The Minnesota Lynx players were ready to celebrate the greatest sporting achievement of their lives on Friday night in Atlanta. They were really, really ready. The champagne was shaken, the tears were flowing and their loved ones and various team staffers were all rapt in anticipation of the primal scream that accompanies winning the WNBA Finals. But as excited as they were, they waited. ."
With tip-off for Game 3 hours away, Seimone Augustus, slayer of the Atlanta Dream in Game 2, was not in the mood to let her opponents get back into the best-of-five WNBA Finals series with a victory tonight at Philips Arena.
"We know this is going to be a fired up environment, so we need to be at the top of our game," said Augustus, who poured in 36 points on Wednesday to drive the Minnesota Lynx to the precipice of their first WNBA championship. "We don't want to give the Dream ANY HOPE AT ALL that they can extend this series."
“Tonight is Game 3 of the 2011 WNBA Finals, and it’s 'win or go home' for the Atlanta Dream, who are down 0-2 in this best of five series against the Minnesota Lynx. … But don’t think that the Dream are just going to hand the trophy over to the Lynx. They will have to earn a 'W' in the sold-out Philips Arena when Lindsey Harding, point guard and former No. 1 draft pick, and all-star forward Angel McCoughtry take the court.”
-- Alana Glass, Forbes.com
“The Braves are done, and the Thrashers are gone. The Falcons are off to a slow start. The Hawks are indefinitely idle as the owners and players hash out a new labor deal. The Dream, meanwhile, are in the WNBA Finals for the second consecutive season, so fans looking for a championship contender to cheer for can come to Game 3 at Philips Arena on Friday night.”
-- Michael Cunningham, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“The Lynx is on the cusp of making franchise history. ... A title would truly be a lofty accomplishment, considering the Lynx never won a playoff series their first 12 seasons.”
-- Roman Augustoviz, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Since the best-of-five format was adopted in 2005, no WNBA team has overcome a 2-0 deficit to win the championship. The Lynx, who have had to rally in each of the first two games, can become the third team since 2008 to record a three-game sweep.”
-- Tim Leighton, Pioneer-Press
Greetings from Atlanta, where the Dream will attempt to stave off elimination in Game 3 of the 2011 WNBA
Finals tonight at Philips Arena (8pm ET on ESPN2) while the Minnesota Lynx seek to sweep into their first league championship in style.
We can report that Minnesota point guard Lyndsay Whalen was already sporting her game face at 9:30am this morning and that Angel McCoughtry arrived at the arena looking calm, cool and casual.
Here's what's being said about the big game this morning:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Dream look forward to big crowd for Game 3 of finals
Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Lynx, with or without Taj, on the brink
ESPN.com: Atlanta Dream face must-win situation
The numbers don't lie: Minnesota has outscored Atlanta by 25 points in the fourth quarters of the first two games of the 2011 WNBA Finals. 25 POINTS. At the start of the fourth quarter of Game 1 on Sunday night, the Dream and Lynx were locked in a 62-62 tie and Minnesota unleashed a 26-12 run to close out the game. In Game 2 last night, the Lynx trailed by five points before a 32-21 game-ending effort pushed Minnesota to the brink of their first WNBA Championship.
“Target Center was alive again … All kinds of folks in green and white T-shirts waving their white pom pons turned the atmosphere into another resounding advantage for the Lynx.”
-- Associated Press
“The Lynx might have played their final game at Target Center for 2011; certainly, they hope that's the case. If so, their 101-95 victory over Atlanta before a crowd of 15,124 on Wednesday could stand as the highlight reel for this entire breakthrough season for the Lynx.”
-- Mechelle Voepel, ESPN.com
“The Lynx's game against the Atlanta Dream was a struggle, a shootout, a stroll to the free throw line. But most of all, a showcase for two of the best offensive players in the WNBA. Angel McCoughtry of Atlanta edged Seimone Augustus in scoring, 38 points to 36, but the Lynx star didn't care.”
-- Roman Augustoviz, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
With 74 points between them on Wednesday, Seimone Augustus and Angel McCoughtry combined for the most points ever by opposing players in Finals history. But it's how Augustus did it that shows just how special she's become.
