Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

WNBA Finals: A Classic in the Making Begins Sunday Afternoon

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

This is as good as it gets. 

Two heavyweights. 

Maya Moore. Candace Parker. Lindsay Whalen. Nneka Oguwmike.

As one former wide receiver said, “Get your popcorn ready.”

The WNBA’s landmark 20th season concludes with a historic matchup between the Minnesota Lynx (28-6) and Los Angeles Sparks (26-8). Both squads have a combined winning percentage of .794 (54-14), the highest for a Finals series in WNBA history. 

Game One of the much anticipated best-of-five series begins Sunday afternoon in Minnesota at 3 p.m. on ABC. Games one, two and five if necessary will be in Minnesota while games three and four will be in Los Angeles along with Mel Greenberg.

Minnesota and Los Angeles both broke the record for consecutive victories to start a season en route to securing the top two seeds in the new-look playoffs, which featured the top eight teams regardless of conference and set up the possibility for these Western Conference rivals to meet in The Finals.

“I am looking forward to a great series,” ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson said during a league-wide conference call last week. “These teams are evenly matched. If you’re looking for a way to measure an advantage for each team. Minnesota’s supporting cast is deeper and its second unit has come together.”

This series will showcase three of the last four WNBA Most Valuable Players presented by Samsung: Ogwumike (2016) and Candace Parker (2013, as well as 2008) and Moore (2014).

 Ogwumike is trying to become the sixth player in league history to be named MVP and win a WNBA title in the same season, a group composed of Cynthia Cooper (1997-98), Sheryl Swoopes (2000), Lisa Leslie (2001), Diana Taurasi (2009) and Lauren Jackson (2010).

Along with three MVPs, The Finals is stocked with four WNBA Top 20@20 presented by Verizon selections (Moore, Parker and Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus and Whalen); the 2015 Finals MVP and 2016 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year presented by Samsung (Sylvia Fowles); the 2016 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year presented by Samsung (Los Angeles’ Jantel Lavender); and six former No. 1 overall draft picks (Parker, Ogwumike and Ann Wauters of Los Angeles; Augustus, Moore and Janel McCarville of Minnesota).

“I think this matchup will draw fans and media,” Robinson said. “They are excited. Both teams gave us so much to talk about all season long especially with their historical starts.

''This is an opportunity with new playoff system to see two best teams play each other. There’s star power, lots of talent on the floor and two great, respected coaches in (Lynx coach) Cheryl Reeve and (Sparks’ head man) Brian Alger.”

Yet, at the core of this Finals matchup is Moore and Parker. Moore is looking for her fourth ring while Parker is trying for her first. This is Parker’s first visit to the WNBA Finals while Moore is here for the fifth time in the last six years. 

Though Moore enjoyed a typically consistent and great year, she finished third in the MVP voting behind Ogwumike and New York’s Tina Charles. In the Lynx’s three-game sweep of the Mercury, Moore averaged 25.7 points per game. 

Moore’s beautifully brilliant game is elegant. She is a basketball version of Zoe Saldana’s Colombiana character: Graceful, charming and calculating with an assassins’ mentality. She turns the basketball court into her personal playground doing essentially what she wants whenever she pleases.

“Maya is a player who has elevated not only the Lynx, but the entire WNBA,” Robinson said. “She plays on both ends of the floor. She’s won three championships in five years and to me, that’s the mark of a champion. She’s undervalued. She’s not the most demonstrative player and there’s great value with her as she leads by example.”

Then on the other side is Parker, who is fired up, healthy, rested and focused especially after torching the Sky. During the four-game playoff series against the Sky, the gloriously skilled Parker was at her unstoppable best in averaging a team-high 22.0 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. 

Parker played with an inspired, uninhibited rage as she shot an efficient 51 percent from the field, a team best 4.5 assists per outing and 1.8 blocks per game. 

“Against Chicago, Candace had more spring and hop than I have ever seen in her,” Robinson said. “A rested and healthy Candace Parker is a dangerous Candace Parker. The WNBA is made up of great stars and she is as bright as I’ve ever seen in this league. When Candace Parker is playing well, fans are happy.”

Just like many are thrilled for this terrific matchup. 

The Knox Line: Sparks in four emotional games and Parker finishes off a tough year with her first title.

DRIVE FOR FIVE: Lynx center Rebekkah Brunson, a WNBA champion with the Sacramento Monarchs in 2005 and with Minnesota in 2011, 2013 and 2015, can become the league's first player to win five titles. 

She is one of six players with four WNBA titles, with the other five all winning championships with the Comets from 1997-2000: Janeth Arcain, Cynthia Cooper, Tammy Jackson, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson.

SCORCHING PACE: Minnesota is averaging a WNBA-high 97.0 points per game in the playoffs – part of a prolific postseason across the league. Teams are averaging 88.4 points in the 2016 playoffs, which is 13.9 points more than last season (74.5 ppg) and on track to break the record of 84.0 points from 2009. The record pace for offense follows the league’s highest-scoring regular season ever (81.9 ppg).

REMARKABLE REEVE: With Minnesota’s three-game sweep of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Semifinals, 2016 WNBA Coach of the Year Cheryl Reeve passed New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer for the most playoff victories in WNBA history. Her postseason winning percentage of .762 (32-10) is a league record.

FOUR OF A KIND?: Minnesota, on the heels of a franchise-record 28-win regular season, is looking to become the second four-time champion in WNBA history (the Houston Comets won the league’s first four titles, from 1997-2000). The Lynx also can become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Sparks in 2001 and 2002. Minnesota begins its league-record fifth Finals appearance with an all-time postseason winning percentage of .702 (33-14), the highest mark ever.

ATTENDANCE: The WNBA registered its highest attendance (1,561,530) since 2011 and the highest average attendance (7,655) over the same time period (a 4.6% increase over last year). 

 The season was highlighted by record-breaking numbers for the Chicago Sky and Indiana Fever.  The Sky set franchise records for average attendance (7,009) and single-game crowd (16,444) against the Los Angeles Sparks on July 13.  The Fever had its highest average (8,575) since 2001, and boosted the second highest single-game attendance in franchise history of 17,704 on Sept. 18 for legend Tamika Catchings’ final regular-season game.  Also this season, the Phoenix Mercury recorded the highest average attendance (10,351) for the franchise since 1999.

VIEWERSHIP: Combined ESPN and ESPN2 viewership was up 11% this season over last year (224,000 vs. 202,000). The season was highlighted by the season opener on ESPN between the Phoenix Mercury and the Minnesota Lynx, which delivered 505,000 viewers and delivered the highest-rated, regular-season WNBA game on the ESPN networks since 2011. 


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