This was pretty much uncharted territory for Sylvia Fowles.
We’re not talking about on the court. What she did for the Lynx on Sunday in the 2020 WNBA opener inside the bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., was vintage Fowles: 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting, 18 rebounds — tied with Rebekkah Brunson (2015) for most by a Lynx player on opening day — and four blocks.
But it was what she did behind the scenes that might have pushed the Lynx to an impressive come-from-behind 77-69 victory over the Connecticut Sun.
She got mad.
After a lackluster first half in which the Lynx scored just 28 points and trailed by nine, Fowles let the team know, in a controlled but forceful manner, at halftime that 32.1% shooting wasn’t OK, that porous transition defense wouldn’t be tolerated, that low energy wouldn’t cut it.
“Syl doesn’t usually get that way,” Napheesa Collier said. “When she does that, we know we’re really messing up and have to do better.”
Eventually, they did.
Still down nine with just over a minute left in the third quarter, the Lynx outscored the Sun 28-10 over the next 9 minutes, 23 seconds and won going away. Collier, who battled foul trouble all game, scored nine of her 11 points in that stretch. And rookie point guard Crystal Dangerfield — getting extensive minutes in the second half from coach Cheryl Reeve, who was looking for a jolt of energy — scored eight of her 10.
For Collier and Dangerfield — who played three years together at the University of Connecticut — it was the best sort of reunion. For Fowles, used to letting her play do the talking, it was seismic.
Her halftime message, Cliffs notes version: Don’t be discouraged. Go out and play hard.
“Syl has been an exceptional leader,” Reeve said. “I’ll be saying this a lot this season. She learned so much about leadership last season, and we’re benefiting from it this year.”
Led by Alyssa Thomas (20 points) and DeWanna Bonner (19 in her first game with the Sun), Connecticut led 55-46 when Thomas hit two free throws with 1:09 left in the third. Then:
Dangerfield hit a free throw and Damiris Dantas hit a three — the first made for the Lynx, who opened the game 0-for-11 — in a 4-2 run to end the quarter.
In the fourth Shenise Johnson (13 points) hit a free throw. Then Dangerfield stole a pass and scored. After a Sun miss, Dangerfield drove the lane and scored again and it was a two-point game.
Out of a timeout Bonner scored. But Johnson hit a three and Collier fed Fowles for a bucket and a lead. Collier, 1-for-5 through three quarters, hit a reverse layup with 4:53 left, putting the Lynx up three.
Collier’s three-pointer 45 seconds later put the Lynx back up two. After the Sun tied it one last time, the Lynx scored the next nine points, starting with Dangerfield’s three-pointer and four points by Collier, including a jumper in the lane with 1:46 left, moments before she fouled out.
For Dangerfield, she was just doing that the coach asked. “She just challenged the guards to be aggressive,” she said. “Connecticut was dictating a lot of things. We were on our heels. She wanted us to put pressure on them.”
Collier? Three quarters of difficulty. But, ultimately, the winning plays. “We needed her,” Fowles said. “It’s so typical of Phee to step up at the right time.’
The Lynx shot 32.1% in the first half, 48.7 in the second and better than 58% in the fourth quarter. The Sun was at 41.9 in the first half, 28.6 in the second, 27.2 in the fourth quarter. Thomas had 12 points in the first quarter, eight the rest of the way.
Fowles, now just seven behind Brunson for the all-time WNBA rebounding record, brought it all game. After a halftime talk, the rest of the team did, too.
After the game Reeve indicated the return of Odyssey Sims — who gave birth to a son in early April — could be imminent. She could make her way to Bradenton soon, where she would have to quarantine for a time. Reeve said Sims’ earliest return to the court would be at least two weeks.
The Star Tribune will not be traveling to Florida this month for MLS, NBA and WNBA coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.