Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s ascent to the microphone after Wednesday’s 83-71 Lynx win was the game in a nutshell. The one step up to the platform was painful, yes, but worth it. She won. Her team won. The pain was so easily forgotten, or at least transformed into joy.
The game was a battle, one that Fever coach Lin Dunn described as “basket-football.” It was painful at times, and rough, but that’s how the Lynx wanted it. So afterwards, of course McWilliams-Franklin smiled and laughed despite those aching, 41-year-old knees. Of course Seimone Augustus made faces and said all the right things.
The Lynx have declared war, and it’s on their terms – at least for now.
If Sunday’s Fever upset win was a skirmish, then Wednesday was a battle in the trenches. It was messy at times, especially on the offensive end, and loud. Knees knocked and technical fouls were called, and in the end, the Lynx outlasted.
“I’ve been coaching for 42 years now, and that’s about the most physical game I’ve ever been a part of,” Dunn said. “It was just a war out there, bodies flying (everywhere).”
In every battle there is a turning point, a tactical decision that energizes one camp. On Wednesday, it came in the form of a tossed jacket. With the game tied at 48 and 3:10 remaining in the third quarter, Lindsay Whalen complained to the referees about a call. She was given a technical foul, and Coach Cheryl Reeve went ballistic. The jacket was launched, and Reeve thrust her frame toward the official; only the hulking frame of 6’10” assistant Jim Petersen stopped her. There was an instant when you wondered if she couldn’t take him, too, with her sheer will and anger, but in the end it was just a tossed jacket and another technical.
Reeve lost her composure, maybe, and her jacket, but the Fever lost their tie game. From there, the Lynx took control, outscoring Indiana 35-23 to end the night, energized by Reeve’s outburst. Because to them, it was hardly an outburst. It was just their coach, doing what she does, her passion for them and the game made manifest.
After the game, Reeve talked about the fire lit under Seimone Augustus, who scored 27 points and has been the team’s leading scorer throughout the playoffs. Augustus has also been the Lynx’s second-half weapon, and it’s because of her that they’ve gotten this far.
“I always have a fire lit under me,” Augustus said in response to her coach’s comments. “When you play for Coach Reeve, nothing’s ever good enough for her.”
And again, it goes back to Reeve. Maybe she realizes how much her actions impact her team. If she does, she won’t admit it. As much as she’d say postgame about the performance art of her technical foul was that the disagreed with the officiating. There’s no way she was planning the impact of her jacket toss, and maybe she still doesn’t see it. But everyone else did, and they can’t help but bring the credit back to where it’s due.
“The same fire that Seimone talked about, (Reeve) has,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “It’s always burning… Never give up. Never say die.”
That’s what the Lynx did on Wednesday. After another slow start, they pulled away in the second half behind scoring from Augustus and Maya Moore. By the end of the game, the theatrics took over. There was an improbable steal by Candice Wiggins and long threes from Augustus, Whalen and Moore, plays that stick in the minds of fans and opponents alike. The Lynx killed the Fever on the glass, finishing with 32 rebounds to their 20. In second-chance points, the margin was even greater: Minnesota 24, Fever three.
For the first time all season, the Lynx were clawing back from behind in the standings. It was their second chance, their rebound, and that’s how they won it. By fighting harder and refusing to give up, they’ve elbowed their way back to even. Now, both camps retreat. They pull out their plans, and they adjust. Indiana’s Tamika Catchings said she wouldn’t be surprised if Friday’s game is more physical than this one, even if that might not seem possible. And she’s right.
“We’re going all out,” Augustus said. “We don’t want to look back on this situation and regret anything. We want to go out and say that we gave it all that we had to bring a championship back here.”
This is going to get a lot more interesting, and the intensity certainly isn’t going to let up.