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, September 23, 2017

WNBA Finals: The Rematch Opens Featuring A Battle of Recent League MVPs

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

 A legendary constellation of stars has made the dream sequel a reality. 

 From the moment Candace Parker celebrated and hugged Magic Johnson in triumph on the Target Center floor last year after an epic WNBA Finals between the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx, everybody clamored for a championship rematch. Consider the wish granted.

 Playing throughout the season with all the passion of asphalt simmering in the summer sun, the two best teams meet starting Sunday afternoon from Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota’s campus at 3:30 p.m. on ABC. 

 The second game will be Tuesday at 8 p.m. before the series shifts to Los Angeles for games three and four on Friday and next Sunday. Should a fifth game be needed, it will be played on Wednesday, Oct. 4 in Minnesota. 

 This series features everything. Future Hall of Famers. Great coaches. Fantastic franchises with dispositions to dominate that have been gold standards of excellence. 

 “I think this is exciting for not only us, but for the WNBA,” Parker said after the Lynx beat the Phoenix Mercury last Sunday. “The two best teams throughout the regular season facing off against each other again, back to back years. 

“We know the challenge that lies ahead, we know they’re a fantastic team, they play together, they have a system, coach (Cheryl) Reeve does a good job of putting their players in position to succeed. Obviously our mentality is just to make things hard. They’re going to make tough shots, but we just want to make things tough for them.” 

 The Lynx and Sparks are so evenly matched that it’s hard to find an edge for each driven and determined team.

 Four of the last five winners of the WNBA Most Valuable Players award will be in action: Parker (2013), Maya Moore (2014), Nneka Ogwumike (2016) and Sylvia Fowles (2017). In addition, the winners of the last two Defensive Player of the Year awards in Fowles (2016) and Alana Beard (2017) will be on lockdown patrol.

 After another tremendous WNBA season that featured the Connecticut Sun’s rise after a rough start, Jonquel Jones’ rebounding brilliance and dunk in the All-Star game, epic comebacks, sensational performances, long winning streaks, and career records established by veterans Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, the Lynx and Sparks are competing for the ultimate prize again which is a treat for everybody.

 “It feels great,” Sparks head coach Brian Alger said after the Sparks beat the Phoenix Mercury last week at Talking Stick Arena in the Arizona desert. “This has been one of those years where I really hadn’t thought much about it, just trying to keep our team focused and trying to get better.

 “For the most part, we’ve had some injuries here and there, but we’ve stayed somewhat healthy, which helps us, other teams haven’t been that fortunate. But we know that there’s a lot of good teams in this league, so to be one of the final two standing we feel like we’re worthy of that, but we also feel fortunate to have the opportunity to go play.”

 If it’s anything like last year’s five-game epic series, then get your popcorn ready. For those who forgot, the Sparks edged the Lynx, 77-76, in the fifth game in one of the greatest contests ever played, regardless of sport. The Sparks won the series, 3-2.  

 It took 40 minutes of amazingly breathtaking basketball that featured 24 lead changes, 11 ties, and three lead changes in the final 20 seconds of that decisive game for a determined Parker to add the missing championship piece to her packed portfolio of milestones, accolades, and highlights. It was a timeless thriller and instant classic that went beyond the hype.

 The final basket of the season came in dramatic fashion as Ogwumike grabbed an offensive rebound off a Chelsea Gray miss with five seconds left, put up a shot that was blocked by Fowles, caught the ball off the deflection and put up a second shot as she was falling away from the basket.

 This is the second Finals rematch in the WNBA’s 21-year history and first since the Houston Comets and New York Liberty battled each other in 1999 and 2000. Whatever team wins will match the Comets for most championships in WNBA history with four each. 

 The Sparks are looking to become the first repeat champion, well, since the Sparks did it in 2001 and 2002 with Lisa Leslie leading the way.

 Meanwhile, the Lynx are in the Finals for the sixth time in the last seven years. In the history of sports, the Lynx are the sixth franchise to accomplish that amazing feat. The only other iconic franchises to achieve that are the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers; the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Yankees, and the Cleveland Browns.

 Minnesota has won a WNBA championship in 2011, 2013 and 2015. A Lynx win would also be historic for  center Rebekkah Brunson and put her in a class by herself as the only WNBA player to win five titles. She was a member of the 2005 Sacramento Monarchs championship team.  

 Overall, the red-hot Sparks have won 10 straight games going back to the regular season, the longest win streak of any team heading into the WNBA Finals. 

After missing Lindsay Whalen for a significant portion of the season, the Lynx have found their groove. The Sparks won the regular season series, 2-1. Whalen didn’t play in either of the games that the Sparks won. However, she did play in all five games of last year’s WNBA Finals.

 “Yeah, Whalen is our emotional leader,” Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus said after the Lynx defeated the Mystics last Sunday at Capital One Arena.

 “I mean, obviously, most of you have been at practices and stuff, when she gets fired up, whether we're in practice or the game, it really changes the momentum of our team, the mentality, how aggressive we become, the intensity.  We always say, when Whalen cusses and spits, you best believe the Lynx are probably about to go on a run or something good is about to happen.”

 With a week to recover and prepare, both teams will be at their best, which is awesome. 

 Two great teams with motivated and focused players. That’s a recipe for something special and a Sparks repeat in five games.