Midway through the fourth quarter Wednesday, after the Lynx had rallied from a 15-point deficit, they were tied with Dallas.
And then this happened:
Crystal Dangerfield was fouled and hit two free throws. At the other end Mikiah Herbert Harrigan stole the ball, then went the length of the floor for a layup. Bridget Carleton rebounded a three-point miss by Wings star Arike Ogunbowale. Then Dangerfield fed Napheesa Collier for a three-pointer that put the Lynx up seven.
Dangerfield and Herbert Harrigan are rookies. In her second season, Carleton has gone from just trying to find a place in the league to starting. Collier, of course, is the reigning WNBA rookie of the year.
This is youth being served.
Of course, this wasn’t exactly the plan. Dangerfield — who is vying to become the first player taken in the second round of the WNBA draft to win rookie of the year — was supposed to get limited minutes.
After Wednesday’s victory Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said that, if fans had seen what Herbert Harrigan looked like on the first day of training camp, Wednesday’s 10-point, eight-rebound, two-steal performance would not have seemed possible.
But injuries happened. Center Sylvia Fowles is out indefinitely because of a calf injury that has kept her out of all or most of five games. Karima Christmas-Kelly was lost early to an Achilles injury. The Lynx have also been without Shenise Johnson, Rachel Banham and Odyssey Sims at times.
And yet at the midpoint of the WNBA’s condensed 22-game, in-the-Florida-bubble season, the Lynx are 8-3 and tied for second in the league standings.
“I’m ecstatic,” Reeve said. “I can’t even express how happy I am. ... You know, I saw signs of this, in terms of toughness from the group, in training camp. You don’t know how it’s going to translate into games, or wins and losses. But this is a group I felt was built to withstand some adversity. I didn’t want all those players out. But man, resilient, tough. Everything you would want in a team.”
This is a team with chemistry, with a toughness to rally from deficits of 10 or more points in half their victories; Wednesday’s comeback was their biggest in five years.
It’s been fueled by young players who are performing better than anyone could have imagined. Dangerfield is averaging 14.3 points and has scored in double figures in nine of 11 games. Herbert Harrigan, who didn’t even play in the season opener, has averaged 10.5 points and is a plus-40 in her past two games. Carleton, who scored 25 points in her first start earlier this season, has been steady, getting nine points and nine rebounds Wednesday.
“I knew what our team is capable of,” Collier said. “I knew we had a lot of new people. But from the beginning the chemistry has been really good. People have bought in. I’m not surprised we’re doing so well.”
But those rookies …
Dangerfield has been a marvel. Not having played much pick-and-roll in college, she appears born to play it in the WNBA. Wednesday she hit five of seven three-pointers on the way to 21 points with six assists. She has continued to shine as opponents have game-planned for her and played through aches and pains. Reeve talked to UConn coach Geno Auriemma a lot about Dangerfield before drafting her. But …
“There is a level of toughness there,” Reeve said. “Geno and I didn’t talk about that. I didn’t know how tough she was. She is. She has a lot of dog in her. And that’s the highest compliment you can pay a player.”
Herbert Harrigan was considered a talented but green rookie who would need time. Injuries accelerated that. But, even when Herbert Harrigan struggled early in camp, Reeve said she’s been very coachable, with assistant coaches Rebekkah Brunson and Plenette Pierson acting as her mentors.
“I can’t say it could have gone any better, in terms of her listening,” Reeve said.
Second-half challenge awaits
To be fair, the Lynx have benefited from their schedule. Only one of their wins has come against a team with a winning record. They have beaten one-win New York twice and four-win Connecticut twice. The schedule will get more challenging in the back half of the season.
But Reeve is on a roll. She got Collier and Jessica Shepard in the draft last year, and this year she nabbed Dangerfield and Herbert Harrigan. She has built a roster with the ability to overcome injuries — depth that will be enhanced with players begin to return. That speaks to the types of player Reeve has chosen.
“That goes a long way,” she said. “The quality of the individual. The intangibles, that’s the secret sauce, that they’re great people who are selfless. We do well with players who have a level of toughness or edginess.”