Renee Montgomery calls this "Lynx 2.0.''
New, improved. Upgraded team, upgraded expectations. The second time, hopefully, a charm.
Montgomery is, once again, a Lynx guard. A star at Connecticut who had won a national championship there with Maya Moore, Montgomery was the Lynx's first-round draft pick in 2009; she was sent to Connecticut after her rookie season in the trade that brought Lindsay Whalen back to Minnesota.
Five years later Montgomery is being asked to carry the load with Whalen injured.
"It's nice to be back," said Montgomery, reacquired by the Lynx in a July 20 trade that sent Monica Wright to Seattle. "When I was here in 2009, it was completely different. Everything was different. And everything has been upgraded, to say the least.''
The Lynx, who have put a frustrating August behind them with back-to-back victories over Phoenix and Arizona, host New York on Sunday. The winner of the game will have the best record in the WNBA with the playoffs approaching.
The Lynx, who need only a win or a loss by Phoenix (the Mercury beat San Antonio 82-52 on Saturday) to clinch the Western Conference title, have gotten back on track despite a rash of injuries. Seimone Augustus (foot) hasn't played since Aug. 19. Whalen, battling ankle bursitis and Achilles' pain, left last Sunday's game against Phoenix, didn't play Friday and won't play again in the regular season; the team is hoping she recovers for the playoffs.
But, even without their starting backcourt, the Lynx appear to have turned a corner, thanks in large part to the play of Montgomery and Anna Cruz.
Montgomery scored 11 of her 15 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, as the Lynx rallied to beat Phoenix a week ago. Friday night she scored 10 of her 13 points and had all seven of her assists in the second half in a one-sided victory over Indiana. While Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson dominated inside, Montgomery and Cruz combined for 25 points and 13 assists. That was enough to make up for not having Maya Moore for the final 13 minutes of the game. She took an accidental Fowles elbow to the nose, sustaining a bloody gash. Moore has a slight non-displaced fracture that does not require treatment or a protective mask, so she should be able to play Sunday.
For Montgomery, making the most of her recent opportunity is satisfying. In the games immediately following her trade back to Minnesota, Montgomery struggled to learn the offense, struggled with her three-point shot, didn't play the defense she was capable of and thus saw relatively little playing time.
"I wanted to play more minutes, but I was frustrated with the way I was playing in the minutes I was getting," the 28-year-old guard said. "I wouldn't have played me either.''
So she started taking extra shots before and after practice. She sat down and reread the playbook. She began asserting herself on defense.
"I don't care what position you are, if you defend and rebound and don't turn the ball over, you'll develop my trust," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "Defensively, she's turned it up.''
On offense, too. That three-pointer has started to fall. Montgomery and Cruz give a far different look than Whalen and Augustus. They're smaller, but perhaps more capable of playing on-the-ball defense. Cruz gets to the basket well, and is good in the pick-and-roll. If the Lynx could get healthy for the playoffs, they would be able to offer opponents two very different backcourt looks.
Lynx 2.0. Montgomery was traded away just as the Lynx were reaching critical mass.
Now she's back playing a critical role.