Jim Petersen's crew has been beating up on the Minnesota Lynx all year.
And that's precisely the point.
Never before in Finals history have players on opposing teams combined for more points. The previous record was 59 points, when Rebekkah Brunson scored 26 and McCoughtry scored 33 in Game 1 of this series.
The WNBA postseason record for combined points from opposing players is 78, when McCoughtry and Cappie Pondexter achieved the feat in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals.
Even more impressive: McCoughtry now has the three highest scoring totals in Finals history, after notching 33 points in Game 1.
Not to be out-done, Seimone Augustus scored 14 points in the second quarter (to McCoughtry's 12), including a series of crossovers that were straight off the playground. Except in this case they came against some of the best women's basketball players in the world.
Meanwhile, the Dream are shooting 60 percent from the floor, to the Lynx' 50 percent. Lindsey Harding also has 10 for the Dream, while Jess Adair's second in scoring for Minnesota with 8.
|ATLANTA DREAM STARTERS|
|C||Erika de Souza|
|MINNESOTA LYNX STARTERS|
What kind of tone are you looking to set out of the gates?
What we normally set: aggressive . How's your team's mindset?
They're ready go to. They always rise to the occasion, and I can always say that about this team. They play really hard, our depth sometimes is questionable -- we've had a lot of injuries and a lot of adversity, and we've just bounced back from them. We lost the first game to Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals and we bounced right back, so I expect the same thing to happen tonight. In a best-of-5, how crucial is tying it up in Game 2?
It's crucial because we get a chance to go home for two games, and if we happen to win tonight, the pressure's on them.
How crucial is a win tonight, to keep them from evening the series heading back to Atlanta?
They're all crucial. I find Game 1 to be really crucial when you're getting ready for Game 1. Now that we're getting ready for Game 2 I find it to be really crucial to win Game 2. For us more than anything our focus is to win our home games, and obviously Game 2 is here, so it's crucial.
What kind of tone are you looking to set out of the gates?
We just want to be solid all the way through. I think the first half of Game 1 was one where we just had a lot of adrenaline to be playijg finally, and our execution wasn't sharp. I'm looking for them to be steady, consistent and tough, and of the mindset that no matter what happens in the first five, or the third five minutes, just keep playing.
Does playing in front of 15,000 people make it easier the second time around?
They're going to look to bang the ball inside a lot. How does that affect what you guys do?
We're looking to play hard. Our posts have played great defense all season and we know we'll get another great effort tonight.
How important is winning tonight before you head back to Atlanta, and possibly giving them home-court advantage with the series tied?
This is everything. This game is gonna be, to me, the momentum change, the swing game. We know that. We're in control of it. We've got our crowd with us -- they're on our side. To me, we can't do much worse than we did last game [early on], we can only do better. I might be talking individually for me, but also our whole team.
What kind of tone are you looking to set tonight?
We're gonna set the tone that we're gonna play 40 minutes. We're here to win a championship.
“The two coaches stalked up and down the sideline in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, barking out instructions to players, snapping at officials and calling the shots at the game's most crucial moments. That is nothing new in this league or any other. The difference this time is that both coaches in the championship series were women, the first time that's happened in league history.”
-- Jon Krawcynski, Associated Press
“The Mississippi River travels some 2,300 miles from Minnesota to Louisiana. Minneapolis is near its beginning, Baton Rouge near its end. [Seimone] Augustus traveled the opposite direction of the river -- south to north -- to go from college star [at LSU] to WNBA Rookie of the Year to being the face of a franchise that, this season, has come fully alive with possibility at last.”
-- Mechelle Voepel, ESPN.com
“The Lynx ... have become the darlings of the local sports scene with their run to the WNBA Finals. Sunday, they drew an announced crowd of 15,258 to their Game 1 victory over Atlanta, with the line to buy tickets stretching out the Target Center doors and down First Avenue. The entire supply of 1,000 playoff T-shirts was sold out by halftime.”
