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.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

WNBA Playoffs: Defending Champion Minnesota Back in the Finals Again

 By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

With all due respect to the three-time World Series champion San Francisco Giants, the Minnesota Lynx can make a serious case as the ultimate rulers of October. 

In a delicious irony, the Giants have owned the even years while the Lynx have possessed the odd years in winning championships. This could be the October in which they win titles in the same year and enhance their reputations as October monarchs.

It's hard to believe that close to only yesterday the Lynx were a perennial doormat. But for most of this decade those worn threads have been transformed into a gaudy fabric that drapes itself as top shelf WNBA finery.

Yes, the entertainingly efficient Lynx, once considered an endangered franchise, are back in the WNBA Finals for the second straight season and fifth time in the last six years after completing a semifinal sweep over rival Phoenix Sunday afternoon with an 82-67 victory at Talking Stick Resort Arena. 

The reigning champions are seeking their fourth WNBA title, which would match the defunct Houston Comets, who reeled off their total at the outset of the league's existence from 1997 to 2000. 

In addition, the Lynx are looking to become the first franchise to repeat as WNBA champion since the 2002 Los Angeles Sparks. Ironically, if the Sparks win one more game against the Chicago Sky in the other semifinal series, they will be tasked with keeping the Lynx from ordering a matching championship banner.

 The best-of-five WNBA Finals begin Sunday on ABC at 3 p.m. at the raucous Target Center, a place that throbs with enough noise to rival an artillery battery. The Lynx are an amazing 23-3 (.884) at the Target Center in the playoffs in which they consistently supported by the most enthusiastic and passionate fans in the WNBA.

Oh by the way, polishing its status as the premiere playoff team, Minnesota is 33-14 (.702) all-time in the WNBA Playoffs. Both marks are the best for any team in league postseason history.

Late last month, WNBA Coach of the Year Cheryl Reeve, who grew up in South Jersey in the Philadelphia suburbs and starred at La Salle University in the City of Brotherly Love, let everybody know she wasn’t satisfied or happy with the level of coverage of women’s sports in general. 

She was correct in her assessment as women’s sports typically doesn’t receive the same level of coverage as their male counterparts, which is a shame especially when it comes to the Lynx.

Minnesota performs nightly with a ferocity of will that glows like plutonium. The Lynx never cheat the game or the process. They have been arguably one of the best professional sports franchises, regardless of sport since 2011. During that time, the Lynx have three championships while the Giants and Chicago Blackhawks have two titles each. 

No matter the sport, winning championships are difficult and sustaining a consistent level of excellence is tough. The Lynx have made something so challenging look ridiculously easy.

In Reeve’s seventh season as Minnesota coach, the Lynx have been a bastion of stability. They deserve America’s attention, adulation and articles. 

The Lynx set a franchise record for wins (28) and winning percentage (.824) this season. Minnesota posted the WNBA’s best regular-season record for the fourth time under Reeve, having previously done so in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Reeve also guided the Lynx to at least 22 victories and a playoff berth for the sixth consecutive season.

A special franchise with a culture of excellence, the Lynx are a ruthless machine with four Olympians and a dynamite bench that tries to outwork each other on its team, knows their roles and have lots of fun. At their apex, the Lynx use a splendid choreography of swing passes, weak side movement and precision jump shooting to bring their opponents to their knees.

Minnesota ranked second in the WNBA in scoring (85.8 ppg), field goals made (32.2), field goal percentage (.471) and assists (20.0). On the defensive end, the Lynx have kept foes under suffocating surveillance as they ranked second in points allowed (77.0) and opponents’ field goal percentage (.417).

Of course it helps to have Maya Moore, who had another MVP-type season, Lindsey Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles, who was named the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Those are just the headliners. That quartet were also part of the gold medal-winning USA Olympians in Rio in August and Reeve was an assistant to UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

In the Sunday’s win over Phoenix, Whalen started her 68th career playoff game, moving her past Tamika Catchings (67) for the most postseason starts in league history. 

It was also Rebekkah Brunson’s 68th playoff game, tying her with Tamika Catchings atop the WNBA career leaderboard. Brunson’s 12th career playoff double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds was largely responsible for the Lynx’s game two victory. Brunson passed Lisa Leslie for second place on the WNBA’s career playoff rebounding.

“I think I am one of her biggest fans,” Moore said of Brunson after the Game 2 triumph over Phoenix. “I’m going for fan of the year once again… in the running. My position is not changing. She is such an integral part of who we are, just her consistency, the way she’s there for us to cover up mistakes. [She’s] hitting open jumpers, being aggressive, going to the rim. She’s one of my favorite people to dish it off to because I know she’s going to do what she does, so I’m just, again, so happy to be on the team with [Brunson] and glad she’s getting the recognition for all the little things that she does for this team that makes us a championship caliber team.”

Moore scored 20 or more points in all three games against the Mercury. Natasha Howard, whom the Lynx acquired in a trade from the Fever at the start of the season, was at the center of the Lynx’s clinching victory by providing a spark off the bench. Howard posted playoff career highs in points (17), rebounds (8) and assists (3). 

Eight of Howard’s points came in the third quarter, helping the Lynx outscore Phoenix 26-15 in the frame. Renee Montgomery chipped in seven points all in the third quarter. That means Howard and Montgomery combined for as many points in the third quarter as the Mercury.

 Jia Perkins, another outstanding veteran, scored 12 points on 4-of- 7 shooting and was a perfect 4-of- 4 from the line in the Lynx’s Game Two triumph. She also added five rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot.

Just two years ago, the Lynx lost a riveting three-game series to the Mercury in what was then the Western Conference Finals. 

That Mercury team went 29-5 and beat the Sky to win the WNBA championship. This season under the new playoff format, the Lynx enjoyed a week off while the eighth-seeded Mercury had to win a pair of playoff elimination games on the road against Indiana and New York.

The rested Lynx won all three games by double figures over the Mercury. Minnesota has swept eight playoff series in its playoff history, including four against Phoenix. 

This franchise is worth taking attention away from undefeated Vikings, rebuilding Twins and rapidly rising Timberwolves in the Twin Cities. The terrific and talented Lynx are now three wins from reaching a prestigious plateau and adding another chapter to their wonderful legacy. That’s worth celebrating.


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