The Lynx hit bottom 4 minutes and 22 seconds into their game at Atlanta on June 23.
It's easy to pinpoint the exact moment, because that's when the Dream's Courtney Williams took a pass and hit a layup to put Atlanta up 42-24.
The Lynx, trying to recover from an 0-4 start to the season, one marred by late arrivals (Napheesa Collier) and injuries (Aerial Powers), were 5-7 heading into that game. They had lost two of three, including an embarrassing 105-89 loss to Chicago at Target Center and an 18-point loss in Dallas two days before.
"That's when it started,'' Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.
From that point on that day, the Lynx outscored the Dream 63-43, the comeback starting with eight straight points from center Sylvia Fowles and ending with Kayla McBride's 19-footer late in the fourth quarter.
It was the first of seven straight wins into the Olympic break, the start of a 17-3 streak to end the season that pushed the Lynx from the brink to the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye in the WNBA playoffs.
"That was the first time we were able to stop the bleeding,'' Reeve said. "That was a turning point, one that led to us finding ourselves. It was also the game we locked into our identity. I just remember thinking, 'This was really important.' "
There are a number of important reasons why the Lynx started the season slowly but finished it at top speed. The addition of Layshia Clarendon after an 0-4 start was big. Clarendon was the physical, pick-and-roll point guard who fit well with the Lynx, particularly Fowles. That Collier was able to come back and reintegrate herself into the team was big. McBride, who played in the opener without having practiced with the team, got more comfortable as the season went on.
But when Reeve looks at the season, two moments stand out. The first was the comeback in Atlanta. The second was the team she found when she returned — along with the four Lynx players who had played in Japan — from the Olympic break.
Bonding over break
With Reeve, Fowles, Collier and Canadians Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton in Japan, the rest of the players had a month from their July 11 game in Los Angeles to the return to action Aug. 15 against New York. Players were given time off until July 25, and then they returned to Minneapolis for workouts.
"We had a goal of hitting the ground running,'' McBride said. "When they got back [from Japan], we wanted to be better than when we played in L.A.''
Part of that was the on-court work. Assistant coach Katie Smith remembers the focus the players had upon their return. "They were ready to rip and run the second half of the season,'' Smith said. "They came to work every day.''
But it was more than that. The team did things off the court, too. They went to the cabin owned by head athletic trainer Chuck Barta. They went to baseball games. One day, en masse, they kayaked three miles on the Mississippi River.
"Right now there is a lot of trust there,'' guard Crystal Dangerfield said. "We're comfortable with each other."
Said McBride: "It was finally getting to know one another. I got here two days after a [European] season ended. It's all about trust, chemistry. We're doing more of holding each other accountable rather than the coaches. That's always a recipe for success.''
Few bumps in the road
Looking back, Reeve isn't sure if the seven-game winning streak into the break was the catalyst, or if it was off-the-court team building. But the team she returned to was palpably different. Early in the season, Reeve, more than ever in her career, found herself having to coach effort. At times it was, she said, like pulling teeth.
That changed. "When I got back to the team, I found a team that was in the place we'd been trying to get to. It happened organically. It was their great belief in themselves, in each other.''
There have been small setbacks, including back-to-back losses in Connecticut and a one-sided loss in Las Vegas. But Minnesota's 17-3 finish includes a 9-1 record in its final 10 games. The Lynx were able to go 6-1 in the seven games Clarendon missed with a right fibula stress reaction.
At practice the other day, Reeve had a revelation.
"I told the team, 'Hey, I don't think I've yelled at you since the break,' " Reeve said. "And they're like, 'You're right.' "