Lynx-Fever square off tonight in WNBA FinalsOctober 14, 2012
When the 2012 WNBA Finals begin tonight, if there is a single word that can be used as a theme to preview the expectations, it would be “tenacity.” The Western Conference is represented by the defending champion Minnesota Lynx while the Eastern Conference sends the Indiana Fever into the Lynx Lair with hopes of stealing a championship from the ranked favorite.
The Fever finished the regular season with a respectable 22-12 record and was seeded second in the Eastern Conference. The Lynx, meanwhile, finished with a WNBA leading 27-7 record for the top seed overall. It was the second consecutive season the Lynx finished the regular season with that record.
During the regular season, the teams did not meet until a pair of back-to-back contests in mid-September. The visiting Lynx broke a Fever four-game winning streak on Sept. 14 with a Lindsay Whalen jump shot with 1.6 seconds to seal the Minnesota victory 66-64.
Three nights later, the visiting Fever jumped out of the starting gate and led for most of the game, including by as many as 14. It took six treys and 29 points from Lynx forward Maya Moore to stay in the game and take the lead. Lynx won 86-79 and swept the Fever in regular season play.
Minnesota opened the series with a tough matchup against the fourth seeded Seattle Storm including a double-overtime loss at Seattle during the series’ second game and a one-point victory on an errant Lauren Jackson shot as time expired in game three to keep the Lynx alive. The Lynx swept the Los Angeles Sparks during the Western Conference Finals.
The Fever faced the Atlanta Dream in the first round and pushed the series to the third game and twice faced elimination from the playoffs during the series. They took on the Eastern Conference champion Connecticut Sun in the Eastern Conference Finals and again faced elimination from the playoffs twice in that series. Fever guard Shavonte Zellous nailed a game-winning 17-foot jumper with .5 seconds remaining in Game 2 to keep alive and push the series to a decisive Game 3. It appeared to have broken the resolve of the Sun, who fell to the Fever 87-71.
“Playoffs are another ball game. There is a sense of urgency,” said Fever head coach Linn Dunn. “I’m not surprised that we’re where we are. I thought that if we defended at a high level and did a better job of rebounding that we would have a chance to do exactly what we’ve done.”
Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve knows that her team cannot be complacent.
“We like to think that we play pretty hard, too. So we just want to make sure that we understand that we are being ourselves and we are playing hard. And, if we don’t, Indiana’s going to, so it’s not necessarily matching Indiana as its being who we are every possession. We are just reminding ourselves of that fact that at this point it’s for all the marbles,” she said.
Even though the season looked easy for Reeve’s Lynx team who were dominant early on, injuries, the Olympic break, hard fought contests in the first round and fatigue have been possible setbacks on the team’s “Road to Repeat.” Nonetheless, the overcame their adversity and are in position to become the league’s first back-to-back champions since the Sparks accomplished that feat in 2002.
“I think the injuries and everything we’ve had to fight through – I know (Lindsay) Whalen is still fighting through some injuries right now and, myself, I’ve been through numerous injuries this year – just to see the perseverance of the team getting through tough times,” said Lynx guard Seimone Augustus, who was the 2011 WNBA Finals MVP.
The Fever knows that even though they may be the underdogs against a tough opponent, there is a ray of hope in knocking off the top seeded team.
“Just to be disciplined – disciplined rebounding, defensively being disciplined, playing together as a team and just continuing to have the confidence that we’ve been playing with on offense. We have that confidence in each other; we know what we’re able to do. If we play together and give it our all I think we’ll be successful,” said Fever guard Briann January.
Both teams fought hard and overcame adversity in order to get to the big dance. Now that the championship is in sight, neither team wants to concede any ground. They both know how difficult the task will be and don’t plan on taking the other for granted.
“We know that it’s not going to be easy, best-of-five with Minnesota, the defending champs – we’re going to have to come out, stay focused and take one game at a time,” said Fever forward Tamika Catchings.
Dunn said, “The only edge that I can think of is that the pressure is on them – they’re expected to win. We’re not the favorite, we’re the underdog. The pressure is on them to protect home court right off the bat. I wonder sometimes if there is anybody on their team that wasn’t an All-American or a first-round pick. They’re just loaded, they’re loaded with talent. It is going to be a tough challenge for us.”
The Lynx Augustus said, “We know what Indiana brings to the table. It’s going to be a tough, grind-it-out battle because they’re a defensive-minded team. [We’re been working on] just tweaking our offense, seeing some things, some options, where we can get points here and there. Defensively, [we’ve been working on] just knowing that it’s going to be hard for our post players to guard Tamika Catchings, who is naturally a winning player. We’re going to have to be there to help them on her.”
Minnesota forward Rebekkah Brunson knows that this is not the same type of grind that the team experienced last year during their championship run.
“It’s different. We’re not getting the same things we got last year, we’re not doing things exactly the same way,” she said. “We have the same core group, but a different goal. We’ve had to travel and face a lot of adversity, so I’m just proud to be back.”
With two tough rivals in a best-of-three series with everybody knowing that the championship hardware is at stake means that this will be a great series to watch. The WNBA Finals begin at 7 p.m. CT tonight at Target Center in Minneapolis.