Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve likened her team to the San Antonio Spurs in her path to a third straight appearance in the WNBA Finals.
Reeve’s assessment is spot-on from a perspective of consistency. After a rocky first season in 2010, Minnesota has won 26 games or more in the last three seasons, more than enough to earn the best regular season record each time. In 2013, the Lynx set a league record for fewest turnovers per game at 12.1 and set a franchise mark for field goal shooting in the regular season, making 47.4 percent of their shots.
Such efficiency means hiccups becoming more alarming than it should, but it also diminished arguments challenging Reeve’s coaching abilities. The best argument has been using the starters for too long in blowout situations, a notion that gained some steam last season, but Minnesota’s rabid fan base enjoy the results of her decision-making.
Parallels continue between the Lynx and the Spurs as long-term success builds frustration among the rest of the league’s fans, forcing those who clamor for high-profile teams to discard ignorance; Minnesota was shunned by ESPN earlier in the season to make room for a contest between Chicago and Atlanta. Lynx fan rage slowly rose as other players scooped up weekly awards and the regular season list did not include any local names until the First and Second Team selections. Call the Lynx boring, a word often directed at the Spurs, at your own risk.
Supporters have legitimate reason to express dismay: Maya Moore had career highs in scoring, field goal shooting and rebounds and led the league in three-point shooting as others struggled with the longer line. Seimone Augustus had a career high in field goal percentage, and Lindsay Whalen posted a career-best in scoring.
Looking ahead to their Finals series with the Dream, defensive capabilities will hold much sway for Lynx chances at their second title in franchise history. In the post-season, Minnesota has given up the fewest points and boast the largest scoring differential among the eight teams that qualified (they have not allowed more than 71 points in their four playoff wins).
Individually, three Lynx players rank in the top 10 in field goal shooting (Augustus, Moore and Rebekkah Brunson) in the playoffs, while just one Dream player currently stands on that list (Armintie Herrington).
Atlanta did earn a split in the regular season series with Minnesota, but early polls have Minnesota a heavy favorite to avenge their defeat in last year’s Finals.
Years ago, competing for championships was little more than fantasy. Prior to Reeve’s arrival, the Lynx playoff record was a scant 1-3. Including this year’s run, Reeve’s career post-season mark is 16-5.
2003 – Eliminated in conference semifinals
Minnesota’s first post-season appearance was 2003, and was highlighted with an improbable win over the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, winning 74-72 with the game-winning basket scored by Tamika Williams. However, they eventually succumbed to the overpowered Sparks squad, losing both games at Staples Center.
2004 – Eliminated in conference semifinals
Minnesota returned to the playoffs in 2004, but a season-ending injury to Katie Smith during that year’s Olympics virtually ended any chance of keeping up with the more powerful Western Conference teams. The Seattle Storm swept them in the opening round en route to their first WNBA championship.
2011 – Won WNBA Finals
Years of futility washed away for the Minnesota Lynx in 2011, with Cheryl Reeve guiding a group gathered by all facets of transactions; Rookie of the Year Maya Moore gave the Lynx an option to siphon pressure off Seimone Augustus, ageless wonder Taj McWilliams-Franklin instilled experience and discipline to a lineup in need of both, and Seimone Augustus erased all accusations of not being a clutch player by winning the Finals MVP award. Augustus overcame an ACL tear and fibroids and won over the Lynx crowd with a 36-point showing in Game 2.
2012 – Lost in WNBA Finals
Some said the Lynx were exhausted with three of their members having to play in the Olympics. Others thought Cheryl Reeve put too much stress on her starters. Whatever the reason, the Lynx lost their focus of the previous year, and with it a chance to win the WNBA championship. The Indiana Fever completed their upset bid by winning the series three games to one, leaving fans to wonder if Minnesota’s title window would be short.
2013 – ?
Minnesota was considered a team of yesteryear entering 2013, lacking the hype of a high-profile draft pick or a major acquisition to a market-friendly team, but a series of adjustments made them the premiere team in the regular season again. Janel McCarville was brought in via trade to replace Taj McWilliams-Franklin, a move that originally drew mixed reviews but became a huge blessing for Minnesota’s thin post. Mainstays like Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore stepped up on both ends of the floor, and to this point, the Lynx have demonstrated that talent and cohesion are more valuable assets than hoopla.