A few minutes into her postgame news conference Tuesday night, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve made it clear how she expected her team to respond to a last-second loss to Seattle.
“We are not just happy to be here, as others, strangely, label us,” Reeve said. “We’re here to win.”
Reeve always has liked to used slights — either real or perceived — to rally her team. Frankly, after two lopsided regular-season losses to the Storm filled with turnovers and defensive lapses, it was reasonable to see Seattle as a prohibitive favorite in this best-of-five WNBA semifinal series.
But then Game 1 happened.
The Lynx turned the ball over just 10 times. They found open shots and made them. They hit 14 three-pointers, got a career night out of Napheesa Collier, whose 25-point, nine-rebound, six-block stats line was only the second of its kind in WNBA playoff history.
They matched the Storm run for run. After allowing Seattle to shoot 50% in the first half, the Lynx held the Storm to 38.9% in the second half, and to just 35.3% (6-for-17) in the fourth quarter.
That the game ended with Alysha Clark’s buzzer-beating putback and a two-point loss was disappointing to the Lynx. But, it appeared after the game, the Lynx were not fazed by the close loss.
“We feel good about how we played,” Collier said. “We were there the whole time. We were ahead at some points. [The loss] is easy to get past. This is a series. We thought we played well. We have another opportunity [on Thursday]. It’s just moving on to the next one, trying to bottle the things we did well and work on the other things.”
Game 2 is the best chance to make this a long series. No WNBA team has ever rallied from down 0-2 to win a best-of-five series. And the second-seeded Storm — the best offensive and defensive team in the league during the regular season — has a roster full of players who have made deep playoff runs.
The Storm’s balance was on display Tuesday, with all five starters scoring in double figures. Breanna Stewart scored 21 with 10 rebounds. Jewell Loyd’s 25 points came mostly on 8-for-9 shooting from the field.
But there was a lot of good to bottle. Collier was a force at both ends, with six blocks. Five came in the fourth quarter and three came in quick succession on Stewart.
Odyssey Sims continued her strong play, and the Lynx got important contributions from Damiris Dantas and Bridget Carleton, who scored 14 points in her first playoff start.
The Lynx actually outscored the Storm on points off turnovers, and kept the Storm, for the most part, off the free-throw line.
It’s not realistic to expect Collier to duplicate her Game 1 performance. Rookie point guard Crystal Dangerfield, who struggled mightily Tuesday, will have to do more. Dangerfield, bothered by the Storm’s physical, trapping defense, scored just four points on 2-for-8 shooting. It won’t get easier. The Lynx have asked Dangerfield to learn on the run all season.
“[Collier] needs someone to help her,” Reeve said. “We got it from Odyssey. If we get it from someone like Crystal, it would be really helpful. We certainly expected the pressure. It’s what Seattle does. I think we have a lot of good things on video for [Dangerfield], and we can show her ways she can be more impactful.”
The Lynx will have to continue to take care of the ball. Reeve knows that what the Lynx were able to get in the first game will be harder in the second.
But the overriding feeling postgame Tuesday was that the Lynx weren’t devastated by the last-second loss. They appeared more confident than ever they can play with the Storm.
“We know what we can do on the court together,” Carleton said. “We were able to knock down shots, we got good looks, we took care of the ball. We’ll build on what we did well.”
That does not sound like a team just happy to be here.
“Seattle is going to have to play well to win,” Reeve said.