INDIANAPOLIS – The core of the Minnesota Lynx are the players that get the lion’s share of notoriety, and rightfully so. They’ve earned it with their play over the past several seasons. A vital part of the team’s success of late, however, has actually come from players in their first season in Minneapolis.
Guards Anna Cruz and Renee Montgomery and center Sylvia Fowles have played massive roles in getting the Lynx on the brink of a third WNBA title.
Without Cruz, there’s no telling where Minnesota would have been when both Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus went down with injuries in the regular season. Cruz was acquired in a trade after spending her rookie season gaining her footing with the New York Liberty. Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said the coaching staff sought a guard that possessed a different style, but one who could come in and spell Whalen as her minutes decreased.
“Anna Cruz got here after a month into the season,” Reeve said, “and when she got here we were injured. Seimone was out and she was thrown into a starting job. She had three or four days of practice and then she’s out there playing 30 minutes.”
The Spaniard excelled, leading the Lynx offense while adding to an already stout defensive unit.
“I think it’s a testament to someone like Anna Cruz,” Reeve added, “who if you know her way, she’s relentless. She’s shy. She doesn’t talk a whole lot. She’s really immersed herself into this team, and now when you see her she actually smiles and she’s talking to people. That’s a credit to her teammates as well.”
Fowles, a former Defensive Player of the Year and Olympian, sat for the first half of the season before Minnesota acquired the 6-foot-6 center in a three-team deal with Atlanta and Chicago. Fowles was immediately welcomed into the mix, not only because of her skill, but because of her unselfishness and willingness to contribute in whatever ever area she was needed.
But Minnesota endured some ups and downs at the beginning of the implementation process. Although Fowles’ skill is obvious, plugging a game-changing frontcourt option into an established offensive system isn’t as simple as it sounds. The transition was, well, anything but seamless.
“It was fun going through and being able to acquire Sylvia,” Reeve said, “and then it got down to the nuts and bolts of how can we bring out the best in Sylvia. How can we continue to be who we are? And then we went through some growing pains because of that.”
Fowles and Cruz have been joined by Montgomery as a key contributor in her first season with the franchise. Minnesota traded veteran guard Monica Wright for Montgomery, who was a teammate of Maya Moore at the University of Connecticut. She began her career in Minnesota in 2009, starting nine games and averaging nine points per contest. Now, after a few seasons with Connecticut and Seattle, she’s back where it all began.
Montgomery and Cruz have been X-factors in both of Minnesota’s wins in the WNBA Finals 2015 presented by Boost Mobile.
“We finished [the regular season] with Lindsay and Seimone not playing,” Reeve said, “and Anna and Renee, I told them as we embarked on our playoff journey that we wouldn’t have homecourt advantage in the West if it wasn’t for those two stepping up and winning the Phoenix game at home, and then beating Indiana when they came to our place.
“We had some big games that they were a big part of. They gained my trust. I learned a lot about them. It’s putting us in those situations now that when their numbers have been called, they’re feeling really confident.”
Although it wasn’t always easy to incorporate new pieces, Moore sees the entire process as rewarding. Night in and night out there’s an understanding that someone can and will step up when their name is called.
“They have personalities that identify with the core, as far as being selfless, competing, and wanting to win and doing it the right way,” Moore said. “That part has been easier for us, not having to change their mindset to match what this team is about.
“Just to see which player it is that night – or a group of players – has been an emotional ride but very fulfilling at the same time. Having [Lindsay Whalen] and [Seimone Augustus] out gave Anna and Renee a chance to step in and find their identity.”