-- Rachel Blount, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
The Lynx bench contributed just six points during Game 1 of the Finals, far below their playoff average of 17.1 points per game. Candice Wiggins found a unique remedy to a similar problem earlier this season - a game of Angry Birds. Read that story and more in Tuesday's Lynx practice report.
After 12 days away from her team -- and a two-day odyssey from Bogota to Minneapolis -- Erika de Souza was back with the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday, just in time for the team's last practice before Wednesday's Game 2.
#WFinals - A message to #LosLynx nation from @CandiceWiggins. Gm 2: Wed at 8pm/et on ESPN2. twitvid.com/G3QWK
1 hour ago
#WFinals - @angel_35 of the @AtlantaDream gets a lift in before today's practice. twitpic.com/6v5wst
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#WFinals - Erika de Souza is here with her team, the @AtlantaDream, ready for Game 2. twitpic.com/6v5qq3
2 hours ago
#WFinals - Maya Moore of the @MinnesotaLynx works on her J after today's practice. twitvid.com/JNAFV
3 hours ago
#WFinals - @monnie22 of the @minnesotalynx puts up free throws after practice. twitpic.com/6v57xt
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#WFinals - The @minnesotalynx put in work at today's practice. twitvid.com/G7LKY
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#WFinals - The @minnesotalynx huddle up at today's practice. Game 2 tomorrow on ESPN2. twitpic.com/6v4ugt
3 hours ago
“The Minnesota Lynx overwhelmed the Atlanta Dream down low in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday night. They outrebounded the Dream 40-28 and outscored them 52-30 in the paint. The Dream are hoping the return of their starting center will make a big difference. Erika de Souza did not play in Game 1 because she was helping her native Brazil win an Olympic qualifying tournament.”
-- Jon Krawcynski, Associated Press
“The Dream's roller-coaster season, in which they started 3-9 but found a groove that brought them to the Finals for the second straight season, has been a reflection of [Sancho] Lyttle's own season. She missed six games early on, fulfilling her obligation to the Spanish national team. Upon her return, she missed six more fighting through a back injury. She watched her team struggle and tried to do what she could from the bench, offering advice and telling her teammates what she could see.”
-- Michelle Smith, ESPN.com
“This has been an awesome year. Coming home to Minnesota two seasons ago and having the chance to lead this team was a real honor for me. Now, we have the chance to do something special for these great fans, and we're excited about the possibilities of bringing home a championship.”
-- Lindsay Whalen, USA Today
So, on Sunday night, when the Lynx medical staff tried to hook her up to an IV at halftime to treat her case of food poisoning, she reluctantly agreed.
It didn't go so well.
"Seven sticks later, I’m like please just stop," she said with a laugh. "I can’t take it. I can’t. I said 'I’ll be ok, I’ll play.' Anything’s better than those needles. Thank God for Gatorade."
So, playing on adrenaline and electrolytes, she played 15 minutes in the second half, solidifying the Lynx' inside attack in a big Game 1 win.
After seasons that saw them finish second in the league in scoring and first in assists, respectively, Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry and Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen earned two of the five spots on the 2011 All-WNBA First Team. The selection was Whalen's second to the first team, while McCoughtry makes her debut appearance.
Indiana Fever forward and WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings led all vote-getters with 187 points, while Diana Taurasi and Tina Charles rounded out the first team.
One other Finals contestant cracked the All-WNBA Teams, as Minnesota's Seimone Augustus earned a spot on the second team after leading the Lynx in scoring during the regular season.
Lynx forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin -- seen here leading Monday's WNBA Fit clinic -- wasn't just the oldest player in the league when she had a near double-double on Sunday night: she was also fighting a bad stomach bug. What's her secret? And why is she so proud of Jess Adair?
The Dream didn't practice on Monday, but they did meet with the media in Minnesota to talk about their Game 1 loss to the Lynx and what they have to do to even the series on Wednesday. Like, say, get Erika de Souza back in the lineup.
The Minnesota Lynx hosted a WNBA Cares event to promote fitness and well being at the Target Center on Monday. Lynx players Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin along with WNBA President Laurel Richie helped teach the kids in attendence the importance of physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle.
