It was before the Lynx played the New York Liberty Saturday that Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve described a conversation she had with forward Napheesa Collier:
Abbreviated version: Now is the time.
With center Sylvia Fowles hobbling about, a protective boot on her right calf and leg, the Lynx needed Collier. “Even more so now,’’ Reeve said. “Just the importance of her being a great player who makes her teammates better. She knows how to get that done.”
Yes she does.
In a 94-64 victory over the Liberty at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., Collier — for the second time in as many games — did a little bit of everything.
She scored 26 points and had 13 rebounds. Both were one off her career highs. She almost certainly would have set new marks had she not been subbed out with the Lynx up big with just under 4 minutes left in the game. She made eight of 15 shots, had five assists, two blocks and two steals. She scored in the paint, on the perimeter, on the drive, using her polished footwork.
“I think it’s just being more aggressive,’’ Collier said. “It kind of kicked me into gear seeing Syl out. I want to do this for her. It’s her team. Syl is a huge part of our team. We wanted to make her proud tonight.”
And they did, thanks to a balanced attack by Collier.
“That was the conversation, more than anything,” Reeve said. “I wanted her to feel free to do anything she wanted to do. If that meant five threes, eight threes? I was going to trust everything she was doing. I also told her about great players making teammates better. How many times did she kick it out? Every part of her game was good tonight.”
She wasn’t alone. Rookie Crystal Dangerfield scored 22 points, making nine of 12 shots. Damiris Dantas had 10, Lexie Brown had 11. Mikiah Herbert Harrigan scored 11 off the bench. The Lynx improved to 7-3, staying in the upper echelon of the WNBA as the midpoint of the condensed, 22-game season nears the midpoint.
The Lynx swept the two-game season series with the Liberty (1-9). And while the Lynx, even without Fowles, would be expected to beat New York, there were a number of positive signs.
The Lynx outscored New York in the paint, 40-22, and turned 20 Liberty turnovers into 25 points.
Perhaps the best number: New York shot 30.3 % (20-for-66).
The Lynx had a 42-33 halftime lead, thanks mainly to a 24-12 edge on points in the paint and a 13-0 lead on points off turnovers. The Lynx were up just two midway through the second quarter, but they finished the half on a 13-6 run.
That was just the start of the run. Because the Lynx opened up the second half on an 11-0 run — a 24-6 run going back to the second quarter —to go up 20 points on Collier’s basket. The Lynx still led by 19 entering the final quarter, and Collier already had her double-double.
The Lynx now have three days off between games. Reeve said after Saturday’s victory that she was going to give her team two days off, not convening again until Tuesday.
They earned it.
For Collier, by any measure, it was a career night. Collier has scored 47 points and grabbed 27 rebounds in her past two games, a pretty good sense of timing. Collier said in the first few games of the season she had it in her head that she had to get to the basket. Now she’s just taking open shots.
“Being more aggressive is huge,” she said. “And shooting those shots, not turning ’em down on the perimeter.”
The Star Tribune will not be traveling to Florida for NBA and WNBA coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.