In Lynx They Trust
ATLANTA – 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. First it was one minute, then two, then three and that’s when it started getting uncomfortable in the jam-packed locker room. But still they waited, because Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve was unexpectedly detained in the remaining on-court jubilation. They did not pop a single bottle until their coach arrived, and when she did, the wait was worth it. The room exploded in unbridled joy as the Minnesota Lynx -- all them together -- shared the moment.
Forty-years-young center Taj McWilliams-Franklin quickly went from “Where’s Reeve at?” to “Reeve, Reeve, we got TWO, baby,” as they toasted the championship won in a three-game sweep culminating with Friday night’s 73-67 Game 3 victory over a game, but outgunned Atlanta Dream.
And Reeve was moved by her old friend, who she had won a WNBA crown with years ago in Detroit, Reeve then an assistant coach.
“You know, the thing about this team, that sets it apart for me, besides the talent and the winning, is the trust that we have,” said Reeve, drenched in the aforementioned bubbly. “Taj was someone who bought into what we were trying to do here, which was to put together a deep team, with many talents, and trust in the fact that there would be enough opportunities for all them to flourish, and I think we saw the result of that trust tonight.”
They sure did. The 2011 WNBA Finals MVP, guard Seimone Augustus, was the statistical and spiritual leader again Friday night, as she had been in the first two games of the best-of-five series sweep, scoring a team-high 16 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. But like all season long for the Lynx, there were moments for just about everybody.
WNBA Rookie of the Year Maya Moore came of age in Game 3, scoring 15 big points on 6-for-9 shooting and recording a game-high +10 in plus-minus differential. Minnesota native Lindsay Whalen led the team from the point and Rebekkah Brunson continued her superlative post-season scoring 13 points, pulling down nine boards and making three big steals.
Candice Wiggins hit a trio of big treys and somehow managed to grab five rebounds while Jessica Adair and Monica Wright put in strong shifts from the end of the bench that never goes unappreciated by their teammates or coach. The bench was boisterous, supportive and energetic. And McWilliams-Franklin, dubbed “Mama Taj” by Wiggins, hit four clutch free throws in the final 1:07 of the game, swish-swish-swish-swish, and not a single person on the court was surprised.
“I told you I was a game-time decision tonight,” said McWilliams-Franklin, who was questionable for Game 3 after injuring her knee in Game 2 in Minnesota. “And that decision was: of course I’m gonna play. There was no way I was gonna let those ladies down. We have all worked hard and trusted in each other from the first day of preseason and now we have the result I think we deserve. You never know if you’re going to get another chance to win a WNBA Championship and I am so grateful to get the chance to play with this group of ladies and win.”
The feeling is surely mutual.
"This was a long journey for us and we knew it would be hard, but we knew if we stuck together and trusted each other, we could win a championship," said Augustus amidst the postgame hoopla. "It's hard for me to put in words how I feel about these ladies, it was such a total team effort, all of us working together, that I'll never forget this moment."