Video highlights from the clinic | Photo gallery
The back story: de Souza had to leave the Dream after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals to play with Team Brasil in Olympic qualifiers. After leading her team to gold -- and a spot in the 2012 London Games -- she was expected back for Game 2 of the WNBA Finals. Without her, the Dream could manage against the Indiana Fever in the Conference Finals. But last night, when the Lynx took a 40-28 edge in rebounding, it underscored just how much the Dream miss their bruising center.
“If WNBA president Laurel Richie could bottle the energy, passion and genuine enthusiasm the fans in Minnesota have shown for the Lynx, surely she would. …The Minnesota Lynx opened their first appearance in the WNBA Finals on Sunday night with an 88-74 win over the Atlanta Dream, coming back from a 12-point first-half deficit and riding the wave of one of the loudest, most fervent crowds in recent league history.”
-- Michelle Smith, ESPN
“For those who say the women's game lacks everything that makes the sport great — athleticism, shot-making and competitive fire — Game 1 will not help them make their case. Maya Moore's sensational reverse layup, a scoop shot that started from clear on the other side of the rim, got the Lynx started on a third-quarter surge that got them back into the game. [Rebekkah] Brunson finished a three-point play and [Seimone] Augustus's no-look pass was finished by [Lindsay] Whalen's reverse layup to cap a 9-0 run ... On the other end, [Angel] McCoughtry was simply unstoppable, hitting a incredible array of jumpers from odd angles all over the floor, blocking shots and forcing steals to keep her team from faltering.”
-- Jon Krawczynski, Associated Press
“More than 15,000 fans walked into Target Center on Sunday night, hoping that the Minnesota Lynx could give them a little relief from the sports abyss the Twin Cities sit in at the moment. They waved white pom-poms and hollered at the top of their lungs, and Rebekkah Brunson and Co. made sure they didn't go home disappointed.”
-- Jon Krawczynski, AP via ABC News
On Sunday night, with 11 rejections (including a team-high 3 from Taj McWilliams-Franklin), the Lynx had their own sort of block party.
But before the game, the city of Minnesota had an actual block party on the plaza between the Target Center and Target Field (home of the Minnesota Twins) to celebrate the team. Complete with a band, face-painting, balloon animals and about 3 acres of green t-shirts, the event appeared to do its job, as the Target Center was pounding right from the tip.
But, while there, we noticed something: jerseys. Lots of them. And t-shirts with players' names on the back. And because we knew Maya Moore had the top-selling jersey in the WNBA this year and that Lindsay Whalen is the second-most-popular thing in Minnesota behind apples (which Minneapolis mayor Ryback wagered, for the second straight series, on the Lynx -- this time against peaches from Atlanta), we expected to just see a field of 13's (Whalen's number) and 23's.
Turns out there's room in Minnesota's heart for everybody.
|Who you Wearing: A 5-Minute Tour Of Jerseys in the Plaza|
|Number||Player Name||Total Count|
|#57||Dwyane Rudd (former Vikings linebacker)||1|
|#5||Roneeka Hodges (Played for Lynx in 2009 -- now with Silver Stars)||1|
To check out the scene on the plaza (and this very cool t-shirt), click on the photo gallery below:
A few loose balls from Sunday night's Game 1 of the WNBA Finals:
- The Lynx set a WNBA Finals record with 11 blocks, including three from Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who's not only 40...she also has the flu.
- Maya Moore's act of levitation in the third quarter reminded everybody why she's signed with the Jordan brand.
- Angel McCoughtry said she's drinking protein shakes and eating meat to bulk up so that she can bang bodies inside -- the problem is, her metabolism's just way too high.
Going into this series, the hype had gravitated to the guards. Seimone Augustus vs. Angel McCoughtry. Maya Moore vs. Armintie Price. Lindsay Whalen vs. Lindsey Harding.
