MINNEAPOLIS — As anticipation quickly gave way to annihilation, Seimone Augustus watched from the edge of her seat on the Minnesota Lynx bench.
Wearing a large boot on her left foot, bright neon-yellow pants and a denim button-down shirt, the team’s second-leading scorer’s only contributions came by way of mouth. A pointer here, a high-five there, a pregame huddle with her bench mates for the night.
A Tuesday spent knowing she’d miss her team’s highest-profile game to date was agonizing.
In just a few short minutes, her teammates put her at ease.
“It’s always a saddening moment,” Augustus said of learning she’d miss time with an ankle sprain. “But I was kind of happy just to see how the girls played tonight and how much energy they had. I just enjoyed it.”
With a nationwide audience and one of their emotional leaders relegated to an observer’s role, the Lynx punished the WNBA’s early championship favorite in what’s becoming a typical Target Center thrashing. Minnesota’s 94-72 win against the previously one-loss Atlanta Dream was its franchise-record 15th straight home victory, and the Lynx have won by less than 15 there just once this season.
They turned an expectation-heavy matchup featuring the top squad from each conference into a nationally televised dud.
With Augustus providing direction alongside coach Cheryl Reeve and her assistants, an all-around pounding rendered her personal absence obsolete. Her teammates left little to be desired in handing Eastern Conference frontrunner Atlanta — which still possesses the WNBA’s best record at 10-2 — its worst defeat since July 13, 2011 and snapped a six-game winning streak.
Reeve stopped short of christening her group the league’s new top dog.
“Well, technically, Atlanta has the best record, so they are the best team in the league record-wise,” said Reeve, who coached Minnesota to a 2011 WNBA Finals triumph against the Dream. “Obviously, I think we are a good team, but right now, Atlanta still holds the best record.”
Maybe not for long, especially if Augustus returns healthy soon.
After a Lindsay Whalen-driven outburst late in the first quarter, Minnesota led by five entering the second. By halftime, the Lynx had opened up a 56-39 lead, thanks to a 25-13 run and a 63.6-percent first-half shooting clip against the WNBA’s best defensive team.
When the fourth-quarter clock finally struck “zero,” Olympian forward Angel McCoughtry (team-high 16 points) and the rest of the Dream simply stood near center court in disbelief.
Augustus, though, wasn’t surprised.
“No,” she said, shaking her dreadlock-crowned head. “We kind of expected this outcome.”
It was a difficult 48 hours for the seven-year veteran. She twisted her ankle diving for a loose ball in Sunday’s victory against Phoenix, and an MRI on Monday confirmed she’d be out indefinitely.
All Augustus could do Tuesday was hobble around in front of the bench, offering encouragement and guidance. Forward Devereaux Peters received an earful when she ran a play incorrectly. Rookie guard Sugar Rodgers got some good-natured ribbing after a behind-the-back, half-court heave at the halftime buzzer barely made it past the free-throw line.
And while Reeve and her staff went over some last-second pointers with the Lynx starters, Augustus directed the substitutes’ impromptu meeting just before tipoff.
“It was great,” said Augustus, who’s averaging 15.5 points per game on 51.4 percent shooting this season. “I had fun. Just enjoying the moment and seeing how well everyone played.”
Wing Monica Wright capitalized on her first start of the season with a season- and game-high 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting. She looked a bit wide-eyed after strutting through Minnesota’s starting lineup line for the first time this summer but settled down about halfway through the first quarter.
Not long after, those smooth jumpers and tenacious on-ball defense that have her slotted as the Lynx’s go-to sixth woman this year were in full supply. She matched up with McCoughtry, the WNBA’s second-leading scorer, and held her to 5-of-19 from the floor.
“You kind of have to hit the ground running as a starter,” said Wright, who also had five assists and three steals. “Coming off the bench, you have a chance to figure out what you can do when you do come in the game and what’s needed.”
Said teammate Maya Moore: “I’m so proud of her. When she gets in that groove, she does whatever she wants.”
Moore was even more efficient, missing just one of her eight field goal attempts and adding 19 points. Lindsay Whalen was her usual, big-time self, scoring 20 points and dishing out five assists. And forward Rebekkah Brunson notched the 60th double-double of her career and fifth of the season with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
During almost every pause in play, Augustus heard it from somewhere on her side of the scorers’ table.
“They’re all like, ‘This is for you, ‘Mone,'” said Augustus, who will travel with the team to Indiana and Tulsa but isn’t expected to play.
Indeed, performing against a potential WNBA Finals foe on ESPN2 wasn’t Minnesota’s sole motivation Tuesday night.
“When someone is down for us, we have to come together collectively and pick it up,” Moore said. “Every time you step on the floor, you’re making a statement. You’re showing the world who you are. When you put that jersey on, you’re now representing the Lynx — your team, your squad, your family, your teammates, your coaches. Everything that you do once you step out on that court, especially for a nationally televised game, makes a statement.