WNBA Dispatch | A long and winding road to victory for Lynx

“It was 18,000 people?” asked Seimone Augustus, when told of the franchise-record sellout crowd to watch Minnesota win its first pro basketball championship at home since the NBA’s Lakers back in the ’50s.  “I’ve been here 10 years [and] I never seen the [arena’s] upper deck full of people in my career.  It means a lot to be the longest tenured Lynx and see this amazing environment that we created over the last few years.”

When she learned that Prince was among several notables, including Minnesota Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater,  she replied, “We’re almost at celebrity status!”

It was predicted that the Minnesota Lynx would finish the 2015 season as WNBA champions, but it was a long and winding road to reach championship pay dirt.

“We had more adversity this time than we’ve had in any other season,” noted Minnesota Assistant Coach Jim Petersen, who has been with the club for all three title-winning seasons (2011, 2013 and this season).  “We [usually] start the season and finish the season with the same roster.  We usually don’t make trades in-season.  We don’t bring in free agents.  And we’ve had relative [good] health. “This season was completely different,” he admitted.

Let us count the ways:  two mid-season trades, a trade during training camp (Asjha Jones) to fill an unexpected void, plus a player (Anna Cruz) who joined the club just before the All-Star break, who was acquired in a trade a season ago, plus injuries to key starters.

“I knew that when we got her, we got something special,” recalled Petersen on Sylvia Fowles, who Minnesota acquired on July 27 in a three-team trade with Chicago and Atlanta.  Renee Montgomery seven days earlier was acquired by a trade with Seattle.  “Acquiring Renee Montgomery was huge,” added Petersen on the 5-7 guard.

But then came the team’s brutal August, in which Minnesota went 6-6, lost the services of both starting guards Augustus and Lindsay Whalen, who missed a total of 12 games during the final stretch of the season due to injuries and recovery.

As a result, “I don’t think we ever really maximized on who we were as a team, and how well we could play,” said Peterson. “It is a testament to the players that we have, and the leadership that we have and the system that we have.”

Once the post season began, the Lynx’s starting lineup of Fowles at center; Augustus and Whalen at guard; and forwards Rebekkah Brunson and Maya Moore, came together as a unit. Although both Augustus and Whalen returned less than fully healthy, the two stalwarts refused to allow themselves and their mates to go down easy — their collective goal to finish at the top was too close to turn back now.

Fowles finished as Series MVP. Whalen made big plays — she set up Moore’s historic buzzer-beating three that defeated Indiana in the third game: “We have to keep doing it together as a team,” notes the 12-year veteran guard.  “All night, all season — the whole time.  It’s unbelievable, Charles,” she said.

Brunson kept possessions alive with her hustling offensive board work — five of her game-high 14 rebounds in the deciding game were on the offensive glass.  And although Moore had her lowest scoring night of the playoffs (five points), she led all scorers with five assists and had two blocked shots.

Montgomery and Cruz were key reserves and made big plays as well, especially defensively throughout the championship series.

“I didn’t want to mess up their thing, whatever their thing was,” said the seven-year veteran Montgomery, soaking in both the champagne and the moment. “Seimone had a talk with me and said, ‘You can add to our thing.  Do things that you do. You hurt us when we were playing against you.  Now do it for us.’”

Montgomery’s last possession steal that she converted in a layup at the end of the third quarter of Game 5, was a back-breaker for Indiana.  “When you have superstars on the team, they are going to handle the load of it,” she explained.  “You just want to come in and add to it, and do whatever you can to help the team.

“This season will go down in history for me, starting in Seattle and now I am here.  It is very emotional that things worked out for you. I can’t complain.  I’m just blessed.  I am a champion and it feels good,” says Montgomery.

When a local reporter asked her was she coming back next season, her 10th WNBA campaign, she replied, “Why not?,” appearing puzzled by the question.  Augustus watched Whalen and then teammate Janel McCarville — once college teammates celebrate winning a pro title together in 2013. This year it was her turn to do the same (Augustus and Fowles were college teammates at LSU).

She told the MSR, “We have been waiting a long time for this.  I never thought in a million years that Chicago would release her to come here.”

ICYMI: Minnesota was 1-2 with the Lynx starting lineup of Moore, Brunson, Fowles, Whalen and Augustus in the regular season, and was 7-3 in the playoffs.

 

The MSR will continue its 2015 WNBA playoff coverage, including the Lynx’s parade celebration in downtown Minneapolis, scheduled for Friday morning October 16.

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

About Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at challman@spokesman-recorder.com

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