But on Sunday night in Minnesota, with a 40-28 edge in rebounding and a 52-30 advantage in points in the paint (where Minnesota shot 53 percent, compared to the Dream’s 36 percent, including a zero-point effort from Sancho Lyttle), the Lynx stole the game because their post players owned the paint -- and nobody more than Rebekkah Brunson.
President Richie speaks on several topics including the 2011 WNBA Finals and the current state of the league.
Watch the press conference in its entirety
After being drafted by the Lynx in 2008, Candice Wiggins' career has been marred by injury -- most recently an Achilles tear that ended her 2010 season. Now, with all that behind her, Minnesota's reserve guard -- and the leading scorer in Stanford women's basketball history -- is in the moment...even though she can barely comprehend it.
Is there any other time she's felt like this?
"This has been one of the best WNBA seasons ever when it comes to the product on the floor every night, and there’s no reason to expect the Finals to be any different."
-– Clay Kallam, Slam Magazine
"Game 1 is in Minneapolis, where the Lynx have managed to gain a solid following in a town that has suffered from the recent failures of the Twins, Vikings and Timberwolves. The lower bowl of Target Center has been close to full for all three home playoff games in the playoffs, and the team is expecting a record crowd on Sunday night. … The Lynx and Dream are the two highest scoring teams in these playoffs, the only two teams to average in the 80s. Both love to get up and down the court and flow into transition quickly, taking advantage of their versatility to score in bunches."
-– Associated Press
"Like Minnesota, Atlanta has lost once through two rounds against Connecticut (conference semis) and Indiana (finals). But unlike the Lynx, the Dream closed out their conference finals series without one of its best players, Brazilian center Erika de Souza, who left the team after Game 1 to help her national team qualify for the Olympics."
-- Andrew Lawrence , SI.com
On a team known for its balance, Rebekkah Brunson can sometimes get lost from the headlines. But as her recent recognition on the WNBA All-Defensive First Team proves, her role on the Lynx is vital to their success.
Get to know more about Brunson, the Lynx's other All-Star.
Not only does this WNBA Finals feature four No. 1 picks -- two on each team -- but it's also guaranteed to bring us the first championship trophy in either team's history only the second-ever championship by a female coach in league history. For more, get up to speed here!
Talk a little about the buzz around town surrounding the team, and what do you think the crowd for Game 1 will be like?
How does it feel to get back to the Finals, in your home state, at this stage of your career?
What about being home and getting to this stage here in Minnesota?
Do you feel there's a difference between your experiences with the NCAA Finals and now the WNBA Finals?
Are you planning on doing anything differently on your end in guarding Atlanta's quick wing players?
Does it feel extra-special getting back to the Finals at this stage of your career?
What was the main theme in practice today? Rebounding?
What is different about this year's Atlanta Dream?
This city is excited for Game 1. What do you think it will be like playing against this crowd?
What differences do you anticipate in playing Minnesota, who has more wing threats to score, compared to Indiana and Connecticut?
There was definitely an adjustment for you, taking over this team as the point guard. Do you really feel like you're the engine now?
What do you like about this matchup, and what maybe don't you like?
Minnesota has Seimone and Maya at the wings. How do you anticipate slowing them down?
Angel McCoughtry's never quite sure when Lori Ann -- her alter-ego, formed on the playgrounds of East Baltimore -- will come out.
But she'd rather you not judge her solely on that.
From game plans for both teams to a vocal to a great story from Lindsey Harding to some head-turning numbers about hometown hero Lindsey Whalen, get your practice odds and ends in our Practice Day Notebook.
After two injury-plagued seasons, Seimone Augustus has not only returned to form as a scoring machine on the offensive end, but has developed into a solid defender as well - thanks in part to the guidance of an MVP from Indiana.
The Lynx finished the regular season with a league-best and franchise-best record of 27-7 as they finished six games ahead of their closest competitors. After getting past the San Antonio Silver Stars in the Conference Semifinals for their first-ever playoff series win, the Lynx went on to sweep the Phoenix Mercury to advance to the Finals.
But while the Lynx’s road to the Finals featured dominant play from Day One, similar to what 2010 champion Seattle did a year ago, the path was not as easy for the Dream, who now make their second consecutive Finals appearance in only four years of existence.
