Now that the kids have been dismissed, the WNBA’s proven stars can prepare for an intriguing WNBA Finals matchup. Two of the league’s top-5 scorers in Maya Moore (Minnesota) and Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta) will lead their teams in a best-of-five Finals that tips Sunday at 5:30 pm (PT) on ESPN.
If I had trusted my gut, the Western side would have been my preseason pick to make it this far. Instead, I was one of many sucked into the WNBA’s “Three to See” hype in draft picks Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, and Skylar Diggins. While Delle Donne did lead Chicago to the regular-season Eastern Conference title (my prediction), Diggins’ Tulsa didn’t even advance to the postseason and Griner’s Phoenix was swept by Minnesota.
The Lynx (4-0) were ticked at the early predictions, using its own “Three to See” campaign for Moore, G Seimone Augustus and PG Lindsay Whalen. Win the 2013 title and the trio can dust off that dynasty talk it tried to self-proclaim in 2011 when the Lynx won its first championship.
The definition of a dynasty in sports is to win multiple, successive championships and the Lynx fell 3-1 to Indiana for the 2012 WNBA title. But Minnesota has won three consecutive conference championships to join luminaries Detroit (2006-08), Los Angeles (2001-03) and Houston (1997-2000).
A possible “dynasty” just in time for legend Tina Thompson’s exit, the last member of the WNBA’s original dynasty. Her Comets won the league’s inaugural four championships — a feat untouched. Competition has improved so much, modern teams can’t even manage back-to-back titles. The Sparks were the last to do so in 2001-02. McCoughtry’s Dream (4-1) swept the defending champion Fever to advance to the Finals.
Successive trips to the Finals isn’t bad for a Minnesota team once just a trivia answer to what team was Seattle playing when PG Sue Bird broke her nose (bonus points if you can name the player). Whalen had experience, losing to the 2004 Storm team for the WNBA championship and making five trips to the Finals overall in her 10-year career. The difference-maker for the Lynx is Moore.
A timid rookie when she won her first title, Moore finally shed the hesitation to become the dominating player Michael Jordan handpicked to join his brand. Moore, a 6-foot forward, is averaging 21.5 points on 52.4 percent shooting in four Lynx playoff games. Minnesota also swept Seattle in the opening round.
Moore isn’t just a shooter. She’s also averaging 4.8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.2 steals in the postseason. She’s why the Lynx are favored by nine points and could match Seattle’s 2011 record in sweeping through the postseason undefeated (7-0).
But, ah, the Storm set that record by rolling over the Dream in three games in 2010, McCoughtry crumbling to her Philips Arena court in disbelief as Seattle celebrated the franchise’s second title. For four seasons, McCoughtry has vowed to bring a championship to Atlanta. Twice she was swept in the WNBA Finals. Minnesota being the broom in 2011.
A reformed petulant player who named her alter ego Lori Ann, McCoughrty’s magic in reaching a third Finals is discovering how to involve her teammates in the game. When she flies to the basket, she’ll make a smooth assist instead of always looking to score. And under first-year coach Fred Williams, Atlanta has intensified its defensive pressure during the postseason with McCoughtry at the helm.
In her fifth season, McCoughrty averaged a league-high 21.5 points during the regular-season with 5.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.7 steals. The Dream started hot (10-1) but bumbled its way into the postseason on a four-game losing streak. It did split regular-season games against Minnesota, each team winning on its homecourt.
“I think Angel in the offseason has really matured a lot with the game of basketball and things,” Williams told reporters in May. He gave McCoughrty a list of requirements if she were to be part of his team. “It’s a clean slate. She played hard in that transition when she came back for us last year toward the end of the season. She was part of our big run getting into the playoffs. We welcome her back.”
After clinching Sunday, the teams took a break to prepare for what should be an entertaining Finals. The Lynx spent Monday in a video game marathon at Augustus’ home. Practice on both sides will resume Wednesday.
The Dream will not be able to play in Philips Arena, however, due to a “Disney on Ice” booking. The games will be played at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, in Duluth, Ga., a northern suburb of Atlanta. Moore, who went to high school at Collins High School in Gwinnett County, won three state titles in that arena.
“The first one to climb is so special, but staying on top is the challenge of it,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said of winning WNBA championships. “Now we have to finish the job. That’s what is on our minds, more than anything. You can’t win a championship unless you’re in the Finals. We’re in position now to do it, to get our goal.”
As a warm-up, you can listen to a podcast of what former WNBA champions and conference title winners think about the matchup and their experiences in the Finals.
Here’s the TV schedule for the Finals:
Game 1: Sunday, Oct. 6, Minneapolis, 5:30 p.m. (PT), ESPN
Game 2: Tuesday, Oct. 8, Minneapolis, 5 p.m. (PT), ESPN2
Game 3: Thursday, Oct. 10, Atlanta, 5:30 p.m. (PT), ESPN2
Game 4*: Sunday, Oct. 13, Atlanta, 5 p.m. (PT), ESPN2
Game 5*: Wednesday, Oct. 16, Minneapolis, 5 p.m. (PT), ESPN
* if necessary.
AND THE WINNER IS…: Your regular-season award winners have been named and trophies have been dispersed. All I can say about the final tally is the WNBA needs to lift the anonymity of its 39 voters. I’m clearly not the only, how do you say, wacko. That’s a joke. My votes were not. I’m not sure the same could be said for the voter who considered Connecticut C Tina Charles a top-5 candidate for league MVP.