Lynx made WNBA comeback history in their first successful season’s playoffs

Suzie McConnell Serio Photo courtesy of the WNBA

The Minnesota Lynx is celebrating its 20th year in the WNBA this season. In this 20-part occasional series, we will take a year-by-year look back, featuring reflections from players, coaches, fans and others. This week: 2003

An actual change of the guard took place in the months leading up to the 2003 season. Some at the time felt it was needed, a clean break from the Brian Agler era when early expectations too often turned into later disappointments.

Suzie McConnell Serio was hired in January of that year as Lynx head coach. Almost immediately the former WNBA point guard somehow convinced basketball legend, Teresa Edwards, to join her in Minnesota. Edwards had resisted earlier requests to join the WNBA after the American Basketball League folded, reportedly because she balked at the league’s low salaries, an argument still in vogue today.

The new Minnesota “backcourt” — the point guard-new coach combination – appeared set as the future Hall of Famer accepted McConnell Serio’s offer and joined her two-time U.S. Olympian teammate. Other off-season moves included hiring Carolyn Jenkins as the team’s first Black assistant coach — she, assistant Nancy Darsch and the new head coach formed the Lynx’s first all-female coaching staff.

Then the Lynx selected veteran guard Sheri Sam from the Miami dispersal draft. As expected, Edwards later was drafted by Minnesota as a second-round pick in the 2003 Draft. At age 38 she became the W’s oldest rookie.

The roster changes also included trading Minneapolis native Tamara Moore, a mid-season acquisition the season before, to Detroit for a third-round pick in mid-May.

With the roster now in place, the summer of the 2003 season would record Minnesota “firsts” in several categories: Franchise records in wins (18), home wins (11) and road wins (seven) were set, and a first-ever seven-game win streak was strung together as well. The Lynx for the first time played .500 or better ball each month of the regular season.

The team finally looked more competitive than in previous seasons, resembling a veteran club ready to battle consistently. Katie Smith was, as usual, the team’s best scorer, but now she got nightly help from Sam, who was second.

Svetlana Abrosimova was finally living up to expectations when she came into the league two seasons earlier. Tamika Williams, the Lynx’s first legitimate rebounding machine, was crashing boards as well.

The fifth and final piece was Edwards, one of two rookies on the Minnesota roster, whose better days as a big-time scorer were behind her. She didn’t take a lot of shots in her first Lynx season, barely averaging five points a game. But she led the team in assists and took and made big shots when warranted during the season.

Edwards also took Minnesota to unfamiliar territory — the W’s postseason for the first time in franchise history. The Lynx were seeded lower than Los Angeles in the best-of-three first round series, which opened in Minnesota.

Down by over 20 points, Minnesota outscored the visiting Sparks 42-23 in the second half and staged a historic comeback when Williams’ steal and converted layup with seven seconds left gave the hosts a 74-72 win. The team set a league record for the largest comeback win in playoff history as a result.

However, their 1-0 series lead didn’t last as Minnesota fell to the Sparks in the next two contests and were eliminated. Nonetheless, the 2003 season finished successfully: Williams doubled her scoring average in the playoffs from nearly nine points in the regular season to 16.7 points in the playoffs. McConnell Serio won coach of the year honors.

Things were finally looking up. The future, it appeared, had arrived at last.