August 9, 2022 

Inside Napheesa Collier’s dramatic return to the court

'Everything's back to normal again'

MINNEAPOLIS — No one really knew what to expect going into Sunday night’s game against the Atlanta Dream. Not the fans. Not Cheryl Reeve. And definitely not Napheesa Collier.

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Collier, who had given birth to her first child, Mila, only 10.5 weeks ago, knew she was going to play. After all, Aerial Powers’ knee was acting up—she ultimately missed the game against Atlanta—and a playoff spot was on the line. She felt she had to play. It only took a few moments to decide that playing was the only option when approached by Reeve about the possibility of “diverging from the plan” to play on Sunday.

Sure, she considered how her body felt and whether or not it was physically ready to compete at basketball’s highest level—teammate Sylvia Fowles didn’t want Collier to play out of concern for her safety—but, at the end of the day, she determined that the only thing holding her back was not her body, but rather nerves.

“That’s not a good reason to not play, so I decided to do it. I’m really happy that I did.”

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Collier wound up playing 21 minutes—twice as many as she and Reeve thought she’d be able to handle—scoring six points, pulling down two rebounds and registering one assist, steal, and block. Overall, she was a +6 on the night, the fourth-best on the team.

“I came here with the goal of playing with [my teammates] again and especially Syl, as I’ve made it no secret,” Collier told reporters following her team’s 81-71 win. “It’s so good to be on the court at the same time as her for this last season. And it was good to kind of get that rust off, too.”

As her words and statline suggest, Collier is nowhere near 100%, though expecting any new mother to be, nonetheless one considered to be an MVP-caliber frontcourt presence, less than three months after giving birth would be ludicrous. However, simply her presence on the court and sidelines provided a calming balm for her teammates.

“She’s just in the right place at the right time. She has great instincts. She’s long, she’s athletic, and she competes. She plays really, really hard and I think that’s the biggest thing is that you always know what you’re gonna get from Phee,” Kayla McBride said. “It’s just a comfort thing. It really is. Normally, Syl and Phee sit next to me during the starting lineup thing [pregame] and I just, like, it just feels like everything’s back to normal again. It’s just a comfort thing.” (No coincidence: McBride had one of her best games of the season, scoring 20 points and adding six assists.)

Collier’s return to action couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for the Lynx. Minnesota’s win clinched the playoff tie-breaker over the Dream, adding to their advantages over both the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury. They currently sit one game back of both Atlanta and Phoenix with only three games remaining on their schedule. If Powers is able to return on Wednesday against the Mercury—which seems likely—Minnesota will be at full strength for the first time this season.

Phoenix is expected to be short-handed as they announced that Diana Taurasi will miss the remainder of the season with a quadriceps strain. Minnesota’s final two games are against Seattle and Connecticut, both of whom have sealed not only spots in the playoffs but homecourt advantage in the first round. The Lynx could find themselves in a promising position to officially dig themselves out of their 3-13 hole to start the season should either team sit any of their primary contributors in preparation for a championship run.

But for now, both the Lynx and Collier are taking things one step at a time. The playoffs may or may not happen, but Napheesa Collier is back to playing basketball. For one night, that’s all that really mattered.

Written by Lucas Seehafer

Lucas Seehafer is a general reporter for The Next. He is also a physical therapist and professor at the undergraduate level. His work has previously appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Forbes, FanSided, and various other websites.

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