MINNEAPOLIS – A WNBA champion will be crowned, 8 PM ET on ESPN. After a thrilling four games, the Lynx and Sparks are set for a winner-take-all Game 5 inside what will surely be a raucous Williams Arena.
Ahead of the action here are four things to watch for in this deciding final contest between the WNBA’s two best teams.
Lindsay Whalen has played in the The Barn when there were 14,000-plus fans packed into the building, which is what is expected for tonight’s Game 5. Not only will the atmosphere be electric for the final game of the 2017 WNBA season, with so many fans crammed into a small arena – it will be extremely loud.
“It’s nothing that we’re not used to,” said Sparks forward Alana Beard. “Minnesota always draws an amazing crowd. It’s not just for the playoffs but for the regular season games so it’s not anything we’re not used to.”
Both teams have gone over hand signals in order to communicate with one another when they can’t hear the player standing next to them over the thunderous crowd noise.
“We’re not necessarily worried about it, but what we addressed is we have to be on the same page because it’s going to be loud,” said Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike. “We have to be able to communicate to each other and hear each other.”
“In this game it is very imperative that we communicate on every possession whether its defense or offense and that’s something that we focused on.” added Beard.
Lynx guard Seimone Augustus is ready for the crowd noise and hopes her team may find an edge with quick communication signals to one another and trying to pick up on L.A.’s signs.
“If we can catch those hand signals that could help us in a possession on defense knowing what that action is and the same goes for them,” she said. “If we can sneak up and get our signal in before they see it, maybe we can sneak in and get a play in and get a bucket. Just those little minor details in this game are going to be so important for us to come out with a victory.”
In a series filled with star power – MVPs, DPOYs and All-Stars are all over the court – there will be plenty of players that can step up in tonight’s winner-take-all contest.
It’s pretty safe to assume that Sylvia Fowles will post another double-double – she has gotten one in each of the first four games of the series – and that Candace Parker will stuff the stat sheet like she did in last year’s Game 5. But will there be an x-factor – a player off the bench, or a starter not particularly known for putting up big numbers – that steps up and becomes the deciding factor.
With these teams so evenly matched – remember the last 12 games between these two sides have been played to a dead-even 908-908 score – any small contribution could be the difference between championship glory and a disappointing end to a great season.
A player like Alexis Jones from Minnesota comes to mind. After not playing in the Semifinals and sitting in the first two games of The Finals, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve called upon her rookie guard to come in and provide a spark. In 23 minutes on the court, she has shot 4-of-6 from 3-point range and could be a weapon that Reeve calls on if she needs some additional long-range shooting during the game.
“When your name is called, be ready; that’s been the motto the whole entire season,” said Jones. “And that’s what I’ve been trying to hold myself accountable for, making sure that whenever my name is called that I’m ready and when I go out there, do something at least on the defensive or offensive end to give a spark to the team that we need in the few minutes I can get.”
Jones began to earn minutes during the regular season when Lindsay Whalen went down with a broken hand. That elevated the third-string guard to the backup behind Renee Montgomery and helped build trust with Reeve so that she could call upon the rookie with the season on the line.
“It means a lot,” said Jones. “I think the minutes that I got when Lindsay was hurt it made her trust me even more about my game. Me working out when I wasn’t playing a lot just, it helped her build the confidence in me and I think me going out there during a Finals game showing her that I wasn’t afraid and I didn’t come out looking like I was afraid, gave her the confidence that I was ready to play on this stage.”
Crash The Boards
While the scoring between these two teams is destined to be close, who holds the edge in rebounding may actually be the deciding factor in who is crowned as 2017 WNBA champions. In three of the four games thus far, whichever team tallies the most total rebounds has gone on to win the game. Overall, the Lynx are outrebounding the Sparks 146-125 in the series and found particular success on the offensive glass in their must-win Game 4 performance in L.A. In Sunday’s contest Minnesota snagged 16 offensive boards led by six from Sylvia Fowles.
“I think the number one thing that comes to mind is rebounding, we gave them a lot of second chance points and that’s something that you can’t do against a team like Minnesota,” said L.A.’s Alana Beard during Wednesday’s shootaround. “Our initial defense was really good but we just couldn’t lose it out with the rebound.”
It may not be pretty but whoever claws their win to winning the rebound numbers in Game 5 will likely be the ones hoisting the WNBA championship trophy.
History On The Line
No matter who is crowned a champion Wednesday, the win will be historic. If Minnesota or Los Angeles win it will be their fourth title in franchise history and will tie them with the Houston Comets for the most WNBA titles in league history. If L.A. wins, it will be the first time a team has repeated as champions in the WNBA since the Sparks themselves did it back in 2001-02 led by the legendary Lisa Leslie.
It will be especially sweet for Maya Moore should her Lynx win on Wednesday. The 28-year-old has never gone back-to-back years without a championship dating back to her times at Collins Hill High School in Georgia. She’s won three titles already in Minnesota, most recently in 2015. Should she win the 2017 championship it would continue this impressive streak.
“It’s really just time to go out on the court and show it,” Moore said during Minnesota’s shootaround Wednesday. “This is the opportunity we’ve been working for all year and we’re going to take advantage of it. We’re expecting it to be really loud and energetic tonight.”