Key additions the Minnesota Lynx made over the offseason did not deliver on their title aspirations. A late-season surge resulted in the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye in the WNBA Playoffs, and the Lynx were hoping to put together a deep postseason run for the first time since they winning it all in 2017.
On Sunday, that came to a screeching halt for the Lynx. They fell to the Chicago Sky in a single-elimination game in the second round, the first playoff game played at Target Center since Game 5 of the 2016 WNBA Finals. Minnesota was upset by the sixth-seeded Chicago, sending the Sky to the semifinals and ending the Lynx’s postseason after only one game.
“We just didn’t get the job done,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said after the second-round loss. “I can’t say anything back about this team and the team that we became. It just sucks. First home game since 2017 and a great showing by our fans. It always hurts to not deliver for them.”
Even though a rollercoaster season was capped with the disappointment of being one-and-done in the playoffs, the Lynx are happy with what they were able to accomplish this year and are even more excited for the future starting in 2022.
The Season That Was
Coming into training camp with legitimate title aspirations for the first time since 2017, Minnesota started slow out of the gate in the new year. During camp, the team experienced a few different injuries while some key players were arriving late from overseas and others were out of shape.
As a result, the Lynx began the regular season 0-4 overall, quickly plummeting down the WNBA standings while sitting as the lone team in the league yet to claim a win at one point. That start even brought up some early-season questions with Reeve as to if Minnesota would even be able to turn things around the rest of the summer.
“I think part of our deal this year was being healthy and being in shape. … What we did in terms of how we came in training camp can’t happen again. We didn’t get off to a good start for reasons that we can control,” Reeve said. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t think it was going to be possible to have a bad training camp and a successful season. … You have thoughts, as far as a general manager goes, of ‘maybe we should blow this team up.’ Give the players credit, they figured stuff out.”
But the Lynx ended up turning things around and made a comeback. Over the last 28 games of the season, Minnesota finished with a 22-6 record over that span, concluding the 32-game regular season with a 22-10 record. That was enough to claim the third seed for their 11th straight postseason appearance and earn a first-round bye to advance to the single-elimination second round.
“Every which way we got pulled, we consistently found ways to be successful and we had a lot of fun doing it too,” Kayla McBride said. “It’s been a lot of fun and it hasn’t always been easy. When you’re surrounded by the right people and you’re doing things the right way, you always find success.”
As the saying goes, it’s not how you start but how you finish. And although the ultimate goal of making a deep playoff run was met with disappointment, the Lynx finished the regular season strong despite a rough start to the new year.
“I think the most proud moment for me was when everything clicked for everybody and once we saw how good we could be as a team when we buy into what Cheryl and her staff was teaching us,” Sylvia Fowles said. “Looking at the growth from the start of the season until now. … Those things made me very proud.”
Looking Ahead to 2022
Coming out of the 2020 campaign in the bubble, Minnesota was thrilled with a season that resulted in obtaining the No. 4 seed and eventually a spot in the semifinal round against the Seattle Storm, but it knew it needed to focus on adding to the team before this season began. That resulted in Reeve and the Lynx going out and being aggressive in free agency to build what they believed was a title contender this summer.
Now with that roster intact also key additions like Layshia Clarendon during the season, Minnesota’s roster is just about complete and they have had a year to build chemistry. As they look ahead to next summer, the Lynx hope that familiarity established this season will allow them the ability to hit the ground running when the regular season tips off.
“Chemistry is such a huge part, so if we already have a year under our belt with most of the team here and a lot of them coming back, it will be great because we knew what each other likes and we know how to play with each other,” Napheesa Collier said. “I think we have a great team. If we can continue to stay together, I think magical things can happen.”
There are a few areas the Lynx want to try and shore up this offseason, mainly the guard and post depth on the roster, but Reeve noted the team wouldn’t likely be as aggressive as they were last offseason. And Minnesota also doesn’t really have any cap space available to be as aggressive as it was a year ago.
“I would say we are in a little bit of a different place in 2021,” Reeve said. “We do need some help. In the areas we need help, we’ll try to be aggressive, but it’s a different tone than (last offseason). … We don’t feel the need to jump. Last year, I felt the need to jump on some opportunity.”
Minnesota will have a few players hit the open market as free agents, those players being Clarendon, Fowles, Rachel Banham, and Bridget Carleton. Reeve said they are committed to trying to bring back those players, with Fowles — if she chooses not to retire — and Clarendon as the two more likely players to return, and Banham and Carleton having an opportunity to follow.
“I definitely see myself back with the Lynx. … I love it here in Minnesota and it’s a really amazing fit,” Clarendon said. “It’s definitely somewhere I see myself long-term.”
Regardless of how the complete roster shapes up and who fills out the 12-player roster on the back end and with depth, the Lynx will return a bulk of the team we saw this season. And they are excited for the potential possibilities for the team starting in 2022, with title aspirations once again being front-of-mind in Minnesota.
“I think we’re capable of another championship,” Aerial Powers said. “When we do get our full team, we finished third. … Think if we were healthy a few more games, we’re maybe in the one- or two-spot. I’m looking forward to next year and all of us playing together.”