The Lynx enter the playoffs seeking their third championship in four years and second in a row as they face the San Antonio Stars in a best of three opening round matchup. A title this year puts the Lynx in the conversation about the best multi-year runs in WNBA history, but even if they fall short, we should celebrate what has been and is a terrific basketball team with some of the most entertaining and talented players to ever grace the hardwood in Minnesota.
Last night, it was announced Maya Moore won the WNBA MVP award for the first time, after finishing runner-up last season, but bagging the Finals MVP as the Lynx won their second title in three years. This season, Moore led the league in scoring and was also in the top 10 in both rebounds and steals. Tonight, following a press conference to announce the award, she, along with celebrated veterans like Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus lead the Lynx into the playoffs.
It has been a season with difficulties for the Lynx, as injuries kept them at something less than full strength for much of the season. All-Star power forward Rebekkah Brunson, one of the best rebounders in the league, missed the first 2/3rds of the season recovering from a knee injury, and key bench cog Monica Wright also missed the first half with injury. Seimone Augustus, star two-guard, scoring savant, and my favorite player, also missed nine games this season with a recurring knee ailment.
The Lynx struggled throughout the season to replace the injured players, as their bench was not strong. They were last in the league in bench scoring, in part because players who normally provide depth were thrust into starting roles (Damiris Dantas early, the Wright in place of Augustus later in the season), but also because years of winning and focusing resources on their dominant starting lineup has left little in the way of bench strength.
Still, they were 25-9 on the year, with a couple of late losses coming once their seeding was already set. As this excellent article on Swish Appeal points out, the recent iterations of the Lynx have been incredible A:TO teams offensively, and this year is no different. They averaged the 3rd most assists and 2nd fewest turnovers in WNBA history this year. Coach Cheryl Reeve has a system that fosters ball-movement and more often than not generates shots for her best scorers, while making the most of the passing abilities of Whalen and center Janel McCarville, who is brilliant distributing from the high post.
With Brunson back, the rebounding has, well, rebounded, and it looks like everyone is relatively healthy heading into the playoffs. Which they will need to be if they are to win the title this year, as they will likely not have home court advantage throughout, with the record-setting Phoenix Mercury lurking for the Western Conference Finals.
But first, the Lynx will have to overcome third seeded San Antonio, who finished the year 16-18 in a bizarrely unbalanced league (only three teams, Phoenix, Minnesota, and the Atlanta Dream finished better than .500 on the season). The series starts tonight at Target Center at 8:00 pm on ESPN2.
The Lynx won four of the five meetings with the Stars this year, losing only the final matchup in San Antonio when they were already locked into the 2nd seed and played the bench heavy minutes. That was also the Stars last home game of the regular season and they were celebrating the career of one of the greats in WNBA history, point guard Becky Hammon, who is retiring following the season.
The Stars feature a balanced attack, with four players averaging double-figures, but none more than guard Kayla McBride's 13 points per game. They are a strong three point shooting team, with several capable long range shooters, and the Lynx will have to guard the arc in this series. They have struggled all year on the boards and defensively, and the Lynx need to take advantage of that and attack quickly as they do when they are playing at their best. The Stars won their final three games of the season, all important games for them, following a 4 game losing streak that briefly jeopardized their post-season plans.
I expect the crowds at Target Center to continue to be the best in the WNBA during the playoffs, and it should be another exciting run for the Lynx. The series continues Saturday in San Antonio, and a game three if necessary will be back in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
We'll have a game thread up for tonight's tilt; I really encourage you to watch if you haven't seen the Lynx this year.