Lynx veteran Augustus’ leadership key in WNBA Finals
MINNEAPOLIS — It doesn't take long for Maya Moore to recognize when teammate Seimone Augustus has found her groove.
“Those dreads get to popping, nostrils get to flaring,” Moore said, a big smile creasing her face. “I mean, my nostrils flare, too. We're both nostril-flaring kind of players. Just that look in her eye.”
And to think, if at least one team had its way, Augustus never would have been there for the Lynx in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals on Tuesday night, when her fourth-quarter scoring flurry helped Minnesota turn back a rally by the Los Angeles Sparks and even the best-of-five series at one game apiece.
In the spring of 2011, the Lynx were a team that had never won a playoff series in their 12 years of existence. After they chose Moore with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, second-year coach Cheryl Reeve said she got a call from Augustus, the team's longest-tenured and most accomplished star.
“Other teams called her tampering with her, tried to lure her away and said, `Hey it's going to be Maya Moore's team. It's not going to be your team. You should probably leave now,'” Reeve recalled this week. “When `Mone called me and told me, that was a sign of her selflessness.”
That attitude has embodied the Lynx during their run to five WNBA Finals appearances in the last six years. They are a team packed with All-Stars, including four Olympians for Team USA that have shared the spotlight and watched their individual statistics dip in deference to group success.
As the finals shift to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4, the Lynx are two wins away from becoming the first back-to-back champions since 2002. It would also give Minnesota its fourth title overall, which would be tied with the Houston Comets for most in league history.
Reeve declined to name the team that allegedly tampered with Augustus, but said the same organization has shown a pattern of flouting the rules over the years. In one instance, Reeve said the Lynx logged a complaint with WNBA security after one of the opponent's ball kids was caught leaning in to team huddles during the game to eavesdrop. Reeve also said the opponent has been known to send a team employee into the visitor's locker room after the game has started to take photos of the strategies drawn on white boards in the room.
Reeve said she has had conversations with the coach to “smooth things out,” but has spread the word to other teams to be on the lookout for suspicious practices.
“This group of people, as it turns out, they do things a little more shadily, if you will,” Reeve said. “It was a pattern that I was alerted to then. I think more than anything what I got out of it is Seimone's loyalty. She didn't have to tell us. I'm sure a lot of players get that. But I've just become more aware and we keep our eyes on it. Overall we got a kick out of it because of Seimone's reaction to them. They looked bad.”
Augustus did stay with the Lynx and together they won their first championship in Moore's rookie season. They also won titles in 2013 and 2015.
“Seimone has always been committed to this franchise,” Reeve said. “Even when times were a little more lean and she was frustrated, she's always been committed to it.”
Augustus did not play well in their series-opening loss to the Sparks. But she rebounded to score 14 points in an emphatic 79-60 victory in Game 2 that tied the series. Nine of those points came in the fourth quarter after the Sparks had whittled a 17-point deficit to just three points in the third.
“We were in this position before last year, and the thing for us is we know what we needed to do,” Augustus said. “Not saying that LA didn't capitalize on the mistakes that we made, but there were a lot of empty possessions where they were able to get out in transition and spark their offense, a lot of defensive possessions where we had a lot of miscommunication. Those are simple things that we can clean up, but those are key details that can cost you the game.”
As the Lynx head to LA for Game 3 on Friday night, they don't have to worry about the Sparks pulling any tricks on them.
That other team, Reeve said with a grin, didn't make it this far.
“I'm a big karma person,” she said. “And karma has caught up to them in different ways.”