Through the first three games of the Atlanta Dream's postseason run, Izi Castro Marques had scored a total of 23 points. In Game Four, which happened to be a win-or-go-home second game against the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference Finals, she scored 30. The highest point total of her season and the most points she'd ever scored in a postseason game, Castro Marques attributed the night to starting the game, instead of coming off the bench -- which she did when the Dream went to a three-guard set during Erika de Souza's absence.
She continued: "It is easier when you have Angel on the other side, because she’s gonna get her points and they’re gonna have to help, and then when they help, you’re free."
Was she surprised she could still put up 30?
MINNEAPOLIS, MINN -- In fairness, Barney's got dibs. But the Lynx and Dream got next.
The purple dinosaur brigade is set to invade Minnesota's Target Center for two shows on Saturday, significantly upping the juicebox and high-pitched screaming quotients in downtown Minneapolis. The big guy's set to go on at 1:30 and 4:30, local time, on the main stage.
Meanwhile, the Lynx and Dream will run through their last pre-Finals practices before hitting the court for Game 1 on Sunday, then meet with the media afterward.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. After all, Barney's basically a walking kindergarten classroom inside a gigantic, purple foam walls, so we'd be remiss if we didn't try to learn something from him while he's here. Maybe, by paying attention to those three big pillars of the singing T-Rex's religion -- sharing, caring and imagination -- we can get a glimpse into what's gotten these teams so far.
We can learn a lot from the purple dinosaur.
SHARING -- Not only does this series feature two point guards with a combined 10.61 assists per game (the Lynx' Lindsay Whalen led the league with 5.85 per game; Atlanta's Lindsey Harding was sixth, with 4.76), but also the No. 2 and 3 teams in assists per game during the regular season. At 18.4 per contest, the Dream finished second only to the lightning storm that was the Phoenix offense. Meanwhile, the Lynx weren't far behind, at 18.14 per game. And all that translated into the second- and third-best offenses in the WNBA in 2011 (the Dream at 82.5 ppg, the Lynx at 81.5). Both offenses run best when the ball's moving around -- the Dream virtually ran around the Fever in Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals -- and remember, sharing is...
CARING -- This one could go in any number of ways. Like Angel McCoughtry said, "We all work together and we all have a good group of girls. Everybody loves each other. We have a team that hangs out on and off the court -- that makes you closer, and it helps you play better on the court." But let's focus on taking care, as in the way both teams have had key players get the very best out of their bodies. After years of devastating injuries, Seimone Augustus has returned to the kind of shape that she says she was in "back in high school" -- and her numbers reflect that. Candice Wiggins, who struggled in returning from an Achilles injury, came up with two big performances against the Mercury to help the Lynx get to the Finals. On the Atlanta side, Sancho Lyttle had to sit with a back injury after returning from the Spanish National Team (and has put up 11.8 points and 8 rebounds per game in the Playoffs), Izi Castro Marques was slowed by an injury (and scored 53 points in Games 2 and 3 against the Fever) and Angel McCoughtry crept into the season with a knee issue (and became the game's hottest scorer in the final three months).
IMAGINATION -- For Minnesota owner Glen Taylor, thinking about this day had long required a ton of imagination. And dreams. Lots of them. For the first 12 years he owned the Lynx, Minnesota never got close to this point. The Lynx won a grand total of one Playoff game and made two Playoff appearances, until this year broke every mark Minnesota had ever set. Now, those dreams -- and that of Lynx Roger Griffith, who lured Cheryl Reeve to the head coaching spot and orchestrated a trade with Connecticut to bring hometown hero Lindsay Whalen back to Minnesota -- are finally real. In Atlanta, the story doesn't go back quite so far. But when the gates opened in 2008, it took just about the same amount of imagination to picture the Dream here for the second year in a row. With shrewd roaster management on the part of coach/GM Marynell Meadors from the start, the selection of McCoughtry at No. 1 overall in 2009, this is a team that's become a template.
Stay tuned for news from practice and media day all day long.
