Eight of the 12 WNBA general managers tabbed the Minnesota Lynx to win the 2015 title before the season, so it comes as no surprise that they will represent the Western Conference in their fourth WNBA Finals in five years.
But almost every season has its ups and downs, and Minnesota’s has been no exception. During the regular season, the Lynx looked vulnerable after the All-Star break — including a 1-4 stretch in August — and have only recently begun to gel as a full-strength unit.
Here’s a step-by-step look at how the West’s best got to this point:
The 2015 offseason featured plenty of moving and shaking, but the Lynx stood tall mainly by keeping their two-time championship core together. With reigning MVP Maya Moore flanked by All-Stars Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota looked like a sure bet to contend — and the GMs agreed.
They also tabbed Moore as the MVP frontrunner, called Whalen the best guard in the league and Cheryl Reeve the best coach.
July 17: Augustus Undergoes Knee Surgery
Minnesota was cruising in 2015 until the injury bug hit. The same week she was named an All-Star for the sixth time, Augustus had arthroscopic surgery on her right knee.
After returning for three games in August, she then suffered an ankle injury that once again forced her to the sideline. In all, Augustus played 16 regular-season games and averaged a career-low 13.8 points.
July 22: Whalen’s Consecutive Starts Streak Ends
Whalen had started 379 of a possible 389 games in her 12-year WNBA career when she was diagnosed with a hyphema, a collection of blood inside the front part of the eye.
The injury forced the 33-year-old to sit out for the first time since 2012, a streak that spanned 106 games.
Still, Whalen was her usual rock-solid self from the get-go in 2015, and the Lynx got off to a red-hot 15-4 start before even experiencing their first losing streak.
Elena Delle Donne had rightfully grabbed the headlines with her otherworldly first half. But Moore’s return to Connecticut and subsequent All-Star Game takeover served as a reminder that when she’s on her game, perhaps no one can dominate like Maya.
She scored an All-Star record 30 points, including a personal 8-0 run in the final three minutes, to lift the West to a 117-112 victory.
“It’s like a video game,” said Tina Charles, an Eastern Conference All-Star starter and Moore’s former UConn teammate.
The Lynx capped a busy July with a trade designed to set them up for August, September and, they hope, October.
6-foot-6 center Sylvia Fowles, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, gave Minnesota precisely the inside presence they were missing. And after sitting out the first half of the season, Minnesota was precisely the place she wanted to go; the Lynx sent their 2016 first-round pick, plus Damiris Dantas and Reshanda Gray, to Atlanta in return, while the Dream traded center Erika de Souza to Chicago.
The move brought the Lynx their fifth former Olympian (Augustus, Fowles, veteran backup Asjha Jones, Moore and Whalen) and, on paper, made the favorites look even more formidable.
August 4: Moore Named July Player of the Month, Scoring Streak Ends
A scorching July — 25.7 points, 45.2% shooting, 8.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks in nine games — earned Moore her sixth Player of the Month award in eight months of action.
But she fell just short of history the same day she received the honor. After scoring at least 20 points in 11 consecutive games, the Sparks limited the guard to just 13 points, leaving Diana Taurasi as the consecutive 20+-point game record-holder with 12 in 2006.
August 14: Rally from 16 Points Down to Top Dream
The Game of the Year for Minnesota came fittingly in Atlanta, where the Lynx clinched both of their championships (2011, 2013).
They trailed the Dream 59-43 with 5:14 left in the third quarter, but the second half quickly turned into the Moore & Fowles Show. Moore scored 22 of her season-high 36 points after the break while Fowles scored 15 to finish with 19 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in the eventual 84-82 victory.
Combined with Augustus’ return from knee surgery, it was a show of strength for Minnesota, which proceeded to lose four of its next five games.
Considering the two have combined to win six of the last eight Western Conference titles, every matchup between the Lynx and Mercury is big. Regular-season games are merely a tune-up for the playoffs in this rivalry, but it was important for the Minnesota to break out of its swoon and outplay Phoenix in a 71-61 win.
Moore (28 points) and Fowles (14 points, 13 rebounds) once again led the charge, countering Brittney Griner’s dominant performance (season-high nine blocks).
The victory was Minnesota’s second in five games against the Mercury in 2015 and all but sealed home-court advantage throughout the playoffs for the Lynx.
September 22: Hold Off Sparks in Winner-Take-All First-Round Game 3
As No. 4 seeds go, the 2015 Los Angeles Sparks were one of the toughest draws for a top-seeded team in WNBA history. Just like the Lynx, L.A. could roll out a starting lineup consisting of former All-Stars, and just like the Lynx, they had a superstar to lead them.
Heading into their first-round series, the Sparks were 11-5 since Candace Parker’s return. Their success continued into the playoffs: First in battling the Lynx down to the wire in Game 1, then in winning Game 2 in L.A. by 10 points.
In a do-or-die Game 3, Minnesota emerged victorious, 91-80, thanks to a balanced offensive attack, led by Moore’s 20 points.
The bigger the stage, the better Maya Moore usually plays. And she played one of her best games to lift Minnesota back into the Finals for the third time in her five-year career.
It was #MayaTime in Phoenix as the superstar guard scored a playoff career-high 40 points — more than half of her team’s total (72) — to carry the Lynx to a series-clinch, Game 2 win over the rival Mercury. The historic performance came on the heels of a gritty 67-60 Game 1 win at the Target Center, where the Lynx own a 91-13 record during Moore’s career.
The two-game sweep also meant that the Lynx would have a full week of rest until opening the 2015 WNBA Finals in search of their third title.