The huge momentum that the Minnesota Lynx had before the Olympic break hit a road block last night, as the Connecticut Sun stopped them for the second time this season in a close 84-80 decision.
The defending champions had gone into the hiatus on a six-game winning streak, and despite sending four starters and coach Cheryl Reeve to the Games, they had promised to come back strong. But their efforts weren’t quite enough in their return to the court.
“They are a good team and we didn’t play well,” Lynx point guard and Olympian Lindsay Whalen said of the Sun. “They played hard, and there are a lot of little things that we needed to do that we didn’t get done.”
Whalen, fellow gold medalists Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus scored in double figures for Minnesota. Maya Moore, who also played in Rio, had eight points.
The Lynx were the subjects of much speculation, as they were the only team to send as many starters to the Olympic Games. Three players logged over 140 minutes in Rio. Would they be fatigued upon their return, or would they quickly bounce back?
Reeve, who served as an assistant coach for the U.S. team, anticipated that Minnesota would stick to their “Olympic rhythm.”
“I like the rhythm that Lindsay, Simone, Maya, and Syl will have, as they’ve been playing games and practicing,” Reeve said before Friday’s game. “Around the league, a month off there’s no games. There’s nothing like being in the game.”
But down the stretch against Connecticut, Reeve pulled the high-scoring bench and reinserted her starters – a move she acknowledged later as a mistake.
“The bench was great, that was my bad, I should have left them out there,” Reeve said post-game. “It’s very hard for me to leave players like Maya and Lindsay on the bench when they have done what they through the years. I made a bad call there. The group that was in there hooping for us should have stayed in game.”
If Reeve had too much faith in her starters, it is because they’ve lead the Lynx to three WNBA Championships in five years. But the Minnesota bench worked hard at home while the Olympians were away.
One of those players, veteran guard Renee Montgomery, said she used the second Olympic break of her professional career to get better and prepare for the rest of the season.
“It was good. We got a lot of work done, but we also had fun with it,” she said. “It was nice to get time to work on our game because typically we play year-round, so we don’t usually have that (opportunity).”
Reeve praised the work and effort that Minnesota reserves have given all year.
“Our second team, our reserve players, have allowed us to manage minutes for our Olympians, and we’ll continue to do that,” Reeve said.
With most in the WNBA playing year-round with overseas commitments, the Olympics were a sort of “business as usual” exercise in basketball as a constant. Those not on the Olympic team enjoyed a week or more break from play before returning to practice with their teams, so the break was out of the ordinary for those athletes.
Whether or not the Olympic break was a disruption remains to be seen.
The Lynx was one team in the midst of a hot streak at the break, which was abruptly curtailed for a month. Both Minnesota and the Los Angeles Sparks had secured a playoff berth in July, but the Sparks also lost on Friday.
Sunday night the Lynx host the Storm, who lead from buzzer to buzzer in beating the Sparks last night. Los Angeles next travels to Phoenix, who routed the Dallas Wings in their return to the court.