Cheryl Reeve stopped in the middle of a sentence when she saw the countdown clock hit 60 minutes.
The Minnesota Lynx coach was standing at midcourt with reporters crowded around her Thursday in Minneapolis, leaning in to hear over the music that blared during warmups ahead of Game 2 of the WNBA playoff semifinal series against the Washington Mystics. Reeve barely paused to excuse herself, twisted out of the scrum and barked "Chapel! Chapel!" at Maya Moore, who was shooting at the other end of the court. Reeve turned back to reporters and continued as the star guard walked to the locker room.
Reeve's yelling is a normal pregame scene for Minnesota. Moore, a devout Christian, gets too engrossed in her warmup drills to remember to head down to the team's chapel service before every game, an important part of the 2014 WNBA MVP's routine. Mid-interview or not, it's Reeve's job to remind her.
It's one of the many tiny details Reeve and the Lynx take care of to keep the WNBA powerhouse thriving.
"You can tell the difference between Minnesota and us," Mystics guard Kristi Toliver said Thursday after a 93-83 loss that put Minnesota ahead 2-0 in the best-of-five series that will continue with Game 3 at 3 p.m. Sunday at Capital One Arena. "They're a well-oiled machine. They know each other. They know how to make reads off of one another. They know how to stay poised throughout adversity. And we're learning."
One of Minnesota's greatest strengths is its playoff experience. The Lynx have been to five of the past six WNBA Finals and won the title in 2011, 2013 and 2015 — all with Reeve, the coach of the year in 2011 and 2016, at the helm. With the core of her team intact, Reeve has led Minnesota to 36 playoff wins since 2011. Under Coach-General Manager Mike Thibault, Washington's current core has all of two playoff wins.
It's a disparity Washington must overcome Sunday.
"I think there is no substitute for experience and knowledge, knowledge that you have," Reeve said. "Probably more than anything what this group gets is, you can never get too high or too low in the postseason. . . . It's kind of like the McGregor and Mayweather fight. You come out in that first round, and not to say you don't play hard, but you have an understanding that you have a long way to go, just in a series. Forget the finals; we're not even thinking about the finals. This is a case where, how do we win Game 1? That's what we were putting everything into. . . . A series is not won because you won the first quarter. Kind of that even keel, I think more than anything that's what this group has."
The experience gap was never more apparent than during Game 2.
The Mystics are in their first year of constructing what Thibault hopes will become an elite franchise built around Elena Delle Donne, the 2015 league MVP, and Toliver, a 2016 WNBA champion with the Los Angeles Sparks.
He posits that every playoff game, win or lose, is a step toward that goal. On Thursday, Washington came out assertively after suffering a bruising, 20-point loss in Game 1. But Delle Donne and Toliver had to carry the offense, and the Lynx simply outlasted Washington.
Moore scored 16 of her 22 points in the second half, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter. Point guard Lindsay Whalen changed the momentum with a critical steal in the third quarter.
"When we were down 10 at the end of the first, we know it's a long game," Whalen said. "You want to make a run as quick as you can, though, to get it back, and you have to have that sense of urgency, but you don't want to get too down — never too up, never too low. . . . So you've got to find other ways to score; you've got to play better defense. We have that confidence."
The Lynx, of course, also have a stunning array of talent — league MVPs in Moore and 2017 winner Sylvia Fowles, four Olympians and eight all-stars — that makes things tough for nearly every team in the WNBA. They went 27-7 this year, their sixth regular season with at least 25 wins in the past seven years.
The Mystics acknowledge their disadvantage. They're trying to embrace the challenge.
"The goal is, 'Hey, we're playing the best team in the last decade in this league over a period of time,' " Thibault said. " 'What better way to test ourselves and see what we can do? Go home and win on Sunday, and see what else happens after that.' You can't look back that much, other than to learn, and you can't look forward, other than what's right in front of you, and we'll do that.
"As long as my team plays really hard and they try to do things the right way, then we'll be making progress that we set out to do at the start of the year."