Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve has talked with Seimone Augustus about it a lot lately. The regular season was winding down, the playoffs coming up.
So it was time for Augustus to start wanting more plays for her instead of deferring to others.
Watching her team warm up before Wednesday’s crucial game with Los Angeles at Target Center, this is how Reeve put it: “When push comes to shove, Seimone needs to understand that his is still her team.’’
And, in an 83-74 Lynx victory, it pretty much was.
With the game winding down and the Lynx offense struggling, after the Sparks had trimmed a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to five, Augustus took a pass from Lindsay Whalen, went up with and made the shot of the night with 39.5 seconds left.
It pushed the Lynx lead back to seven. It allowed the 9,314 fans to exhale. It gave Augustus a team-high 23 points.
Reeve could see it from the start, in the game’s opening minutes, when Augustus fought for position, took a Lindsay Whalen pass – one of Whalen’s career-high 14 assists – and scored. Augustus, the MVP of the 2011 WNBA finals, was taking that next step.
“When ‘Mone approaches a game like that, we look at each other as coaches and say, ‘OK, cool, ‘Mone’s here. ‘Mone’s in it, ‘Mone’s locked in,’ ‘’ Reeve said. “That usually bodes well for our team.’’
That’s not to suggest anyone wants Augustus to be a one-player team. Wednesday Maya Moore, the newly-named Western Conference player of the month for August, had 20 points – 11 of Minnesota’s 21 in the fourth quarter as the Lynx offense began misfiring – and six rebounds.
Forward Rebekkah Brunson had a double-double. Center Janel McCarville had 12 points, four assists. Together, McCarville and Brunson battled L.A.’s front court of Candace Parker (25 points) and Nneka Ogwumike (11). Kristi Toliver added 14.
Whalen’s 14 assists equaled the most in a game in the league this season.
Minnesota’s fifth straight win put the Lynx 2½ games ahead of L.A. (21-10) in the Western Conference with the Lynx having four games left, the Sparks three. The two teams – who have split four games this season – will meet for a final time Sept. 10 in L.A. But Wednesday’s victory was a huge step towards securing the Lynx’s third straight division title and home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
And it showed Augustus was gearing up. “We saw that in 2011,” Reeve said. “But I don’t know if we ever got to that gear in 2012. … When Seimone really takes a hold of the team in that way, we get really good.”
Augustus had six in the first quarter, which ended tied 18-18. Then she had four while Whalen and Moore each had seven in a 27-15 second quarter that gave Minnesota a 12-point lead. Augustus had nine in the third, four in the fourth.
“If you don’t turn it up now, I don’t know when you’re going to turn it up,” Augustus said. “We’ve all been here, we’ve experienced the playoffs. I’m going to do what I can to make sure we get back into a position of winning a championship.’’
Laughing, Augustus claimed she’d been working on this for a while. “I’ve been taking a step the last few games,” she said, “but Maya’s been playing so amazing you didn’t notice. But you could see it early on. I came out and that was my purpose.”
And that’s a good sign.
“It’s fun to watch, for sure,” Brunson said. “When she gets it in her head that she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it. We love that about her.”