WNBA Finals 101: Storylines to Know Ahead of Historic Rematch

WNBA Playoff Format Brings Out the Best

The new postseason format implemented in 2016 has, for the second straight year, resulted in the top two teams meeting in The Finals. Minnesota entered the postseason with the league’s best record (27-7); Los Angeles was second (26-8).

Consistent Excellence No. 1

The .779 combined regular-season winning percentage posted by the Lynx (27-7, .794) and Sparks (26-8, .765) is the second highest ever for teams competing in the WNBA Finals.

The highest combined winning percentage for Finals foes? .794 (54-14) last year when the Lynx (28-6, .824) and Sparks (26-8, .765) met.

Consistent Excellence No. 2

Minnesota is the fourth different franchise to reach The Finals three straight years (list below), but the only franchise to do so twice.

Haven’t We Met Before?

This is only the second time same two teams will have met in back-to-back Finals. Houston and New York faced one another in the 1999 and 2000 Finals.

Putting Minnesota’s Success in Perspective

Having reached The Finals in six of the past seven seasons, the Minnesota Lynx have put themselves in elite company. Only five franchise in the NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, and the NFL have reached their respective championship series or game in such fashion. They are the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers; the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Yankees, and the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

Fourth Time is the Charm?

Minnesota and Los Angeles are both pursuing a fourth WNBA title. A fourth title would tie either team with the Houston Comets for the most in league history (1997-2000).

Back-to-Back Titles?

Los Angeles can become the first team to win back-to-back titles since, well, Los Angeles … the Sparks won consecutive championships in 2001 and 2002. Since then there have been 14 Finals series without a back-to-back winner.

M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!

This series will showcase four of the last five WNBA Most Valuable Players: Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles (2017) and Maya Moore (2014) and Los Angeles’ Nneka Ogwumike (2016) and Candace Parker (2013, as well as 2008).

Fowles is trying to become the seventh player in league history to be named regular-season MVP and win a WNBA title in the same season, a group composed of Cynthia Cooper (1997-98), Sheryl Swoopes (2000), Lisa Leslie (2001), Diana Taurasi (2009), Lauren Jackson (2010) and Nneka Ogwumike (2016).

Finals MVPs

The Finals also boasts four FINALS MVPs – Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus (2011), Maya Moore (2013) and Sylvia Fowles (2015) along with LA’s Candace Parker (2016)

Late-Game Heroes Abound

In the 2016 Finals, Los Angeles’ Nneka Ogwumike hit the game-winning/series-clinching shot while falling to the floor as LA won 77-76. Just days earlier, in Game 1, teammate Alana Beard Beard hit a baseline jumper just before time expired to lift the Sparks to a 78-76 victory over the defending champion Lynx.  During the 2015 Finals, Minnesota’s Maya Moore nailed a  three-pointer as time expired to give the Lynx an 80-77 win.

Defense! Defense!

The Finals will feature five of the league’s top 10 defenders, including two Defensive Player of the Year honorees: LA’s Alana Beard (2017) and Minnesota’s three-time winner of the award, Sylvia Fowles (2011, ’13, ’16).  Beard led the league in steals (2.1 spg) this year, Fowles finished No. 2 in blocked shots. Both were joined on the WNBA’s 2017 All-Defensive First Team by LA’s Nneka Ogwumike. Second Team honorees included Minnesota’s Rebekkah Brunson and Maya Moore.

Drive for Five

Lynx center Rebekkah Brunson, a WNBA champion with the Sacramento Monarchs in 2005 and with Minnesota in 2011, 2013 and 2015, can become the league’s first player to win five titles. She is one of six players with four WNBA titles, with the other five all winning championships with the Comets from 1997-2000: Janeth Arcain, Cynthia Cooper, Tammy Jackson, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson.

Prominent Coaches

The Finals will see a matchup of two of the league’s greatest coaches. Cheryl Reeve owns two Coach of the Year awards and Brian Agler one.  Reeve has now guided Minnesota to six Finals appearances, including three championships; Agler, having previously guided the 2010 Seattle Storm to a title, last year became the first coach in WNBA history to win championships with two different teams.

Reeve and Agler are both among the top six for head coaches in terms of postseason winning percentage and number of postseason wins, with Cheryl at No. 1 and Brian at No. 6 in both categories…

Best Postseason Winning Percentage Among Head Coaches (through 2017 semifinals)

PCT. W L
Cheryl Reeve .740 37 13
Michael Cooper .628 27 16
Van Chancellor .588 20 14
Bill Laimbeer .588 30 21
John Whisenant .588 20 14
Brian Agler .583 21 15

 
Most Postseason Wins Among Head Coaches (through 2017 semifinals)

W L PCT.
Cheryl Reeve 37 13 .740
Bill Laimbeer 30 21 .588
Michael Cooper 27 16 .628
Mike Thibault 24 27 .471
Lin Dunn 23 20 .535
Brian Agler 21 15 .583

 
Home Sweet Home

Minnesota enters The Finals owning the best overall postseason record and the best home postseason record in WNBA postseason history…

Best Overall Postseason Winning Percentage (through 2017 Semifinals)

Minnesota Lynx 38-17 .691
Houston Comets 20-14 .588
Dallas Wings 30-22 .577
Sacramento Monarchs 24-19 .558
Phoenix Mercury 36-29 .554
Los Angeles Sparks 43-35 .551

 

Best Home Postseason Winning Percentage (through 2017 Semifinals)

Minnesota Lynx 26-5 .839
Sacramento Monarchs 13-4 .765
Indiana Fever 23-10 .697
Los Angeles Sparks 27-12 .692
Connecticut Sun 15-7 .682

 
Road Warriors?

Minnesota enters the Finals as one of four teams with a postseason road record of .500 (no team has a PS road record better than .500).

Road Postseason Winning Percentage (through 2017 semifinals)

Houston Comets 7-7 .500
Miami Sol 1-1 .500
Minnesota Lynx 12-12 .500
Phoenix Mercury 17-17 .500

 
Been There, Done That

Minnesota and Los Angeles each have seven players on their active rosters who have won championships. Below is a breakdown for each team:

Los Angeles: (All in 2016 with LA)

Minnesota:

Looking for Their First Ring

A total of 10 players – five Lynx and five Sparks – are in search of their first WNBA championship ring: