As recently as a couple of days ago Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was openly wondering about her team's effort, clearly challenging her players to replicate the grittiness and intensity they had shown Sunday against Connecticut.
And so, Friday, at Target Center, they did.
Minnesota's 86-84 victory over streaking Atlanta was not perfect. Too many turnovers (20), too many stretches when Atlanta's chaos-inducing perimeter pressure had the Lynx teetering on being out of the game.
But they never were. Down seven early in the fourth quarter, the Lynx rallied to take a lead. With the game tied, Napheesa Collier drove, was fouled with 1.5 seconds left and hit both free throws, giving the Lynx (2-4) their second straight come-from-behind victory after an 0-4 start. The loss for Atlanta (4-3) broke a four-game winning streak.
"I was really pleased with that,'' Reeve said about the fortitude her team showed down the stretch, when the Lynx held Atlanta to 6-for-14 shooting with eight turnovers in the final 10 minutes. "We hung in there. We had to scratch and claw, we had to find our way.''
And in the process? The Lynx may not have found their rhythm yet, at least on offense. But they're finding their identity as a team that gets harder to play against as a game progresses.
Friday they did it with a cast of … well, a number of players.
Layshia Clarendon, in their second game with the Lynx, got the start at point guard. Clarendon scored eight of their 14 points in the final two-plus minutes of the third quarter, as the Lynx trimmed a nine-point Atlanta lead to five.
Crystal Dangerfield scored 10 of her 13 points as the Lynx, down seven early in the fourth, rallied to take a 79-76 lead with 3:28 left on Collier's jumper.
And then, Collier being Collier. She scored a season-high 26 points with seven rebounds and three steals, scoring seven of Minnesota's final nine points.
"It's finally coming together,'' Collier said. "Our chemistry is working a lot better. We're getting to the schemes we want, we know where people want the ball.''
This was a true team win. The Lynx altered their normal inside-out offense, choosing to spread the floor and attack Atlanta's perimeter pressure. The result: a number of layups as well as a number of drives and dishes, with Kayla McBride (17 points) hitting five of nine three-pointers.
Against one of the most impressive groups of guards in the WNBA, Minnesota's starting backcourt of Clarendon and McBride outscored their Atlanta counterparts 31-24. High-scoring Courtney Williams scored 15 points but took 18 shots.
Listening to her assistant coaches, Reeve played Clarendon and Dangerfield together down the stretch, which proved effective.
"We're learning it's not always going to be perfect,'' Clarendon said. "But you have to find a way. And that's what we've done in the last two games.''
And now the Lynx have to do it again in a rematch with Atlanta here Sunday.