In her first action since missing three games with a sore left knee, Seimone Augustus found herself with the ball at the top of the key midway through the first quarter. She dribbled between her legs twice, faked left, right, left again, then stepped around a wobbly defender and drained a jumper.
She was back. And with her came the Minnesota Lynx swagger.
The Lynx outworked, outhustled and outplayed the New York Liberty from the outset Friday, winning 88-70 in front of an announced crowd of 8,123. And Augustus, the longest-tenured Lynx player, was smack-dab in the middle of things. She scored 20 points, leaving her just two shy of 5,000 for her career, and led the team with seven rebounds, topping 1,000 for her career.
Perhaps most important, Augustus played shutdown — and nearly shutout — defense on New York guard Sugar Rodgers. Rogers had scored 30 in the last meeting between the teams, a 95-92 overtime victory for the Liberty that still hurt. She scored just two points Friday.
“Seimone asked me if she could get another week off so she could come back and play [like that] again next week,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve joked. “She was vital. We needed every bit of it.”
Augustus admitted that a week on the mend made a difference. “I just felt good,” she said. “Like setting the tone on Sugar. We wanted to get after her. Offensively, we got into a great rhythm. I was able to find spots and get some shots up and make them.”
The victory carried plenty of weight in the WNBA playoff race. The Lynx (18-4) have the league’s second-best record, New York (16-7) the third. Both teams are vying for one of the top two spots in the WNBA standings and a bye into the league semifinals.
“This was a game both teams coveted,” Reeve said. “We had the opportunity to pick up a full game in the standings on the team nipping at your heels. We got a lot of things done we wanted to do. We felt there were places we could be even better, but overall, you want to celebrate a win in pretty convincing fashion.”
The Lynx controlled the tempo from the outset. Playing with emotion and intensity, they won the races to loose balls, defended the perimeter — their bugaboo in the recent loss to the Liberty — and even unveiled a full-court press that baffled New York.
Their energy and confidence were more than enough to ensure a far different outcome than in the previous meeting.
“Our energy was really good tonight,” Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson said. “I felt like we were jumping around, helping each other out. When you’re not doing things perfectly, but you play hard, play physical and pay attention to detail, you still have a chance to be successful.”
They may not have been perfect, but they could see it on the horizon. The Lynx did not turn the ball over in the first half and finished with just six turnovers — “and a couple of them came at the end,” Reeve said.
The Lynx shot 47.1 percent (33-70) from the field, outrebounded the Liberty 34-32 and got 28 points and crucial defense from the bench.
And it all started with the return of Augustus, who allowed Maya Moore (15 points) a rare chance to play a supporting role.
“I’m so proud of her,” Moore said, referring to Augustus. “When she plays like that, we’re really tough to beat.”