Cheryl Reeve knew her Lynx would be excited to play the Los Angeles Sparks for the first time since losing to them in the closing moments of the WNBA Finals last season.
She wouldn't need to give a rah-rah speech before Thursday's game at Xcel Energy Center, which the Lynx won 88-77, matching last year's franchise record 13-1 start.
What the Lynx would need, though — after letting a 19-point first-half lead dwindle, was a backup guard's best offensive performance in almost six seasons.
Renee Montgomery's 20 points were her most since Sept. 7, 2012. She made four of five three-point attempts, including a buzzer-beater to end the third quarter.
"It's pretty cool," she said. "Especially since we won."
She came into the game shooting only 25 percent on three-pointers on 36 attempts, and she figured she's a shooter, so percentages would eventually even out.
The numbers turned in Montgomery's favor on a night when Sylvia Fowles struggled early.
The MVP candidate center was 2-for-6 with three turnovers in the first half. The Sparks were double- and triple-teaming Fowles, just as they had in last season's finals, and the center admitted after the game that she was pressing under the attention.
"You've got to give Syl a break," Reeve said. "You can't run every play at her."
So Seimone Augustus, who had 10 first-half points, and Montgomery, who also had three first-half steals, spurred the Lynx.
They were the keys to a 25-14, two-quarter run that gave Minnesota an 18-point lead in the second quarter before Los Angeles (12-4) made its eventual charge, which Reeve figured was inevitable.
The Sparks' 9-2 run in the third quarter cut the Lynx's lead to as little as four. Forward Nneka Ogwumike, who scored 27 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, led the way.
But her co-star, Candace Parker, went only 1-for-6 from the field and grabbed only three rebounds.
The Lynx stopped consistently moving without the ball, and played sloppier defense. Then, as Montgomery returned midway through the quarter for her normal rotational minutes, Minnesota refocused.
Montgomery assisted on a bucket to Moore soon after entering the game, and she closed the third quarter with that buzzer-beating three.
"She's someone who knows her role is to bring the energy, keep the momentum going," Moore said of Montgomery. "She owns it."
Montgomery, who came into the game averaging 6.5 points, played that role so well Thursday that Reeve left her on the court to close the game, leaving the struggling Lindsay Whalen on the bench.
The coach admitted the decision made her uncomfortable, but she trusted her gut.
"I thought Renee just had a look in her eye," Reeve said.
Montgomery played the entire fourth quarter. So did Fowles, who said by that point she "took it two notches down" and approached the extra defenders with more ease.
Fowles, the Western Conference Player of the Month for the second consecutive month, finished the game with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
The Sparks never led but hung close until the very end of the game. When Minnesota needed a basket to keep Los Angeles from truly threatening, it turned to Fowles, who was 3-for-4 in the quarter.
A season ago, the Lynx began the season 13-0 before losing to Los Angeles. A year later, Minnesota has the same record through 14 games, plus a measure of revenge.
"Today," Montgomery said, "I had my icing on my cake."