After the Lynx had streaked into the Olympic break with a seventh consecutive victory Sunday night at Los Angeles, coach Cheryl Reeve was asked if she would rather just keep playing.
Her team was hot, but it was also tired. The energy spent recovering from an 0-4 start to the season had pushed her team. So, in this case, rest was best.
"I am very grateful for the break,'' Reeve said. "But I'm glad we ended on a really good note.''
On opening night, Napheesa Collier wasn't yet with the team, Kayla McBride hadn't practiced with the team, training camp had been spotty at best. The result: an 0-4 start filled with injuries and dysfunction on both ends of the court.
Over the next month and a half, Reeve and her staff broke the team down and rebuilt it. Layshia Clarendon was signed. The offensive focus was narrowed, focused on an inside-out approach. An identity was forged. The result: Since May 28 the Lynx are 12-3. Since June 23 they are 7-0.
Here are the top five reasons for the turnaround, which has taken the Lynx from the bottom of the WNBA standings to fourth:
This is the silver lining of all the injuries the Lynx have suffered: a point guard that fits well with the team.
Clarendon has been an amazing fit. "They are a vet who knows how to communicate,'' Reeve said. "Knows the coverages, knows what has to happen, especially in the pick and roll.''
The Lynx are 12-3 with Clarendon in the lineup. Over the seven-game winning streak, Clarendon has averaged 14.1 points, 6.4 assists and shot nearly 63% from the field. As important is how much of a vocal leader Clarendon has become.
"That's Clarendon, not one of those players that will blow you away with athleticism or quickness,'' Reeve said. "But every inch of talent, Layshia, they squeeze out of themselves. It's hard to find that.''
Said Clarendon: "They needed my skill set. And I was able to be the glue.''
Stars playing like stars
Sylvia Fowles is playing like a candidate to win her fourth WNBA Defensive Player of the Year award. The center is third in the league in rebounding, second in steals, first in shooting percentage.
Fellow U.S. Olympian Napheesa Collier is averaging a career-high 17.3 points per game and has cracked the top 10 in that category.
Those two players were the biggest beneficiary of Reeve's re-tooling of the offense, which stressed inside-out play and focused on getting the right players in the right spot for the right shots.
"Syl is always ready,'' Reeve said. "It's always whatever the team needs.''
During the winning streak, the Lynx have had at least three scorers in double figures every game, and at least four players in double figures five times. They finished with five players in double figures in their 31-point rout at Phoenix and six in a victory over Dallas.
A big part of this was McBride hitting her stride, at one point scoring 75 points in three games during the streak. Over the entire streak, all five starters have averaged between 11.8 and 16.7 points per game. As a group, Lynx starters have shot 54.1% while winning seven in a row.
While digging out of that 0-4 hole, Reeve and her staff focused mainly on the starting five and where each piece fit. Of late more work has gone into getting more from the bench. As one of last season's surprises in the WNBA bubble in Florida, the Lynx's depth in scoring was key.
The team didn't see that depth early. But lately? After a slow start, Bridget Carleton has scored in double figures in two of the past three games. Jessica Shepard, who lost nearly two full seasons following knee surgery, is coming on. On Sunday she had five points, seven rebounds and five assists in 13 minutes.
In their past 15 games — during which their 12-3 record is best in the league — the Lynx have gotten steadily better on defense. During that 15-game stretch, opponents shot 41.2%, putting the Lynx second in the WNBA in that category. During the seven-game win streak, opponents have shot 39.6%.
"We have definitely evolved there,'' Reeve said. "We finally got our defensive rating under 100 [for the season], and in this recent stretch it's been very good.''
This is the hardest thing to gauge. "It's an intangible thing,'' Clarendon said. "You can't measure it. But we have the chemistry. We're working together.''
Said Reeve: "You can feel the chemistry, you can feel the resiliency. But I don't think you have that without going through hard times first. For us, coming out of the gate, we knew weren't a very good team. But, out of necessity, we grew into it.''