Lynx-Sparks WNBA Finals matchup exactly what we hoped for

ByMechelle Voepel ESPN logo
Thursday, October 6, 2016

Since the Lynx began their run of excellence in 2011, they've wanted to be equally good on both ends of the floor. That might sound simplistic -- who doesn't want that, right? -- but the reality for even most really good WNBA teams is they're probably going to be a little better at either offense or defense.

Minnesota, though, has proved to be excellent at both for a long time. Now the Lynx will take on an opponent in the WNBA Finals, the Los Angeles Sparks, that this season can say the same thing.

"We're kind of meeting our match, if you will," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "How we get things done is a little different. But both teams can score, both can defend. It's going to be a fight."

The WNBA's 20th anniversary season comes to an end with a Finals matchup featuring star power, intriguing storylines and two coaches with a lot of respect for each other's ability to strategize and prepare their teams.

It's the matchup that everyone recognized back in June was going to be the WNBA's most competitive rivalry this season. The Lynx finished 28-6, and the Sparks 26-8, and both got byes into the semifinals under the new playoff format.

The Lynx then swept Phoenix, and the Sparks beat Chicago 3-1. They'll start their best-of-five WNBA Finals series Sunday in Minneapolis (ABC, 3 p.m. ET). The Lynx hope to tie the former Houston Comets' record of four titles, and the Sparks will try to win their first championship since back-to-back titles in 2001-02.

The Lynx have been able to maintain their hunger even though their core group -- Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson -- has three championships. That says a great deal about their chemistry.

None of the Sparks have won a WNBA title, and only one player on their roster, Ann Wauters, has been in the WNBA Finals before. She was a starter in 2008 for San Antonio, which was swept by Detroit. Now she's a reserve near the end of her career -- she turns 36 on Oct. 12 -- but with another chance to try to win a championship.

For players such as Candace Parker (all nine seasons with the Sparks) and Kristi Toliver (seven of her eight seasons with L.A.), Tuesday's 95-75 victory over Chicago helped put to rest some of the playoff ghosts that had been haunting the franchise the past several years.

Then there's Alana Beard, who is Los Angeles' longest-tenured WNBA player. She has been in the league since 2004 and has played 11 seasons; she missed 2010 and '11 dealing with severe ankle problems. (Wauters entered the league before Beard, in 2000, but has played nine seasons.)

Beard's first six years were with Washington, which has never gone to the WNBA Finals. So you can imagine how much this means to her.

And it's also a very big deal to Nneka Ogwumike, who like Parker was a No. 1 draft pick for the Sparks. Ogwumike was the league MVP this year; Parker won that honor in 2008 and 2013.

One member of the Sparks who has WNBA championship experience is coach Brian Agler, who led Seattle to the 2010 title. He also guided Columbus to the only two ABL championships, in 1997 and '98.

The Sparks aren't just happy to have made the WNBA Finals, though. They know they can compete with Minnesota. The Sparks won one of their three games in the regular season against the Lynx: 94-76 on June 24 at Minnesota. And their two losses in Los Angeles -- June 21 and Sept. 6 -- were both by just three points.

But the Sparks also know there is no opponent they could face with more experience in what it takes to prevail in the WNBA Finals. The Lynx have advanced that far four of the past five years, winning three of them.

We'll see how it plays out, but on paper the series is exactly what you'd hope for from the WNBA Finals.

Related Video