Seimone Augustus as vital as ever to Lynx's championship hopes

Tamika Catchings says "very few players" have had Seimone Augustus' "bread and butter" ultra-quick pull-up jumper. Jordan Johnson/NBAE/Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS -- There are times when Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus has just the right message for her hard-driving and intense coach, Cheryl Reeve. It's the kind of thing not just anybody could say, but Augustus always nails it.

"I joke with her: 'You might need to get to the studio and get some yoga and find your happy place,'" Augustus said. "So she calls me the Zen master."

Target Center, site of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals between the Lynx and the Indiana Fever (ABC, 3 p.m. ET Sunday), has been an exceptionally happy place for most of the past five years. Minnesota has won two championships and gone to the WNBA Finals a third time in that span. The Lynx are 127-43 in the regular season in that stretch.

But when Reeve or any of her Lynx teammates get tense, Augustus is there to hit the reset button.

"Sometimes I forget to have fun," Reeve said. "And here comes Seimone. I told her, 'You're really good for me because you'll make me laugh at the perfect time.'

"But she's also learned she has to have a voice with the team, and that can't always be for the fun of it. At times, she's got to be the heavy, if you will. She picks her spots with that, and there's great respect for her."

Augustus knows Minnesota's history because she has lived so much of it, starting with the less pleasant part, from 2006 (when she was drafted No. 1) to 2010, Reeve's first season, when injuries helped torpedo the team and led to drafting Maya Moore. When it comes to putting things into perspective, Augustus has the highest credibility. She can speak to what it was like when the Lynx were 63-107 and didn't make the playoffs her first five seasons.

"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves," Augustus said. "Someone has to bring that calm, to pull coach or a player to the side or to have a meeting as a team if I think things are getting too tense. We had some games this season where it felt like we were down 20, and we were down only two."

Perhaps that's just the way it is when your franchise is on the kind of run Minnesota has been: You want things to be going perfectly all the time. But this particular WNBA Finals matchup with Indiana -- a repeat of 2012, when the Fever won 3-1 -- could prompt some anxious memories for the Lynx, were they to think that way.

They say they don't dwell on it. But that doesn't mean they didn't learn from 2012 or that they don't acknowledge that -- painful as the loss was -- they became an even more improved team because of it.

"We know how it has fueled us to get better in the areas that Indiana exploited," Reeve said.

And Augustus added, "Your past is not your future. But you can take a few things from the past, like the way Indiana came in that first game [in 2012] and stole it on our home court. We need to take heed of that: Don't come out flat. This is it: the Finals, the time of year we've all been waiting for."

For Augustus, in her 10th season out of LSU, the wait in 2015 has been more taxing because of injuries. She got a "clean up" procedure on her knee in late July and was out a month. Three games into her return, a foot injury sent her back to the bench, where she stayed the rest of the regular season. She played just 16 games and averaged career lows in scoring (13.8) and rebounding (2.9).

"If it wasn't one thing, it was another," Augustus said. "But neither one was a severe injury, so it tested my patience. Because these are injuries that you can't rush; you've just got to take your time as they heal.

"And me being someone who wants to be in the action, it tore at me a little bit to see my teammates out there having to adjust to different things. I'm just happy I'm back and healthy."

Yet even a week before the Lynx's first-round playoff series with Los Angeles, Augustus was still taking it very slowly, walking from sideline to sideline, not doing any real basketball activity.

"But time went by, and I started to feel better," Augustus said. "And here we are."

Indiana would have expected nothing less. The Fever have watched as Augustus has played at least 30 minutes in all five of Minnesota's postseason games and averaged 13.8 points and 3.6 rebounds. Asked what makes Augustus hard to go against, Fever coach Stephanie White said, "What doesn't?"

Indiana's Tamika Catchings, who has guarded most of the best scorers in the history of the league, has done her share of trying to stop the 6-foot Augustus.

"What makes Seimone tough is she's so smooth and just deadly," Catchings said. "You think you have her locked down, and she'll make a move or rise up above you. She's long too."

There is much mutual respect between Augustus and Catchings, including the awareness that both -- who have stayed with the WNBA team that drafted them -- are important figures in their respective cities.

"I can't say enough about the things she does, on and off the court," Catchings said of Augustus. "Just being a mentor and a role model for so many young girls and boys. The connection she has with fans. The outreach she has done, including with the LGBT community. She helps bring more people in and want to be engaged with the WNBA. That's important to the league."

"What makes Seimone tough is she's so smooth and just deadly. You think you have her locked down, and she'll make a move or rise up above you. She's long too." Tamika Catchings on Seimone Augustus

Augustus has spoken extensively in the past about how much Catchings helped her become a better go-to player and team leader. Augustus sought out Catchings for her advice during the WNBA's offseason a few years back, when both were playing overseas. The fact that they are on different teams didn't deter Catchings from doing all she could to help Augustus.

In this series, of course, Catchings will do all she can to slow Augustus, whose ultra-quick pull-up jumper Catchings calls, "Mone's bread and butter. It's something I would say very few players have had. Sheryl [Swoopes] had it, Deanna Nolan and Seimone. You know it's coming, but you can't stop it."

What did stop Augustus, at least for a while, were the injuries. But Moore said the silver lining in that was having teammates Anna Cruz and Renee Montgomery get more court time and confidence.

"We don't want Seimone out ever, but some good came out of it," Moore said. "Now we're more versatile than ever. But I definitely have a sense of comfort when she's out there on the court with me."

Reeve thinks back to the Lynx's 13-21 record in 2010 and then their winning the lottery and knowing No. 1 pick Moore was on the way in 2011.

"There were people who reached out to Seimone and said, 'You've got to get out of Minnesota. Here comes Maya Moore. It's not going to be about you anymore,'" Reeve said. "And Seimone scoffed and said, 'Why in the world would I not welcome help and get where I want to go with this franchise?' Seimone has been extremely loyal to the organization and to the fans."

Augustus knows them and is especially thankful to the ones who were coming to games when the Lynx were going nowhere. Now they'll be there for another chance to win a championship.

"I see the sheer joy on their faces, how excited they are about Lynx basketball," Augustus said. "I can remember when there weren't signs on the side of buses or outside the arena. And now people are anticipating our games. And I'm happy to be a part of that."