out crowd praised the golden trio one final time before Friday's game. Whalen, Augustus and Moore proudly wore their gold medals to center court while the fans offered a standing ovation to thank them.
Though the players are ready to turn the page on their Olympic run, the hype remained throughout the evening. The team's mascot Prowl was presented a gold medal at halftime for his dunking theatrics and toured the stadium the remainder of the game posing for pictures with an American flag draped around his shoulders.
"I think the excitement should stay as long as [the fans] want it to," Moore said. "[Winning gold] is something that should not be taken lightly."