Professional Basketball

Lynx Crowned WNBA Champions Again, Ties Houston With Most Championships

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MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Lynx staved off a late charge by the Los Angeles Sparks to pull out an 85-76 victory and claim their fourth WNBA championship during Wednesday night’s WNBA Finals Game 5 in front of a sellout crowd of 14,632 at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena.

Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles grabs a rebound past Los Angeles Sparks center Candace Parker during Wednesday’s WNBA Finals Game 5 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

“It’s just a little bit surreal right now. I’m happy we won at home for our fans. Our fans were unbelievable,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “I think the overwhelming feeling that I have is just being so happy for this group of five players that give their all, the way they conduct themselves, they’re tremendous professionals. I know that they wanted this. They wanted to take their place next to the Houston Comets. I know that. They wanted that last year. And so they did it. Now they have four.”

Right from the start the game matched the intensity of the crowd as the Lynx began the game on a 7-0 run fueled by four points from forward Rebekkah Brunson and a three-pointer from guard Seimone Augustus.

Minnesota continued to press the up tempo offense and built up an 11 point lead when forward Maya Moore scored on a driving layup to make the score 17-6.

With the way this series has been so far, don’t count the Sparks out. They finished the quarter with a 10-2 run when Sparks center Candace Parker scored on a layup as time expired, making the score 21-19 at the break.

“For us to come out the way that we did, and you get through the end of the first quarter, I think it was a two-point game. So we knew we were in for a battle,” said Reeve.

The teams traded baskets to begin the second quarter and then Parker was called for an offensive foul. Sparks head coach Brian Agler continued arguing the call with referee Sue Blauch who blew her whistle and hit him with a technical foul with 7:54 remaining in the half. Augustus hit the free shot making the score 24-21.

Occasionally when head coaches get “T’d Up,” it spurs their team on to a run and creates a momentum shift. That did not happen in this case as Minnesota went on a 16-7 run to build their lead back up to 11 when center Sylvia Fowles grabbed an offensive rebound after a missed Augustus shot and made the put back with 58.5 seconds left in the half.

Minnesota Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson shoots over Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike during Wednesday’s WNBA Finals Game 5 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Again the Sparks charged back and received some help from the Lynx who were called for three fouls in the final minute of the half. Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike converted a pair of free throws, and then Parker made a two-foot alley oop lay up on a pass by guard Odyssey Sims and was fouled by Brunson with 29.3 seconds left. The half ended when Ogwumike scored on a

layup with 2.3 seconds remaining and was fouled by Lynx center Sylvia Fowles. The score had tightened to a 41-35 Lynx lead at halftime.

“I thought we had a couple possessions where it was just a little chaotic and scattered, and within that time Syl [Fowles] had a huge basket, Maya [Moore] had a big tip, and Mone [Augustus] had a kick-out three, which was big. It just kind of steadied us,” said Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen.

The third quarter was a repeat of the previous two, Minnesota began on a 6-0 run to extend the Lynx lead to a dozen, and then the Sparks clawed their way back to close the gap by the end of the quarter, which ended with a 60-56 Lynx lead.

“I think there were some moments in the third where frustration was more defensively for me or just wanting to secure some of those rebounds and just make sure that we didn’t give them offense off of our offense,” said Moore. “I think we ultimately came back in the third, but I never quit. I never think that I’m out of it. I’m always trying to find the next way I can help my team, whether that’s setting a screen or cutting hard and just always believing the next opportunity is one to take.”

Still, Minnesota maintained their composure. Whalen, who played her collegiate ball at Williams Arena, opened the final with a four-foot turnaround fade away jump shot, then Fowles scored on a layup after Sparks guard Alana Beard was called for an offensive foul.

When the Sparks needed more production, Ogwumike and Beard were unable to answer. Ogwumike fouled out with 5:29 left and Beard was playing with five fouls. The Lynx took advantage of the Sparks cautious play and ran the score up to 79-67 with 2:32 remaining.

Los Angeles Sparks center Candace Parker and Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles battle for position during Wednesday’s WNBA Finals Game 5 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

“Yeah, that never helps, but again, that’s part of the game,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler regarding Ogwumike fouling out. “You’ve got to be able to absorb that and deal with it.”

Now the Sparks were playing against the Lynx and the clock. Still, they nearly pulled off a near repeat from a season ago when they were able to take Game 5 away from the Lynx on Minnesota’s home court in the final minute of play.

Parker blocked a Fowles layup and grabbed the rebound, which allowed center Jantel Lavender to score on a layup to cut the deficit to ten.

Augustus and Parker tangled in a one-on-one matchup at the top of the key. Augustus used her crossover dribble to burn Parker but missed the wide-open 18-foot jumper, which was rebounded by Lavender.

