It took a while, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve conceded. There have been tough times, both with health and the chemistry of the team. Too many losses.
But, finally, maybe, the Lynx might be onto something.
The latest proof: Thursday’s 100-88 victory over Phoenix at Target Center on a night when the Lynx celebrated the 50th anniversary of Title IX legislation and the return of center Sylvia Fowles. They shot better than 50%. They set season highs for first-half points (60) and total points. The spacing and flow developed while a cartilage problem in Fowles’ right knee kept her out of action for five games remained in force upon her return.
So, after a second victory over Phoenix in three days — the Lynx have won 18 of their last 21 vs. Phoenix — the Lynx have an honest-to-goodness winning streak. And perhaps some direction.
“For me, as a coach, from a chemistry standpoint, this is as good as it’s been all season,” Reeve said. “We really had to go through some real challenges in regard to that. But we’ve made progress.”
Fowles returned, knowing her knee probably won’t be 100% the rest of the season, with a minutes limit — “We’ll see how long that lasts,” she said. “Been down that road before.” — and an energy level that was palpable. She scored 14 points with 10 rebounds in 22 minutes.
Fowles said the team really started coming together four games ago. It was during a morning shootaround prior to a game with Seattle — one the Lynx lost by two points — that the team some had what Fowles called heart-to-heart talks about what it takes to win. That loss was followed by a heartbreaking one-point loss at first-place Las Vegas.
And now, two wins. Reeve said the feeling is different. Instead of coaches pleading for effort during time outs, the players are saying it. On the court, opponents’ runs are being cut short, then answered.
That was the case Thursday. The Lynx used a 20-2 run from late in the first quarter into the second to go up 14. They led by as many as 16. Six times the rest of the way the Mercury (6-12) cut that lead under 10. But they never got closer than six, and each time the Lynx responded.
All five starters scored in double figures for Minnesota (5-13), led by point guard Moriah Jefferson, who had 21 points and five assists. She also had five turnovers, something Reeve was on her about most of the game.
Damiris Dantas and Kayla McBride each scored 15 and Aerial Powers scored 12.
But the Lynx reserves — led by Jessica Shepard’s nine points and nine rebounds — outscored the Mercury bench 23-11.
Depth and balance.
“It’s everyone putting it on the line,” Fowles said. “We’ve been sticking to that.”
The Lynx had a 42-23 edge on rebounding, 11-2 on the offensive glass, an 18-4 edge on second-chance points and a 46-30 edge in points in the paint while still managing to put up eight three-pointers.
Jefferson is starting to really feel at home with the Lynx. Dantas is working back into form after missing nearly a year with a Lisfranc injury in her foot. The team is playing a connected style of basketball that was missing for much of the first weeks of the season.
“I think it was just about continuing to find that chemistry,” Jefferson said. “Going through those difficult situations has really brought us together.”
With Fowles back, the Lynx had to end Nikolina Milic’s hardship contract. But there is a strong chance the Lynx will find a way to keep Milic — who was on the bench in street clothes Thursday night — with the team. That development could come as early as next week.