Lynx need stops in Game 3
MINNEAPOLIS -- Nobody styles a Burberry plaid vest and matching porkpie hat like Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus. And why not? Augustus is a fashionista as well as a big-time scorer, and scorers are supposed to be flashy, even in the airport.
This season, however, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve asked Augustus to add one more hat to her basketball wardrobe: shutdown defender. That never had been required of Augustus as a two-time Wade Trophy winner at Louisiana State, or with the Lynx since arriving as the first pick in the 2006 draft.
Instead of squawking about it, Augustus accepted and embraced the role. Augustus' improvement has been a key component of Minnesota's physical defense, which held teams to the lowest field goal percentage (41.3) and the second-fewest points per game (73.6) in the WNBA during the regular season.
"We wouldn't be 27-7 if I didn't take pride in it," she said.
San Antonio finally solved the Lynx in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal on Sunday afternoon, winning 84-75 to even the series after going 0-5 against the Lynx in the regular season and Game 1. The Silver Stars' top scorer, Becky Hammon, whom Augustus shut out in one game and limited to nine points in another late in the season, escaped Augustus' reach to score 18 points.
Augustus and her teammates must defend better in Game 3 on Tuesday night in Minneapolis to avoid becoming the second overall No. 1 seed in WNBA history to be eliminated in the first round. The Lynx, who missed the playoffs every year from 2005 to 2010, have never won a postseason series.
"As far as the team goes, we always talk about stifling defense, merciless defense, dictating where we want people to go, what shots we want them to take," Augustus said. "For the most part, we've done a great job doing that this season."
Though Augustus remains a devastating one-on-one threat -- she created and hit the winning jumper over Silver Stars rookie Danielle Robinson in Game 1 -- her scoring average this season, 16.2, was the lowest of her WNBA career. That's in part due to the Lynx's depth and balance; now, Augustus can pick her spots. But it also shows Augustus spreading her effort and energy to both ends of the court.
It stemmed from an exit interview she had with Reeve last September. Augustus had just finished her fifth WNBA season, and Reeve told her the next five would establish her legacy. What did she want it to be? At that point she was one-dimensional, a Dominique Wilkins with short dreadlocks, rather than a two-way superstar like her idol, Michael Jordan. She also was coming off back-to-back injury-shortened seasons, missing the last 28 games of 2009 with a torn left knee ligament and the first nine of 2010 following surgery to remove fibroids from her abdomen and lower back.
Reeve's defensive scheme, imported from two championship seasons as an assistant with the Detroit Shock, required an athletic defender to guard three positions. Augustus offered the right height (6 foot), quickness, wingspan and physicality to be that player.
"We talked about the fact that everyone knew she could score," Reeve said. "But championship teams have great defenders on them. That would help define her next five years."
Said Augustus, "With USA Basketball, I've been asked to play defense because we've got the best players in the world. Here, this is my first time being asked to guard the other team's best player. We had [Hamchetou] Maiga-Ba. We had Candice Wiggins. They always took the responsibility of doing that.
"This year, with the addition of Maya Moore, that responsibility was kind of put on me because she's a rookie. You don't want to have a rookie coming in having to guard Diana Taurasi or Cappie Pondexter, players like that, so I took the role. It's something I needed to expand my game and show I'm more than an offensive player."
First, Augustus -- who never really rounded into shape last year -- began trimming down and firming up. She came to camp 30 pounds lighter. Playing for the Turkish club Galatasaray during the winter, Augustus took mental notes on how her teammate, Indiana's Tamika Catchings, defended players big and small.
"I learned a lot from her," Augustus said. "She's very physical on the defensive side, depending on who she's playing. She uses her speed. She uses her length. That's what I try to do."
Augustus also stepped up her film study, learning the moves and tendencies of players she would guard.
"What's their setup move? Crossover? Right or left?" she said. "It's expanded my mind, my knowledge of the game, having to study film more, not just on the offensive side but the defensive side, as well."
Now defense, led by Augustus, has become a Lynx trademark. It's the thing they must lean on Tuesday night.
Center Taj McWilliams-Franklin recalled a midseason conversation with Augustus that might define the legacy Reeve suggested. "She said, 'I didn't think I'd hear great defense and my name in the same sentence,'" McWilliams-Franklin said. "That's big coming from Seimone Augustus, because she's a scorer."