The Lynx finally were taking all the right steps. The entire team was healthy and on a three-game winning streak, by far the best stretch of basketball played this season.
Then, at the tail end of Monday's 75-68 victory in New York, Candice Wiggins took a wrong step. The standout shooting guard spotted a Liberty player open for a three-point shot, and when Wiggins shoved off her left foot to defend, her Achilles' tendon ruptured.
Wiggins had season-ending surgery Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
"It's a big blow," said teammate Seimone Augustus, who recently returned after having abdominal surgery. "It's always a blow when you lose a player, but someone that contributes like she does ... we lost 15 points and a great defender."
Wiggins missed the start of the season because of arthroscopic surgery on her right knee. Rookie Monica Wright got significant playing time when Augustus and Wiggins were out, and seems likely to get it again. Nuria Martinez and Hamchetou Maiga Ba are also possibilities.
Coach Cheryl Reeve said the weight falls on the whole team's shoulders. The Lynx, even at 5-9, still are in playoff position in the WNBA's Western Conference with 20 games remaining.
"Our philosophy is that we have a player down, we've all got to step our games up," Reeve said. "Everyone's going to look at Monica, but in my mind it's everyone. Martinez needs to play better than she did when she was given minutes earlier in the season. Maiga can be in a starter's role now. Seimone has got to guard the [opponent's shooting guard] now.
"We're not going to hang our heads now, just like we didn't hang our heads earlier in the year."
But Augustus knows that can be difficult. She missed most of last season because of a torn knee ligament.
"It's a very hard thing to go through," said Augustus, who took Wiggins to the airport Thursday morning. "I probably cried the most in the last year than I ever have in my whole life. She's going to have breakdowns. She's going to go through that."
But Augustus -- who said the team routinely came over while she was rehabbing, and brought her pajamas and cards--said there is one thing sure to stop the tears.
"I just told her we're going to do what we need to do to put a smile on her face, and that's win. She wants us to make it to the playoffs. So that's our goal for her."