“The WNBA Finals have turned into a matchup of (a) the team (Minnesota) that played the best basketball in the league all season; and (b) the team (Atlanta) that played the best basketball in the league in the final month. Minnesota has earned a spot in the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. … So, for the second season in a row, Atlanta will be trying to slay the league's giant.”
-- Michelle Smith, ESPN
“In a week's time, championship champagne could be slurped in the home locker room at Target Center … With the Lynx suddenly the talk of town, the current generation of basketball fans in Minny just want to know what a celebration looks like, feels like.”
-- Shaun Powell, NBA.com
“We really shouldn't be that surprised that the Atlanta Dream won the final two games of the Eastern Conference Finals over the Indiana Fever after losing center Erika De Souza to the Brazilian National team. It was simply more of the same for this group that has persevered through injuries and player absences the entire season.”
-- Kris Willis, Peachtree Hoops
The Minnesota Lynx today announced that hip hop music legends “The Sugarhill Gang” will put on a special halftime concert during Sunday's Game 1 of the 2011 WNBA Finals presented by Boost Mobile between the Lynx and the Atlanta Dream. The original innovators of hip hop music, The Sugarhill Gang will sing their hit singles "Rapper's Delight" and "Apache."
You might know "Apache" -- the Lynx players' theme song since 2006 -- better as 'Jump on It." So make like Will and Carlton and bring your best moves for Wonder Mike, Master Gee, and Henn-Dog.
And, ya know, Maya and Seimone and Angel and Izi.
Before the Lynx open up their first-ever WNBA Finals on Sunday, Jesse Ventura -- arguably the biggest and baddest fan in the league -- talked to WNBA.com about what ignited his passion for the game, the Lynx' chance to make Minnesota history and how he turned off football last Sunday to watch Game 2 of the WNBA Western Conference Finals.
Some of the best:
- This is how much I love the WNBA. On TV Sunday, when the Vikings were done playing, I watched the WNBA instead of watching Green Bay and Chicago. I left the NFL Sunday to watch the WNBA on Sunday.
- If you're a Minnespta professional sports fan, this is the only team here, in my opinion, right now that's capable of winning a title.
- I noticed people at the airport greeting the ladies at two in the morning. That’s outstanding. That shows you the base is growing. I’d have never expected them to have people waiting for them. I come from the pro wrestling world -- Nobody’s ever waiting for the villain.
- Taj is remarkable. At age 40, she can dive for a basketball and still get up. It’s one thing to dive for a basketball, it’s another thing to get up.
- We have to put the dynasty together. But dynasties require fans, and this is an opportunity for a dynasty, and you don’t see that often today. But for the next three to four years, we could have a dynasty here.
Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, in addition to being a veteran two-time WNBA Champion going for the trifecta this fall, is also a savvy off-the-court player, quick with a quip and well-placed quote.
So Minnesotans of a certain age, or perhaps students of U.S. Presidential campaigns, may have detected a faint but familiar note when Taj responded to a live chat question regarding her "efficiency," and "no wasted energy," with a sly, self-deprecating, lowering-the-bar-so-I-can-leap-over-it retort.
"I’m old and slow," said the 40-years-young McWilliams-Franklin. "I don’t know if it’s a big secret, but [my] efficiency is because I just move a lot slower than [anyone] expects, so when they’re going for a first move I haven’t made yet, I’m actually going for a second move I’m thinking about."
Minnesotans will be hoping that Taj's uncanny impression of Ronald Reagan in 1984 will result in a Fritz Mondale-like ending for the Atlanta Dream in WNBA Finals 2011, evening the score for fans from the Gopher State.
She'd finish the season at 21.56 points per game, just seven-hundredths of a point shy of eventual winner Diana Taurasi. But on June 31, with her 2010 Finals runner-up Dream team at 3-7, Angel McCoughtry was struggling.
To be fair, McCoughtry's never been a surgeon from the floor, shooting 40.8 percent from the floor in 2010, en route to a 21.1 ppg average. But on June 31 of this year, her field goal percentage ranked her second-last among the Top 30 scorers in the month of June.
By the time the season ended, she'd worked things out.
