The team’s home regular season ended Sunday with a big win over Indiana.
MINNEAPOLIS – Many Minnesotans spent the last unofficial Sunday of summer outside, whether at a cabin, on a boat, or at the Minnesota State Fair. It’s understandable, especially with a relatively nice day weather-wise in the middle of a busy holiday weekend.
But thousands of people – 8,833 to be exact – chose to spend at least part of the day inside instead, cheering on their Minnesota Lynx in what turned out to be a very special Fan Appreciation Night at Target Center.
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2019 was expected to be a rebuilding year for Cheryl Reeve and her squad, with four of the five starters in 2018 sitting out for most if not all of this season. But someone forgot to tell the Lynx, as they are back in the playoffs for the ninth year in a row (all under Reeve). And the fans have been with them the entire way through good and bad, including in Sunday’s contest against the Indiana Fever.
There was excitement in the air all night at Target Center. Though the Lynx had already clinched their playoff berth earlier in the week – and the Fever were eliminated from postseason contention – Indiana was looking to play spoiler against a Minnesota team hoping to continue its season in front of the best fans in the league (per the WNBA GMs in the preseason). Those aforementioned fans got a treat when, before the national anthem and the starting lineups, Lynx veteran Seimone Augustus was introduced to say a few words.
After a lot of cheering and a standing ovation, that is.
Augustus kept her remarks short, thanking the Lynx faithful for their support this season before referencing their greeting to her.
“Just what you did is what we need…for the rest of tonight,” she said, then talking about the push to secure a home playoff game next week. As of press time, the Lynx (17-15) are in sixth place, just a half game ahead of Seattle (16-15, seventh) and 1.5 games ahead of Phoenix (15-16, eighth). Minnesota will need to win its final two games – at Phoenix on Friday and at Los Angeles on Sunday – to stay in sixth and secure that first-round postseason match.
At the end of her speech before the game, Augustus sang the praises of a certain player who could help make that happen.
“Give a big shoutout to ROY!” she yelled, pointing to Lynx forward Napheesa Collier nearby, which also made the fans in attendance cheer.
Augustus joined Collier, Odyssey Sims, Sylvia Fowles, and Damiris Dantas in the starting lineup for the Lynx on Sunday – though she tried to fight it at first.
“I went to Seimone and I said ‘I know you say you don’t want to start, but I’m starting you,’” Reeve said after the game. “It’s the last home game. Her family was here and our fans – look at our fans. They adore her.”
As has been the case all year, the fans were with the Lynx from opening tip until the end – but especially when Augustus was on the court. She has not played much this season after recovering from a successful knee surgery, but she’s still made her presence known in different ways. Reeve said after the game that she’s seen a lot of similarities between Augustus and former Lynx star Lindsay Whalen.
“I told (them both), ‘you may not be your prime self, but you have a lot to offer,’” she said.
That was the case for Augustus on Sunday. The crowd cheered a bit louder every time she contributed to a Lynx score, as she finished with eight points and four assists in just over 16 minutes of play. Many wondered if Sunday would be the last time they would see her in a Lynx uniform at home.
Regardless of what the future holds, the Lynx are in good hands either way. The crowd applauded the substitutions made throughout the game, including when Danielle Robinson scored the first points by a bench player since August 25 vs. Las Vegas. They also loudly voiced their opinions about some calls made – and not made – by the referees of the game. There was one point during the first half of the game when a good portion of fans could be seen doing the hand gesture used for a traveling violation – while the referees kept the game going anyway. Calls or not, the atmosphere felt like that of a playoff game.
The Fever used a 60% shooting half to take a three point lead into the break. While the Lynx had chipped away at that lead earlier in the second quarter, the team still wasn’t satisfied. After the game, coach Reeve mentioned that Collier collected herself and the rest of her team responded well. I’d say the fans did, too.
Both the Lynx and the Fever continued to go back and forth with scoring in the third quarter. When Indiana made a run at the beginning of the frame, Minnesota was there to respond. This was especially the case towards the end of the third quarter, when the Lynx went on a 7-0 run to go up 58-57. Here was the reaction from the crowd when Sims hit a big layup with about 37 seconds left.
After Indiana veteran Candice Dupree hit a shot to put the Fever back on top, the Lynx and their fans especially loved how the third quarter ended – a buzzer-beating three-point shot from Lexie Brown to give Minnesota the lead heading into the final frame.
Brown expressed her gratitude to Sims, who tossed her the ball to make that shot, after the game.
“I work on that shot a lot,” she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “She has confidence in me.”
It’s fair to say the fans do, too, despite many not knowing who she was before she was traded to Minnesota.
“The crowd went nuts (after the shot),” Reeve said.
“That was a big swing,” Fowles added. “It got everybody hyped. We knew we had ‘em on their heels.”
The in-game staff felt that as well.
“Hey Lynx fans…” the in-game announcer said as the fourth quarter began.
“The noise is working!”
Despite the buzzer-beater, the tides looked like they could turn just seconds later. During a review in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, some in the crowd took a lull in play as an opportunity to start a “Who’s House? Our House!” chant, a fan (and team) favorite.
That review of a play upgraded a ruling to a clear path foul on Robinson, something the crowd did not agree with. Betnijah Laney then hit two free throws for Indiana to tie the game at 61. But just 14 seconds later, Sims hit a jump shot that gave the Lynx the lead for good. Minnesota won 83-71 despite being outshot by Indiana. It was the Lynx’s first such win in 11 games this year.
How? Reeve had an idea.
“I think (the fans) got us through (the game) today,” she said after the contest.
Sure, the perks were nice. Fans in attendance on Sunday got to see local Little League World Series hero Maddy Freking and members of the U.S. Women’s National soccer team help throw out t-shirts in separate appearances during the game. Everyone also went home with a commemorative poster. And fans got to vote on a dance song played in the fourth quarter (they overwhelmingly chose Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” for the record).
But the truth is this. All perks aside, when all is said and done, the Lynx fans are some of the more loyal fans in the state (and the league). This year especially proved that. While no one (myself included) wants Augustus to hang up her shoes for the last time, many can agree that she’s helped the Lynx get to a better place.
“That’s one thing I wanted to make sure of,” she told the Star Tribune. “That if I was here I was going to help and not hurt the team, in some capacity, in some way, and lead in the right direction. And we’re on the right track. If this is my last season, that’s why I’m at peace with it, because I can see that we’re OK.”
And no matter what happens now, next year, or in the future, the fans will be there every step of the way.
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