It took the Minnesota Lynx 13 years to reach their first WNBA Finals and now they just won’t go away. With their sweep of the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals, the Lynx are headed to their fifth WNBA Finals in the past six seasons.
After joining the WNBA in 1999, the Lynx made just two playoff appearances (2003, 2004) and recorded just a one playoff win in their first 12 seasons.
That all changed in 2011, when the Lynx won what was then a team-record 27 games — equaling their total from the previous two seasons combined — and entered the playoffs as the top seed before putting together a 7-1 playoff run that culminated in the franchise’s first championship.
And they weren’t close to being done.
The 2011 season not only marked a new era for Lynx basketball, but the beginning of the latest WNBA dynasty. The Lynx are the first team in league history to play in five WNBA Finals as they attempt to win their fourth championship in six seasons. During that time, Minnesota has put together a 155-49 (0.760) record, a run of sustained excellence that few can compete with.
|*2016 Finals yet to be played|
With their win percentages nearly identical, what separates these teams are the championships. The Comets set the standard by winning the league’s first four titles and establishing the mark that all other franchises are still chasing. The Sparks won two titles during their six-year run with at least 20 wins and are the last team to win consecutive WNBA championships back in 2001 and 2002.
This year’s Lynx team has a chance to match both of those feats. A win in the 2016 Finals would give the Lynx four championships to match the Comets and the first back-to-back WNBA champion in 14 years. It would also be the first successful title defense for the Lynx, who have won the championship in every other year since 2011.
|4||Houston Comets||1997, 1998, 1999, 2000|
|3||Minnesota Lynx||2011, 2013, 2015|
|3||Phoenix Mercury||2007, 2009, 2014|
|3||Detroit Shock||2003, 2006, 2008|
|2||Los Angeles Sparks||2001, 2002|
|2||Seattle Storm||2004, 2010|
While the Detroit Shock and Phoenix Mercury have both won three WNBA titles, neither were able to match the consistency shown by the Lynx, Sparks and Comets during their respective dynasties. The Shock won three titles over six years, but won 18 games or fewer in two of those seasons, including one season under .500. The Mercury’s three championships come over an eight-year span, with the team winning a franchise-low seven games in 2012 before rebounding for their third title run two years later.
|**Seven years separate Phoenix’s three titles|
The Lynx have never dropped below 22 wins in any of the last six seasons, something no other team has done in WNBA history. This remarkable run has come under the tutelage of two-time WNBA Coach of the Year Cheryl Reeve, who was a part of two championship seasons as an assistant coach under Bill Laimbeer in Detroit.
While the championship run began in 2011, the seeds of the dynasty were planted in 2010. In addition to hiring Reeve away from Detroit, the Lynx also traded for hometown hero Lindsay Whalen (giving up the first pick in the draft and Renee Montgomery, who has since returned to the Lynx) and selected Rebekkah Brunson in the Monarchs dispersal draft.
But at the same time, the team’s franchise player, Seimone Augustus, was recovering from an ACL tear that ended her 2009 season after just six games and had to undergo surgery to remove fibroid tumors from her abdomen and lower back, which further delayed her return to the court. The Lynx finished the season at 13-21 and missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season. Although their season fell below expectations, it did come with a silver lining as the Lynx had the second-highest chance of winning the upcoming Draft Lottery with UConn superstar Maya Moore as the clear-cut top pick.
On Nov. 2, 2010, the Lynx won the draft lottery and in April of 2011, they selected Moore with the first pick to add a rising star to a veteran team poised to compete for a championship. With Whalen running the show, Augustus back to full strength, Brunson in the post, Moore ready to elevate her game at the pro level and Reeve on the sideline, the Lynx had their championship core in place and later that fall brought the first basketball championship to the Twin Cities since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles back in 1960.
The center position has evolved over the years with Taj McWilliams-Franklin there for the first title, Janel McCarville in the middle for the second and mid-season acquisition Sylvia Fowles dominating the paint in 2015 on her way to winning Finals MVP honors. But in addition to the starters — with four members of the Lynx starting five being named to the U.S. Olympic team this year — Minnesota boasts a bench full of talent that is ready to step in and produce when Reeve calls upon them.
In the series-clinching win over Phoenix to send the Lynx to the Finals, it was Natasha Howard that provided the spark. The third-year forward scored eight of her 17 points in the third quarter as the Lynx pulled away from the Mercury to complete the series sweep. Minnesota has seen similar performances from reserves like Montgomery (game-winning three against the Sparks in a battle of undefeated teams back in June), Jia Perkins (who the Lynx got in exchange for a draft pick this offseason) and McCarville (who had some of the top assists in the WNBA this season despite playing under 13 minutes per game for the loaded Lynx) throughout the season.
Minnesota will have a week off before the 2016 Finals tip off at the Target Center in Minneapolis on Sunday, Oct. 9. So far, the Lynx have fared rather well coming off an extended break. They opened the season with a league-record 13 straight wins, then went a league-best 7-2 following the Olympic break and are a perfect 3-0 in the playoffs after having a week off (thanks to receiving a double-bye due to their No. 1 ranking heading into the tournament).
Now they are just three wins away from bringing their dynasty to new heights — heights that had previously only been reachable by Comets.