Seimone Augustus had not played in three games due to a knee injury. The Lynx went 2-1 in her absence, losing the first game in that stretch to the Connecticut Sun in a heartbreaker that went to overtime. Despite the team fairing alright without her, you never want to be without one of your Olympians. Even if Augustus is averaging career-lows in scoring (10.2 PPG) and rebounding (2.8 RPG). She had knee surgery last year that caused her to play in only 16 regular season games and you wondered if she was feeling the effects from that this year.
Well, she returned tonight against the New York Liberty and it's as if she hadn't missed a beat. She led all scorers with 20 points, grabbed seven rebounds and tallied four assists as the Lynx went on to win the game 88-70. After that performance, she is at 1,000 career rebounds on the dot. Also, the 11-year veteran now needs only two more points to join the 5,000 point club. Only 15 players in WNBA history have hit that mark, with Lindsay Whalen being the most recent player to achieve it.
This was a huge game for both teams. The Liberty were 16-6 coming into this one, trailing the Lynx by only 1.5 games for one of the coveted semi-final berths. The top two teams in the regular season are guaranteed to be a part of the final four in the playoffs. They had met twice already, each team winning one game. After tonight, the Lynx are now essentially 3.5 games ahead of the Liberty as they won the season series. "Big game, we told our players the tiebreak with New York is something that both teams coveted. Having that opportunity to pick up a full game in the standings when you're playing against a team that's really kind of nipping at your heels [is great]," Cheryl Reeve said after the game.
Minnesota had a squeaky clean first-half where they didn't turn the ball over once. That's a franchise-record for lowest miscues in a half and the team ended with only six total. New York had 15 turnovers leading to 15 points for the home team. "It wasn't a lot of turnovers. We only had 15, but the disparity. We didn't create turnovers on their end, so we have to keep the turnover margin lower," Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer commented after the game.
Maya Moore started the game hot. She hit a three-pointer to open the scoring and then a mid-range jumper on the ensuing Lynx possession for a quick five points. A couple plays later, she made Swin Cash look foolish. After a Rebekkah Brunson miss, Maya faked like she was going back on defense after defending the initial outlet pass from Cash, only to jump right back in the passing lane for a steal when the Liberty forward thought she was gone. Though it led to no points, it really showed off the Lynx MVP's basketball IQ. Moore ended the quarter with nine points as the Lynx took a one-point lead.
The second quarter is when Augustus took off. She had nine point on only five shots and it didn't matter if she was open or not. She was making everything look so easy with her silky jumper. It was great to see her look so comfortable after not playing in the last three games. Even with her efficiency from the field, the Lynx we're outplayed in the first half in terms of shooting percentage, 45.5 percent to 39.5 percent. However, the lack of mistakes on the offensive end allowed the team to take a seven-point lead into the break.
Lately, the third quarter has been great to the Lynx and this game was no different. The team hit seven of their first nine shots and by the end of the frame, their lead had ballooned to 14 points. To start the fourth, Renee Montgomery drilled a three late in the shot clock and then hit a jumper on the next possession and the Lynx never looked back. "That three was just a botched play, it was just one of those times where you had to get a shot up - I'm thankful it went in," Montgomery said of the shot.
Things were just going the team's way this game. It wasn't because of luck, but rather focus. The team has looked sloppy at times throughout the season even with their talent. They have had games where they win because of one monstrous quarter followed by quarters where they scramble to keep their lead. In this one, they won each and every quarter and their game looked crisp. "We came in I think with the right focus, the right energy, we were playing with flow, with each other very well. Our coaching staff did an excellent job this week with preparing us and getting us ready to be mentally ready for this game and we just had to bring the energy," Moore said after the game.
After losing three straight, the team has now gone 5-1 since then. This, of course, after starting a cool 13-0. The team is still trailing the L.A. Sparks who are now 20-1 after their overtime victory against Connecticut. They won a big one tonight to solidify themselves in second place, but I imagine they will be coming full-throttle for that top spot.
Next up, the Lynx travel to Dallas to take on the Wings this Sunday.