In the ensuing possession, Sparks guard Riquna Williams attempted a wide-open three pointer and missed, but was fouled by Maya Moore, who told referee Byron Jarrett, “I didn’t. I didn’t.” Augustus pointed two fingers to her temple and looked at Moore as if to say, “think.” Williams made two of the three free throw attempts to make the score 79-71 with 56.9 seconds remaining.

Sims picked off Whalen’s inbounds pass and converted it into a layup, which was followed by a steal by Sparks guard Chelsea Gray on the following inbounds play, who scored on a layup and was fouled by Fowles. Gray converted on the free throw to cut the deficit to three with just 34.9 seconds left.

“We weren’t thinking about last year. We were talking about what we needed to do then. There was 30-some seconds left, I believe, and we could have – our decision making was do we defend them and just try to get a stop and get a time-out and advance it and give ourselves a chance, or do we try to do what we did two or three possessions before and get aggressive and try to come up with something,” said Agler. “They wanted to try to be aggressive, so we did, and we had a couple opportunities. We just weren’t there. You know, you make a decision like that, you go with it, and you don’t look back.”

A year ago, the Lynx made miscues that the Sparks took advantage of to win the game, and championship, by a single point, they weren’t about to make the same mistake twice.

Los Angeles Sparks center Candace Parker and Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus battle for a loose ball during Wednesday’s WNBA Finals Game 5 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Moore hit an open six-foot jumper to push the Lynx lead to five. Then Sims missed a jumper which was immediately snatched up by Fowles for her 20th rebound of the game. Fowles, after being fouled by Williams, made her two free throws as the crowd chanted, “M-V-P” with just 20.9 seconds left.

Parker missed a three-point shot and then fouled Whalen with just 8.3 seconds remaining. Whalen connected on both free throws to make the score 85-76. Everybody in the building then knew that the Minnesota Lynx would become the champions once again.

“I think every time you do this, it just gets a little bit more special because it gets a little harder and it gets a little more meaningful because you know it’s not easy,” said Whalen. “You know it’s not something that we try to take for granted ever, and we’ve now been on this journey together since 2010, but 2011 was our first ring, and every year since then it gets a little tougher.”

Parker led all scorers with 19 points and hauled in 15 rebounds to lead the Sparks. Gray added 15 points and eight assists while Sims chipped in 14 points in the effort.

“I mean, we’re sad. Obviously we lost. Glad everybody enjoyed the series. It was exciting. That’s all I’ve got. I think it was a good series,” said Parker.

Moore led the Lynx with 18 points, Whalen scored 17 points and dished 8 assists, and Fowles finished with 17 points and 20 rebounds and was named the Finals MVP.

“If I didn’t do anything else, I just wanted to make it my business to make sure I just go out there and rebound, and that was my downfall last year. Like I said, I fell on the court, that haunted me for a long time after Game 5 last year,” said Fowles. “I just wanted to come in and I wanted to show my presence, and if that was rebounding, then rebounding it was.”

Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles smiles and hugs WNBA President Lisa Borders after being named WNBA Finals MVP following Wednesday’s WNBA Finals Game 5 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Reeve notes the improvement in Fowles from last year.

“I just watched Game 5 from last year before this game, and I thought, Sylvia Fowles was awful. She was awful in Game 5, and all I thought was ‘My goodness gracious did we have some success in transforming her into such a dominant presence that put a pressure on their defense like nobody else could,’” said Reeve.

“Sylvia Fowles just had a calm about her today. She had no jitters going into the game because she was confident in knowing what she had to do to be successful,” Reeve added.

The Sparks shot 45.3 percent from the field on 29-for-64 shooting. The Lynx shot 44.9 percent on 31-for-69 shooting. Minnesota dominated the boards with a 46-29 rebounding advantage, which also led to a 19-4 advantage in second chance points.

“I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to just be around these guys every day. Obviously it’s the most special time in our lives from a professional standpoint, but it’s the people. It’s the people that we do it with just that – we’re in it for life, this group. We’re in it for life, and that’s just an incredible blessing that I feel to be able to be around it every single day,” Reeve concluded.

The Minnesota Lynx are now the third WNBA dynasty, the first being the Houston Comets from 1997-2000 and the second being the Detroit Shock from 2003-2008. From 2011 to 2017, the Lynx have appeared in six WNBA Finals and now match the Comets as the only other WNBA team to win four championships.

NOTES: The Minnesota Lynx will hold a parade on University Avenue in Minneapolis tonight beginning at 6:30 p.m. CT and concluding at Williams Arena for a ceremony 45 minutes later.

The Seattle Storm made it official that Dan Hughes is their new head coach. Hughes previously coached the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers and San Antonio Stars.

Minnesota Lynx forward Plenette Pierson did not play in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals. This was her final game after a 15-year career.

Minnesota Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson now has more championships than any other player with five (2005, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017). Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve now has her sixth championship as an assistant coach or head coach (2006, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017).

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