In their regular-season finale in Washington last Sunday, the Lynx — in a game they needed to win to keep the third seed in the WNBA playoffs — appeared in control. It was mid-second quarter, Minnesota was up 10. And then: A 13-0 run by Washington — which needed a win to make the playoffs — put the Mystics up three with less than a minute left in the half.
The Lynx got two stops to end the half, and got to the line, making three free throws. Over a seven-plus minute stretch the Lynx out-scored the Mystics 25-10.
The Lynx stopped the bleeding, which is something they might not have done early in the season.
"It happened before, and we didn't,'' Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. She was talking about a game in June in Washington, when the Mystics erased a big first-half lead on the way to victory.
Things have changed.
Much has been made of the team becoming closer, on and off the court. About how the team, coming back from the Olympic break, upped its effort level in a manner that even surprised Reeve.
But, as the Lynx prepare to host their first playoff game in Minnesota since 2017 — and their first at Target Center since 2016 — they enter their second-round, single-elimination game against Chicago believing the difficult path the team took from an 0-4 start to a third seed has them well-prepared.
"It taught us that, under adversity, we could still come back and win,'' Napheesa Collier said. "You don't want to go through it at the time. But it prepares you for every scenario.''
To recap: The Lynx started the season without Collier (whose European season ran long), with Kayla McBride having not practiced with the team. There was that 0-4 start. Successive injuries to Aerial Powers, a knee injury to backup center Natalie Achonwa,a season-ending injury to forward Damiris Dantas, and Layshia Clarendon's right leg stress reaction.
The Lynx fought through all of that. They responded to that 0-4 start with a three-game winning streak. Minnesota finished the season 17-3, including 9-1 in the final 10 games.
"We were tested,'' Reeve said. "And it made us who we are. Some of the shortcomings, the challenges, it's all a part of the journey. We've had some battle wounds, so to speak. We were tested. I'm not sure any of it means anything. But it's fair to say we've been through some stuff, and we know how to navigate difficult moments in a game.''
The regular-season finale was a case in point. With both teams needing a win, on the road against a desperate Mystics team, the Lynx took a punch and punched back.
Powers has emerged as a go-to threat who can create her own shot. While Clarendon was out, McBride emerged as a player who could score on dribble penetration. With depth challenged at guard, Crystal Dangerfield has gone from a difficult start to a strong finish and — depending on how Clarendon's leg holds up — will be key to any playoff run.
After practice Saturday, Collier was asked what one word she'd use to describe her team. Her answer: Resilient.
Achonwa is another player whose play improved as the regular season wound down.
"I think knowing we've had that mentality, that fight, that grit all season long, it's only going to make us more special when we come out and use that mentality in the playoffs,'' she said.