Professional Basketball

WNBA Finals A Familiar Place For Lynx Brunson, Whalen


When the Minnesota Lynx take the court in an attempt to win their fourth WNBA championship on Wednesday night, they have two not-so-secret weapons at their disposal to help the team achieve success – forward Rebekkah Brunson and guard Lindsay Whalen.

Minnesota Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson pulls down a rebound during a 2017 WNBA Semifinal game against the Washington Mystics. Wednesday’s game will be Brunson’s 34th WNBA Finals game of her career. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

With a championship on the line for Game 5, it’s a position that the Lynx tandem has found them in before. This will be the 34th WNBA Finals game of Brunson’s career, the most all-time, with Whalen a close second making her 31st Finals appearance. Brunson and Whalen also lead the league in minutes played in WNBA Finals games with 873 and 810 respectively.

Their experience has shown in more than just the number of games and minutes that they have played in the Finals series, but also in their accomplishments. Brunson holds the all-time Finals record for rebounds, with 202, while Whalen locks down the assists category with 120.

In Sunday night’s Game 4, Whalen dished out eight assists while Brunson scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds which enabled the Lynx to stave off elimination and force the decisive Game 5 in Minneapolis against the Los Angeles Sparks. The double-double was Brunson’s sixth in the Finals and 14th in post-season play.

“Against Minnesota it’s always a point of emphasis to — we’ve got to put our best foot forward in

our rebounding because they’re one of the best rebounding teams if not the best rebounding team in the league,” said Los Angeles head coach Brian Agler after Game 3.

Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve knows that the success of her Finals tandem is important to winning a championship.

“[Whalen’s] just critical to our team. She’s our floor general. All the clichés you want to use about your point guard. We feed off of Lindsay and she was persistent, as was Brunson, to make sure that she impacted the game from a leadership standpoint,” said Reeve. “I think we’re a group obviously that’s been through a lot through the years. We’ve been in tough Finals series before, obviously as early as last year. We’re just a team that’s tough minded, resilient, when our backs are against the wall — I think LA would probably say the same thing.”

Minnesota Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen and head coach Cheryl Reeve are WNBA Finals veterans. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Both players hail from the 2004 draft class. Whalen was picked fourth overall by the Connecticut Sun and had an immediate impact. The Sun defeated the Washington Mystics 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and the New York Liberty 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals to earn their first trip to the WNBA Finals that year. The Sun fell to the Seattle Storm 2-1 in the Finals series that year.

Brunson was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2004 draft by the Sacramento Monarchs and helped them qualify for post-season play as the Monarchs finished with an 18-16 record, one game ahead of the Phoenix Mercury for the final Western Conference playoff spot. The

Monarchs defeated the Los Angeles Sparks 2-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals but lost to the Seattle Storm 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals.

However, both players made it to the WNBA Finals in the 2005 season. The Sun and Monarchs faced each other with Brunson’s Sacramento team winning the series in four games. Whalen was forced to sit out of Game 2 with ankle and knee injuries while Brunson played all four games. The championship was Brunson’s first and the series was the last Finals appearance for the Sun.

In 2006, the Sacramento Monarchs defended their title in the Finals, and faced the Detroit Shock led by head coach Bill Laimbeer and assistant coach Cheryl Reeve. The 2006 Finals was pushed to five games. Despite playing all five games for the Monarchs, Brunson was unable to get her second ring as the Shock won the series 3-2.

Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve is coaching in her 10th WNBA Finals series as a head coach or an assistant, having been there with the Minnesota Lynx, Detroit Shock and Charlotte Sting previously. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Now her head coach, Reeve never hesitates to remind media members about the 2006 Finals when the Monarchs were celebrating early in Game 4 at ARCO Arena causing the Shock to take their frustrations out on their opponent forcing a Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. She often says, “I wish Rebekkah was here to hear this” whenever she brings up that recollection in post-game interviews.

The Monarchs never made it back to the Finals and folded after the 2009 season, while Reeve’s Detroit Shock lost to the Phoenix Mercury in the 2007 WNBA Finals, and then swept the San Antonio Stars 3-0 in 2008. Reeve served as the general manager of the Shock in 2009 before the team relocated to Tulsa.

The Minnesota Lynx hired Reeve as their head coach on Dec. 8, 2009, the same day that the WNBA announced that the Monarchs would cease operations and that a dispersal draft would be held less than a week later. The Lynx took Brunson with the second pick of the dispersal draft.

A month later the Lynx traded guard Renee Montgomery in exchange for Whalen. Additionally, the teams swapped draft positions so the Sun could choose center Tina Charles with the top overall pick giving Minnesota the second pick, which they used for guard Monica Wright.

Reeve had not even coached a single game and she had three key components for future success – Whalen, Brunson and guard Seimone Augustus who the Lynx selected with the top overall pick in 2006.

The Lynx fell just shy of the playoffs in 2010, Reeve’s first year as a head coach, with a 13-21 record, tied with the Los Angeles Sparks who took the final playoff spot in the Western Conference by holding the regular season tie breaker over Minnesota.

Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen is second all-time in number of WNBA Finals games and minutes played, and is the all-time WNBA Finals assists leader. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

The 2011 season began with Minnesota selecting forward Maya Moore with the top pick in the draft, adding to the chemistry and talent of the Lynx core of Whalen, Augustus and Brunson. For the first time since the 2004 season the Lynx qualified for the playoffs and they haven’t looked back. They have been in the playoffs every season since then, qualified for the Finals in six of the past seven years, missing out in 2014 by losing the Western Conference Finals to the Phoenix Mercury, won three championships and have played in 24 WNBA Finals games.

Brunson and Whalen have been huge keys to their Finals success. Since the start of the 2011 WNBA Finals, Brunson has played 694 minutes, pulled down 160 rebounds and scored 222 points, while Whalen has played in 639 minutes, dished 94 assists and scored 236 points.

“They have unbelievable confidence in themselves, and they have this fire in their belly that is second to none, and you follow their lead,” said Reeve.

Now one more game remains in the 2017 season, a championship game against the Los Angeles Sparks. If the Lynx are going to win their fourth championship, which would tie the Houston Comets record for most championships, the experience of these two players is crucial to achieving their goal.

“It’s never a question of wanting to help the team be aggressive from the start. You always want to do that. That’s been the case for every game. Certain nights it goes well for you and certain nights it doesn’t go as well for you,” said Whalen. “Whether its decision making, the defense, taking things away or us having to adjust quicker, I think everyone wants to come into the game doing what they can to make it a successful game for the team and be aggressive.”

Brunson knows what they are up against. This is her fourth WNBA Finals series that has been pushed to a decisive fifth game.

“Nothing is guaranteed. It doesn’t matter where you’re playing, but you just have to go out there and be prepared for anything to happen. You never really know what’s going to happen out there, so you just have to go out there and leave it all out there. We’ve been in this situation. We were in this last year, so it’s pretty familiar, but we just have to go out there and play,” Brunson concluded.

Whalen and Brunson have each appeared in eight WNBA Finals series but neither of them has taken home the series MVP award. If the Lynx pull out a victory on Wednesday night, both of them will be in good position to do so. NOTES:

WNBA Finals Game 5 between the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx will tip off at 7 p.m. CT at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena in Minneapolis. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. There are very few seats remaining as the game is sold out.

Since the Lynx and Sparks met in Game 1 of the 2016 WNBA Finals, they have met 12 times since with each team having scored 908 points during that span.


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