On May 25, just 10 and a half weeks ago, Napheesa Collier gave birth to her daughter, Mila. On Sunday night, she was back on a basketball court and in the starting lineup for the Minnesota Lynx as they beat the Atlanta Dream, 81-71.
As to be expected, Collier was not back to full fitness and looked a bit rusty at times, but it was a solid season debut, especially considering the circumstances. In typical Collier fashion, she did a little bit of everything and finished with six points, two rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block in 20 minutes.
Her first basket came less than a minute into the second quarter, as the Dream for some reason left her all alone on the wing, and she knocked down a 3-pointer.
Even in limited playing time, Collier's return was a welcome sight for her teammates.
"It's her basketball IQ," Kayla McBride said. "She's always in the right place at the right time... She always competes, you know what you're going from Phee is that consistency... It felt like everything was back to normal."
"[Playing with Collier] was great," Collier's former UConn teammate Moriah Jefferson said. "Some of the same tendencies she had in college she still has now. So it was cool to get a little skip pass to her and get her a 3. It was great playing with Phee, and I'm just happy she's back."
Collier has been working hard all summer to make a return this season, in large part because she wanted to play with retiring legend Sylvia Fowles at least one more time. She didn't return to practice until late July, however, and was still limited to 5-on-0 work as recently as a few weeks ago. But on Saturday, the Lynx made a surprise announcement that Collier had been upgraded to probable for the game against the Dream.
As we now know, she started and played more than anyone expected. In fact, Collier admitted postgame that she was nervous about taking the court and played "double" the initial plan for her workload, but she was happy to be back out there. In addition to meeting her goal of playing with Fowles, she'll have a chance to help the Lynx fight for a playoff spot.
"I'm going to help us make a playoff push," Collier said. "Every game is do-or-die for us, and I'm going to do everything I can to help that happen."
With their win on Sunday, the Lynx improved to 13-20 on the season and moved to within a game of the Dream and Phoenix Mercury, who hold the two final playoffs spots in seventh and eighth, respectively. The Lynx also now own the tiebreaker against both of those teams, which could be the difference maker come the end of the season.
The bad news for the Lynx is that their last two games are home against the Seattle Storm and away to the Connecticut Sun, and they'll have to win at least one, if not both of them. That's going to be a real challenge, but the Lynx have a chance, which is all they can ask for after their injury-riddled 3-13 start.