I watched Houston win four consecutive WNBA Finals, still a league record, and interviewed each of their Big Three: Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, as well as their Hall of Fame coach Van Chancellor. Borrowing from former U.S. Senator and once vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen, I must say, “Minnesota, you’re no Houston.”
That was a dynasty. Winning two in three years by Los Angeles, and later the same for the Detroit-now-Tulsa Shock, are certifiable dynasties. But for those who foolishly compared the Lynx to the now-defunct Comets, winning one title only makes you a faux-dynasty.
Instead Minnesota, which lost last weekend to Indiana, is the first defending champion since 2007 to lose in the finals the following season.
Instead, the franchise is the second pro basketball team that plays in downtown Minneapolis that had both the league’s best overall record, top playoff seed, and home court advantage only to end up on the deficit end of the winning ledger.
Instead, the Lynx sadly suffered from the same Minnesota malaise that hit the Twins and the Wolves in past years — not making any significant off-season changes to build upon a very successful season and ensure them repeat-caliber success the next year.
It’s an arrogance of belief, a “we don’t need to make changes” philosophy while reading “can’t be beat” stories as your fellow competitors re-tool to better compete against you.
Are the Lynx just another one-title wonder among our local pro teams? Was the Fever that much better than Minnesota, or did the weight of being the hunted all season long finally take its toll on the 2012 WNBA runners-up?
A 37-point, third-quarter deficit in game three last Friday was an all-time Finals record and a series-killing blow. Along with a virtually unproductive bench, save for the West finals, where Minnesota swept Los Angeles, the Lynx were out-coached in this year’s playoffs.
Seattle imposed its will in the first-round series; only a jumper missed by Lauren Jackson kept them from advancing. Indiana spread the floor, placed their shooters on the perimeter, and forced the Lynx to scramble to cover them. This offensive tactic opened up the middle, and the newly crowned Fever burned the former defending champs.
Minnesota instead resorted to matching baskets rather than making defensive stops. Whenever the team did manage a momentum swing, such as a brief lead in game one, the opponent quickly snatched it back with crystal-clear looks at the basket.
Only in a game and a half of this year’s post-season play did we see the Lynx play their get-out-and-run style, an aggressive take-no-prisoners swagger: That was in a 17-point win over L.A. in game one of the West finals and in the second half of last Wednesday’s game versus Indiana, which tied the series at one win apiece. Otherwise, we saw Minnesota on their heels, struggling to find a consistent or coherent half-court game and looking more like novices than repeaters.
As a result, the only thing the Lynx repeated was their season-long “Road to Repeat” theme. The road to repeat ran into a dead end in Indianapolis.
This columnist has been saying for two years now that the team needs a backup point guard; that the team needs another flat-out reserve scorer with the confidence from the bench that they can play without fear of being snatched out at the first hint of a mistake; and that the team needs a half-court game that involves going to the basket more instead of long stretches of outside misfiring. Those needs still exist.
Hail to the champs and a long off-season for the runners-up. If anything is learned from this season, it should be that sitting pat and patting yourself on the back creates a faux dynasty.
Richie shares off-season plans
WNBA President Laurel Richie last week told the MSR that “forming strategic alliances” in the off-season to increase attendance remains a top priority for her. Pointing to the 14,000-plus persons who attended the first game of the Lynx-Indiana finals, she said, “We have the ability to do that in all 12 cities,” adding that her office and everyone connected to her league “are doing everything we can in attracting people to the games.
“I always want more, better, faster, but the one thing I’m really happy with in my year and a half and [at] the end of my second season is [that] there is an incredible level of commitment from our owners to staff [and] to our players to really deliver what we know is possible for the WNBA. When you know you have a full team of support that is willing and able to do what you need to do, it’s great,” concluded Richie.
Did you know…?
Name the only Black female head coach to ever coach in the WNBA Finals. (Answer in next week’s “View.”)
Answer to last week’s question: Who was the first Black head coach to win a WNBA championship? Michael Cooper won two league titles in Los Angeles (2001 and 2002) and finished runners-up in 2003.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.