Napheesa Collier became a first-time mom 2 1/2 months ago.
Sunday night she was back in a Minnesota Lynx uniform for the first time in 2022.
Although her six points and two rebounds in 20 minutes was a small part of an 81-71 win, the fact that she was back after giving birth to a daughter May 25 helped provide a spark for a squad facing a near must-win for its playoff hopes.
“I was trying to weigh all my options and not just rush into it because obviously, I really want to play. But I had to think, too, about my body and am I ready. I know that I am,” Collier said postgame, while holding Mila, who was sporting a tiny No. 24 jersey. “What was kind of holding me back was nerves. That’s not a good reason to not play, so I decided to do it.”
Hers was the first name called during team introductions.
“It felt so good to hear my name called and have the fans cheer for me,” Collier said.
Scoreless in nearly five minutes in the first quarter — almost three minutes to start and 2:07 to finish — but Collier drained a 3-pointer 44 seconds into the second, getting a semi-standing ovation from the 9,421 in attendance.
“I think I played double what I was supposed to play,” said Collier, who played nearly 21 minutes. “I felt a little winded as to be expected, until the very end when I was really feeling it. I’m not back where I want to be, but it was a good first game.”
With Aerial Powers out with a knee injury, coach Cheryl Reeve asked Collier if she wanted to stick to the plan of returning later this week or playing. Collier called back in a couple of minutes with an affirmative answer.
“Worst case scenario you’re talking about a sub for 15 minutes that is going to be productive. Whether she’s going to get you rebounds, deflections or movement on offense, she would be a net positive,” Reeve said. “She’s like a security blanket for everybody.”
Collier played a key role in a game-securing 10-0 fourth quarter run.
From the left side, she got her defender to jump, beat her off the dribble, drove to the hoop, drew a foul, and scored on a layup. After finishing the three-point play, Collier grabbed a rebound at the other end. Next time down the court, Kayla McBride scored from long range for a 70-59 Lynx lead.
“We believe in Phee and what she brings to this franchise. It was good to have her out there. Put a big smile on my face for sure,” said McBride, who led the Lynx with 20 points. Moriah Jefferson added 18, including four makes from outside the arc.
Minnesota tied a season-high with a dozen three-pointers.
Buckets by Natalie Achonwa, Rachel Banham and Sylvia Fowles pushed the Lynx lead to 77-64 midway through the fourth.
Collier had a goal of again being on the court with Fowles, a future hall of famer playing in her final season.
“I really want to get a play where I can pass to Syl or something like that one last time playing with her. That didn’t happen tonight, but it’s my goal before the end of the season.”
Battling early foul trouble, Fowles, in her penultimate home game, finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
With the win, the 10th-place Lynx (13-20) are tied with Los Angeles one game behind seventh-place Atlanta (14-19) and Phoenix (14-19) and a half-game behind ninth-place New York (13-19). The top eight teams make the postseason. Winners in three of its past four, Minnesota has three games left, including Wednesday at Phoenix.
“We’re fighting for our lives right now,” McBride said.