The Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks have occupied the league’s top tier for the last two seasons. These teams have been on a collision course for the Finals the entire summer. Last season concluded with the Sparks winning the championship at Target Center, defeating the Lynx in gut-wrenching fashion.
This is the rematch. This is redemption. This is everything we’ve been waiting for.
The implications of this series are massive. Legacies for some of the best players and franchises in league history are at stake. Cheryl Reeve has built the best team of the last decade by sweating the details and being laser focused on the task at hand. You won’t catch her or her team getting caught up in the big picture.
“I think about how in the heck I’m gonna get these guys ready to win game one. I’m thinking about every little detail. Frankly I don’t even think about winning a championship. If you think about that you’re getting ahead of things, and that’s not what your focus should be. My focus right now when I go home is watching more video.”
This mindset will serve Minnesota well. Los Angeles is looking to repeat as WNBA Champions, something that has only happened three times in the league’s 20 year history. Repeating is rare. The Lynx famously have only won championships in odd years. It’s easier to take the title than it is to protect one.
This Lynx season has been built around Sylvia Fowles. She was the focal point on offense and an anchor on defense. The impetus for this came in the 2016 Finals. Reeve felt that Fowles should have been more involved and effective in that series.
“Syl was involved last year but she just didn’t handle some of the stuff that was happening to her. We were reluctant to put her in tough situations facing a double team. Now we’re fully confident. She’s seen a lot. She understands how to handle multiple defensive scenarios. She’s much more equipped. She’s much more patient. She’s a better finisher this year.”
Fowles needs to be dominant in order for Minnesota to win this series. It will be the toughest test of the season as Los Angeles employs a trio of players in Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender who will keep her busy on both ends of the court. The challenge for Sparks coach Brian Agler is devoting enough attention to slow Fowles down without compromising the coverage on the other four Lynx players. Minnesota has had the entire season to learn how to play and score when the MVP is commanding multiple defenders.
Parker has been the best player in the playoffs thus far. Averaging 20 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals she did it all in the Sparks three game sweep of Phoenix. Rebekkah Brunson is a defensive ace and draws the undesirable assignment of slowing Parker down. Their matchup (quickly followed by Moore/Beard) is going to be a treat to watch. Brunson and Fowles’ ability to defend without fouling will be paramount.
Defense in general is what Minnesota is counting on to reclaim the championship. They’ve been the best defensive team all season, finishing the regular season with a defensive rating (number of points allowed per 100 possessions) of 94.1, their second best mark of the Reeve era. Against most teams, the Lynx are easily the superior defensive team, this will not be the case in this matchup as the Sparks have the second best defense in the league. I think its safe to posit that his series will come down to defense.
The Finals should be wonderful to watch. Last year was a classic, and somehow this year has the potential to be even better. These teams are so evenly matched and feature many all-time players at the peak of their powers. The Sparks have won ten games in a row and are on a roll. But the Lynx are the deeper, more talented, motivated team.
Prediction: Lynx in 4