Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve is loath to talk about a single player, a particular matchup.
But with the Lynx in Seattle, ready to take on the Storm in a single-elimination playoff game Wednesday, when asked about what the biggest single factor would be in the game, she talked about the single biggest player on her team.
Center Sylvia Fowles.
Fowles is the most experienced player who can expect to get major minutes in this game. She helped the Lynx win two of their four WNBA titles, winning regular season and league finals MVP honors in 2017. On a team largely rebuilt after last season, Fowles’ engagement and intensity is where Reeve starts when talking about what it takes to defeat the Storm.
“It’s absolutely crucial,” Reeve said in a teleconference Tuesday. “It’s going to be the reason we have success. And if there is not that level of engagement it will be difficult for us to win. Period. In the same way they need [Natasha] Howard, we need Fowles.”
There is so much more, of course.
• The Lynx need Napheesa Collier to begin her first playoff experience the way she ended her rookie regular season. Getting better almost every day, Collier was a big part of the five-game winning streak the Lynx experienced toward the end of the regular season and was perhaps the most engaged Lynx player when that winning streak came to an end in Los Angeles. The Lynx’s loss in L.A. is the reason the Lynx are on the road Wednesday and not hosting the Storm at Target Center.
• Guard Odyssey Sims — who had two games with 20 points and eight assists during the winning streak — needs to bounce back from a 4-for-15, five-turnover game in L.A.
•Forward Damiris Dantas, so effective creating space with her three-point shot, needs to shake off a difficult shooting day against the Sparks.
But it starts with Fowles, Reeve said.
“We agree,” Fowles said. “But it’s not something I have to get myself pumped up for. I’ve been in this situation before. I know what’s needed. But I totally agree with what she had to say.”
On a team that she has rebuilt on the fly — in her role as general manager Reeve traded for Sims, signed Dantas as a free agent and drafted Collier with the sixth pick in the draft — Fowles has been a constant.
One who will stick around for a while. Last week the Lynx announced Fowles had been signed to a multiyear contract extension. Reeve said Fowles was a priority, with the guiding principle being her happiness. To that end the team told Fowles they’d wait to see how the collective bargaining agreement played out, then they sign her to a much longer deal or just a one-year deal. Her choice.
Fowles, 33, said Tuesday she signed a two-year deal. She doesn’t know if it will be her last deal. But she did say she plans on finishing her career in Minnesota.
But she’s not ready for this season to be finished Wednesday. The Lynx beat the Storm — the league’s defending champion, which is back in the playoffs despite being without reigning MVP Breanna Stewart and perennial All-Star Sue Bird — in the second game of the season, holding the Storm to 36.4% shooting.
But Seattle shot 54.5% while winning the past three games of the season series. That has to change for the Lynx to advance. They have to guard against the three-point shot while still containing Howard in the paint.
“In those three games they had a pace about them that was difficult for us to match up with,” Reeve said. “For them to shoot [that well] in those three games, it kind of stuck in my craw. If we don’t improve, it will be a short playoffs.”
It starts with a sense of urgency. For the most part, Reeve saw it during the win streak — but she didn’t see enough of it Sunday in L.A.
And it starts with Fowles.
“When she reaches a [high] level of engagement, we don’t lose,” Reeve said. “That has to happen for us to be successful.”