It was the end of a season. But not, they contend, the end of an era.
Tuesday in Phoenix the Lynx’s bid for a fourth consecutive berth in the WNBA finals was ended by a red-hot Mercury team — aided by Diana Taurasi. Her 50-foot bomb at the third-quarter buzzer in a tight game propelled the Mercury to a 96-78 victory in the deciding game of the Western Conference finals.
But the Lynx fully expect to be back.
That was made clear shortly after the game when Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was asked if the Mercury’s victory was the sign of a changing of the guard.
“It’s one of those things that shows itself over time,” Reeve said. “They won it this year. We won it last year. We were in the finals three straight years. I don’t think because we’re not in the finals this year that there is [a] sea change.”
With Taurasi still in her prime, with a game-changing center like Brittney Griner and a solid starting five, the Mercury appears set to be very good for a while. But the Lynx, with the core of Seimone Augustus, MVP Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen, still feel they’re in a position to battle Phoenix.
That said, some things have to change.
The Lynx need more production from players other than the Big Three. Some of that can, presumably, be accomplished by players getting healthier.
The Lynx fought through a number of injury issues this season. Starting forward Rebekkah Brunson and top reserves Monica Wright and Devereaux Peters all had preseason knee surgeries. And while all returned — Wright and Devereaux Peters relatively early and Brunson after the All-Star break — none of the three seemed to return to the form they had displayed a year before. Brunson brought energy and defense upon her return, but never seemed to regain her shot. Wright, a huge part of the team’s success in the recent past, battled knee pain for much of the season.
The Lynx believe all three should be better next season.
“Healthy is a big thing in our league,” Reeve said.
The Lynx were essentially injury-free in their three-year run to the finals. This season the Mercury did not lose one game because of injury. Even with the injuries, the Lynx won 25 games for a fourth consecutive season and posted the league’s second-best record.
“Staying healthy is the key thing,” Augustus said. “Nobody here is holding their head down. We know that, with what we went through this season, to be in the Western Conference finals, that’s something to be proud of.”
Still, the Lynx will be looking to upgrade. And that means both with players currently on the roster and by potential additions. Reeve mentioned both Janel McCarville and rookie Damiris Dantas as examples.
“I think she needs to embrace the idea of being more involved as a starter,” Reeve said. “Being more physically fit, and being able to play the minutes we need her to play.”
Reeve is intrigued by Dantas’ potential and expects her to come back next season ready to take another step.
“I think we have something in Damiris,” Reeve said. “If I have a healthy Brunson, [McCarville], Damiris, it’s a nice post rotation.”
That said, the Lynx will be looking to get bigger.
“I think you’re always looking to add,” Reeve said. “We’ve gotten away with being a little small. That might be something we could look at. But where do you go? Everybody wants a 6-8 center. We always want to get bigger.”
Bottom line: The Lynx feel the team is in position to be right back in the championship mix next season.
“We’re a great team,” Whalen said. “We went through a lot this season, and we were able to withstand a lot. We won 25 games. It just didn’t end the way we wanted it to.”