Over the next three months, McCoughtry finished no worse than second in the WNBA in scoring. In June, she led the league with 25.1 ppg. In July, she put up 22.1 ppg to finish second to Taurasi. Then, in five September games, she once again led the league, pouring in 26.4 points per contest. And in each of those months, she shot no worse than 40 percent from the field for the month, firing at a 43.6 percent clip after June -- including 42.6 in July and 51.2 percent in September.
So, in short, we know McCoughtry's going to get her shots. She led the WNBA in field goal attempts for the seconds straight year in 2011 (16.8 per game), after hoisting up 17.7 per game in 2010. Her Usage Rate, as shown here, accounted for 24.61 possessions per game.
But if you're looking for the engine behind the Dream's Renaissance, look no further. Not only was McCoughtry scoring at a much higher clip -- after June, she scored 23.9 points per game -- but she was missing a whole lot less. So, all of a sudden, those possessions that ended with a sprint back the other way finished with a couple points for the Dream. And over the course of the season's final three months, those points added up.
“The league's rookie of the year and the oldest veteran joined forces, and together they made the Lynx unstoppable. Maya Moore scored 21 points -- hitting six of eight three-point shots -- as the Lynx dominated Phoenix 103-86 to win their best-of-three Western Conference Finals series in two games. Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the Lynx's 40-year-old center, matched Moore's 21 points.”
-- Roman Augustoviz, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“It turns out the worst thing for the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference Finals might not have been Tamika Catchings' injury. It was Erika de Souza's call-up to the Brazilian national team. With de Souza gone, the Atlanta Dream inserted another Brazilian, Iziane Castro Marques, into a three-guard lineup. That was like adding jet fuel to an Indy car.”
-- David Woods, Indianapolis Star
“[The Finals is] a matchup of two very athletic teams with plenty of star power. The Dream's McCoughtry (2009) and the Lynx's Seimone Augustus (2006) are both past No. 1 overall draft picks. Those two and Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen were each MVP candidates this season. Another No. 1 draft pick, Dream point guard Lindsey Harding (2007), will return to Minnesota to face the team she played for to start her WNBA career. And yet another No. 1 selection, Minnesota's Maya Moore -- the league's rookie of the year this season after a brilliant career at UConn -- will have a chance to play again in Georgia, the state where she went to high school.”
-- Mechelle Voepel, ESPN
After four months of play, only two teams are left alive in the WNBA.
One, we could have guessed. The Minnesota Lynx started pulling away from the pack in July and -- in stark contrast to years past (note: every year past) -- never looked back. Rolling down a road that looked destined to end up in Minnesota's first-ever Finals berth, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Co. made good on all the promise that lured Taj McWilliams-Franklin from New York in the offseason in search of history in the Twin Cities.
The other one would've required some light time-travel.
It was only 10 weeks ago that the Atlanta Dream were looking like their 2010 Finals run (in just their third year of existence) was a fluke, merely the product a team that got hot at the right time and a star, in Angel McCoughtry, starting her ascent into the constellation of all-time great WNBA scorers. At 3-9 on July 13, they'd just lost their second game in a row, falling to the Liberty after dropping a game to the Sky four days prior.
The Lynx lost consecutive games just once all year, against Seattle and Indiana on June 24 and 26. The Dream had three losing streaks of two or more games on three separate occasions in the first month of the year -- which includes three straight losses open the season. They didn't win two games in a row a single time in their first 12 games, and those three wins came against teams that'd finish fourth and fifth in the East. Not until Atlanta downed Indiana (its first of four wins over the Fever in the regular season) in its 14th game of the season, did the Dream defeat a team that ended the season better than third in the conference.
You know the rest. The Dream would lose just six times the rest of the way -- including a Game 1 loss in the Eastern Conference Finals -- racking up a 21-6 record to close the year. Only the Lynx, at 24-4, finished the year at a better clip.
Now, the two hottest teams in the WNBA meet for a chance to win their first-ever WNBA title. And we'll be there, every step of the way, to bring you everything you need to know about both teams' quests to make history.