Moore, Whalen and Augustus are the Olympians, but Rebekkah Brunson is the foundation of Lynx success
Seimone Augustus’ tenure with the Minnesota Lynx began in 2006. It was not until 2010, however, that things changed.
In addition to new coach Cheryl Reeve, point guard Lindsay Whalen came from Connecticut via trade, and Rebekkah Brunson arrived via the dispersal draft from the now-defunct Sacramento Monarchs. Maya Moore came the next year, and it was off to the races.
Really though, it was that 2010 dispersal draft that changed the course of WNBA history. What if the New York Liberty, who had the first pick, chose Brunson instead of Nicole Powell?
Injury sidelined Brunson for almost the entire season this summer. She has played only six games. Not surprisingly the Lynx were less consistent than expected, even though they sit in second place behind Saturday night’s opponent, Phoenix, with six losses. In the games Brunson has played, the Lynx are undefeated.
“What you see right away when she steps out there is she only knows one way, and that’s to play with a great deal of intensity and professionalism,” says Reeve. “Whatever the game plan is, she’s going to execute it.”
Rebounding and defense, not the things All-star votes and SportsCenter Top Tens are made of, but things of beauty for a coach watching the game.
“Everyone was telling me our defense was going to get better when Brunson got back,” said Reeve. “First game out there, I see someone flying through the air to get a rebound, and it was one of ours! So that was exciting! It was Rebekkah, and what she does is contagious, and that’s probably the biggest thing, the way she presents herself is uplifting to everyone she is playing with.”
After averaging only 32 rebounds per game as a team in June, that number shot up to 37 per game in July, with Brunson contributing over nine per game.
“It’s great having her back,” center Janel McCarville said about her frontcourt mate. “Obviously she fills a gap rebounding, she’s a tremendous athlete, and really a big band-aid for our defense, when people get by the guards or we need a big rebound.”
Augustus echoed the thoughts of McCarville.
“We missed that aggressive beast on the boards, just going after it. Defensively she’s our anchor, just that tenacious attitude that she has, to get us going on the defensive end is kind of contagious for us.”
Whalen also pointed to some of the other things Brunson does on the court as a key to the Lynx success.
“Brunson comes back and has had almost a double double in every game, she’s been unbelievable,” said the point guard. “Tip ins, o-boards, put ins, those are the plays that make a difference at the end of games, those are the ones that break your opponent’s backs. It’s been great having her back, both on offense and on defense.”
Still, there is no denying the way veterans Moore, Whalen, and McCarville kept the Lynx on top during Brunson’s absence, as well as Augustus, who was also injured, was impressive.
Reeve compliments her key players.
“You have someone like Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, and Janel McCarville, really locked in and trying to get us through that stretch; they’ve just been resilient.”
Young posts Devereaux Peters and Damiris Dantas received valuable time while Brunson was out, and benefited from the experience and wisdom of the veteran Brunson.
“I think top to bottom, we’ve gotten better because people have had to step up and fill different roles,” said McCarville. “They’ve gotten more playing time than they might have if we had a full squad to start. So in a way that’s been a little bit of a blessing in disguise.”
Watching From the Sidelines
So should we be calling her coach Brunson? “No, no,” Brunson laughs, “I’m just trying to play right now!”
“It was hard having to watch the team, knowing I could do some things that could possibly help them out, when we were struggling in certain areas,” she said said. “It took a lot of patience, on my part, but at the same time it was exciting to watch the younger players grow, knowing that eventually I’d be back out there and our group would be a little better for it.”
If you are looking for confirmation how different the Lynx are with Brunson on the court, start with last week’s victory over first place Phoenix. The Mercury won the first two meetings, both without Brunson playing, and Minnesota took the first game with Brunson on the court.
Or you could ask one of her opponents. Connecticut Sun second year center Kelsey Bone is also a student of the game who has been a WNBA fan for many years.
“I remember watching Rebekkah when she was in Sacramento,” recalls Bone. “My mom called me, I talk to my mom before every game, and today I called her after pregame warm-ups, and she said ‘I didn’t know Brunson was playing.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, everybody’s back,’ and she said, ‘do you have to guard Brunson?’ I said no because all week in practice I had been against McCarville’s position, but I just happened to look at the board, and the matchups were on the board, and it was me guarding Brunson.”
“And so I said, ‘oh wait, mom, I’ve got her,’ and she said ‘I figured,’ and started laughing. So for me, she’s just an animal [on the court]. When I think about Rebekkah Brunson, I think about what she’s done in this league, when she’s healthy, she’s the best rebounder in the league. She’s probably the best four player in the league when she’s healthy, and she got the chance to play with Yolanda Griffith. She looks just like her a lot of times out there, and so to see her back healthy, to see her about to help them do whatever they are going to do; it’s really good to see her healthy, this is probably the first time I really did because last year we didn’t match up a lot when I was in New York. This is probably the first time head to head matchup with her, and she’s as advertised.”
The Lynx seem to be peaking at the right time, having won 11-of-12 games since July 1.
“We’ve dealt with the adversity and I feel like we’re in a pretty good spot, heading to the end,” says Brunson. “We finally have everybody, together on the court, and we’re ready to make a push here.”
Augustus, who won the game this week at Indiana on a tip in at the buzzer, is excited about the way the team is playing.
“The way we started the season with nine players, it’s been kind of an up and down season for us, but we’ve got everyone together, and it feels great, feels like 2013 and 2011 all over again. The cohesiveness is coming, and we’ve got just enough games to get ready for the playoffs.”
“We don’t look that ahead of ourselves, but what we have talked about is we have overcome a number of obstacles,” adds Reeve. “This has not been the journey the way it was the last few years, but no one expected it would be, as every journey is different. This one has posed a number of challenges, and all we’ve done is kind of pick off each challenge as it has come. And it’s kind of put us in a situation where we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves. One week at a time, and we’ll see where the chips fall.”
Saturday night in Phoenix the battle for first place, tie breakers, and bragging rights will be fought again.