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 03, 2017

WNBA Finals: Lynx And Sparks Duel Decisive Game Five Again With New History At Stake

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

 No need to quote the legendary Yogi Berra. 

 Minnesota-Los Angeles. Game Five. For the WNBA championship. Again.

 In the hoops version of Ali-Frazier, the two gold standards of the WNBA, the Lynx and Sparks collide Wednesday night at 8 p.m. in a winner-take-all game for the second consecutive year. The only thing different is the venue. Instead of playing in the Target Center, the teams will ball inside of Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota’s campus.

 Lately, the venue hasn’t mattered between these rivals. In the last 12 games between these squads, the composite score between them is an astonishing 908-908. So it’s only right that the Lynx and Sparks play another high stakes contest with everybody watching.

 “It’s very fitting,” said Minnesota guard Maya Moore following Tuesday’s practice. “It makes for a really compelling ending to a 2017 season. Both teams have been showing why they’re the best all year, and I’m just glad we’re able to really play and hopefully the game will go in a way where the best team wins.”

 Moore and the Lynx are looking to reverse last year’s outcome. The Sparks won the title at the Target Center in the decisive fifth game, 77-76. It was easily one of the best games in the history of the WNBA. The game had five lead changes in the final minute. 

 This series has featured more drama than an episode of “Power.” The intensity has been off the charts. As the esteemed writer Sue Favor of womenshoopworld.com tweeted to me during the fourth game, the intensity “was as thick as cement” inside of the Staples Center.

 Chelsea Gray scored the decisive basket in the opener with 2.4 seconds left. In the second game, the Lynx held off a Sparks charge by getting a pair of defensive stops in the last 13 seconds. The games in Los Angeles were pretty one-sided as the Sparks controlled the third game and the Lynx cruised to victory in the fourth game.  

 “We can look at it as a disappointment that we’re playing in a Game 5 or we can look at it as an opportunity,” Sparks center Candace Parker said. “I think that if you poll anyone anywhere around the league that if you have one game and an opportunity to win a championship would you take it. I’m pretty sure everybody would take that. So that’s the mentality we have to have going in. It’s not going to be easy. There’s a lot of things that you can reflect on after Game 4 and this entire series of what we can do differently.”

 The Sparks have this on their side. In the last two Finals series, no team has won consecutive games. Each team has an opportunity to add its fourth WNBA title, matching the Houston Comets for the most in league history. The Sparks are looking to become the first team to repeat since the franchise did it in 2001 and 2002 behind Lisa Leslie.

 “I think that’s the good thing about having a series with two great teams,” Minnesota’s Rebekkah Brunson said after being asked about learning about each other. “It’s about changing, making adjustments and making the little things happen out there. I’m sure they’re saying the same thing. Nobody in here and nobody out there is going to be saying much different. I think we know each extremely well at this point. Now, it’s just time to play.”

A win with the Lynx would make Brunson, a former Georgetown star, the first individual to play on five WNBA champions, having been part of the former Sacramento Monarchs win and henceforth landing with Minnesota in the roster dispersal when the then-NBA owners jettisoned the franchise.

Brunson is currently tied with the famed big three of Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes, and Cynthia Cooper, who won the first four WNBA crowns as part of the former Houston Comets from 1997 to 2000.

Los Angeles won the next two in 2001 and 2002 and since then no team has won back-to-back titles, which L.A. duplicate while the Sparks would then run coach Brian Agler's collection to five as a women's hoops pro coach in the United States, which would be a record. 

Besides last year's crown, Agler won with the Seattle Storm in the WNBA and previously gained the two Columbus Quest titles in the short-lived American Basketball League in 1997 and 1998. Conversely, his Minnesota counterpart, Cheryl Reeve, a former La Salle star in Philadelphia from South Jersey in the suburbs, with a win would tie Agler and former Houston coach Van Chancellor with the U.S. record an Chancellor with the WNBA record.

Reeve, by the way, was on UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s USA staff with last summer's gold medal olympic champs in Brazil and is a top candidate to join South Carolina’s Dawn Staley during the next cyle. She also helped coach Staley when both were with the WNBA former Charlotte Sting.

Meanwhile, Parker leads the Sparks in scoring in this series, averaging 16.6 points per game. Nneka Oguwmike has averaged 9.6 rebounds per contest for the Sparks. Meanwhile, the Lynx has been fueled MVP Sylvia Fowles, who is averaging 18.9 points and 12.1 rebounds. 

 “There’s going to be great players making great plays all over the floor,” Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus said. “From the guard position to the post position, there’s matchups everywhere. Game 5, you probably have a wrinkle here or there, but for the most part, you’re going to have to do what you do. I’m going to have shoot my patented jump shot. Syl is going to have to get in there and bang. Maya is going to have to shoot her three-ball. Those are things we’re going to have get down to the basics.”

 One trend to look for is the team that has led after the first quarter has won each game of this series. 

 “It’s going to come down to defense,” Los Angeles guard and WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard said. “These are two teams that are very capable of doing amazing things offensively. It’s our job and our mindset to make it as hard as possible. I’m sure it’s the same for them. There is no other way to explain it other than this will be a game of intangibles and defense is a part of that.”

 Sit back, relax and enjoy another championship game that is destined to take this already wonderful rivalry to new heights.

The Guru, Mel Greenberg, contributed to this report and will be on the scene in Minneapolis Wednesday night.