Souhan: After shining on big stages, Collier disappeared for Lynx in playoffs

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In the third quarter of the Lynx's playoff loss to Chicago on Sunday, Minnesota's Kayla McBride walked off the court during a timeout and yelled, "C'mon, Phee!"

McBride had just thrown a pass toward Lynx star Napheesa Collier, only to watch the ball bounce out of bounds.

Chicago won 89-76 in a one-game playoff at Target Center to advance to the WNBA semifinals, and the Lynx were left to wonder how an All-Star and gold-medal Olympian could look so lost.

Collier is a rising star. She's 25. She was a surprise Rookie of the Year in 2019 after being chosen with the sixth pick in the draft.

This summer, she went from starring for the Lynx to playing in the All-Star Game to playing for the American Olympic team in Tokyo, to returning to Minnesota to star for one of the hottest teams in the WNBA.

She's also typical of WNBA standouts in that she is an impressive human being unafraid to speak about equality, equity and social justice.

But as a basketball player on Sunday she looked ... uncomfortable? Lost? Frazzled? Overwhelmed?

In the Lynx's first playoff game at Target Center since 2017, Collier played a team-high 35:24. She made three of 11 shots and finished with eight points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists. She was a game-worst minus-13, and was called for four fouls.

An All-Star power forward should accidentally collect more than four rebounds in 35 minutes, and should accidentally score more than eight points, especially when that All-Star has been playing on basketball's big stages — from UConn to Tokyo — for years.

For the Lynx to beat a talented Chicago team, two things needed to happen:

Point guard Layshia Clarendon needed to be healthy enough to run the Lynx offense against Chicago's quick, pressuring backcourt.

Collier had to play like a star.

Clarendon managed just 11 minutes because of a stress reaction. Collier's abysmal stats were an accurate indication of her effectiveness.

Could the plantar fasciitis that bothered her early in the season have been the cause of her struggles?

"I don't think so," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "Obviously, she struggled, but I don't think you put it on health or anything like that."

Late in the game, as if Collier had become the constant target of a protracted prank, she even lost a contact lens.

"It didn't happen for Phee tonight and obviously we're a much better team when it does happen for Phee," Reeve said.

In the first quarter, Lynx star center Sylvia Fowles produced nine points, four rebounds and an assist. She was the dominant player on the court.

For the rest of the game, Fowles produced eight points, four rebounds and one more assist as Chicago collapsed around her.

"In the second half, she was the only one who had established herself in the paint, so they were literally taking three and four people and saying, `You can throw it anywhere,' " Reeve said.

That's because Collier had not made Chicago pay for collapsing on Fowles.

Collier attended the postgame press conference and sat between Aerial Powers and Fowles. Was she healthy?

"I think everyone has things that are hurting at the end of the year, but it's the playoffs so you have to be able to push through," she said. "I'm disappointed in myself, just because I wanted to help the team any way I could and I couldn't do that, so I'll just use it as motivation...so I can contribute in a meaningful way next year."

At this point in her career, Collier should be taking over for Fowles as the Lynx's best all-around player. If she can't, the Lynx's rapid rebuild may be stuck in neutral.

Sunday at Target Center began with Fowles receiving the WNBA defensive player of the year award for the fourth time, and first time since 2016. Fowles is talented, but she'll make the Hall of Fame because of toughness and resolve.

Not all of her teammates displayed those traits on Sunday. The Lynx deserved this loss, and Collier would do well to replay this game on a constant loop all winter.

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