Practice Report: October 13
Sure, both teams came into the season with high expectations and were among the favorites to win their conference, but earning a berth in the last series of the year is never easy.
The defending champion Lynx made it to the WNBA Finals after tearing through the regular season with a 27-7 record, the best mark in the league. They then escaped with a narrow victory over the Seattle Storm in the Western Conference Semifinals before sweeping the Los Angeles Sparks in the Western Conference Finals.
So, on the surface it doesn’t seem like their title defense had too many bumps in the road. The team, however, would not agree.
“You started out with target on your back and I feel like every game we played, regardless of who we played, we got their ‘A’ game,” Lynx guard Seimone Augustus said. “It definitely was a lot tougher to get back here.”
“It’s been a really good year, a tough year with the ‘Defending Champs’ thing and knowing that you’re trying to repeat but everyone’s really going for you,” Whalen said. “It’s been a big accomplishment to get back to the Finals, and I feel like we take pride in the fact that we’ve made it back here. Of course, we still want to do more and have work to do, but it’s been a different year than last year because you did win, so just handling that has been something we’ve had to do and we have great coaches who keep us focused on each next game.”
Whalen went on to say that the team enjoyed their victory over the Sparks in the Western Conference Finals a few extra days because it was so meaningful to them as a team.
One of the biggest strengths of this Lynx team is continuity. All but two of the team’s key contributors from last year’s team returned and their camaraderie is evident.
“It’s a blessing to be back in this position, mainly because I have such a great team to play with,” Lynx forward Maya Moore said. “It’s been a very enjoyable ride and I think that’s why it’s been a truly great experience, because of my team. We’re so close now; we feel like we know what we need to do.”
What they need to do starts on Sunday in Game One of the WNBA Finals. It will be one of the final steps towards a goal that they have been striving for all season.
“Every year presents its own challenges and we have our own journey,” Moore said. “This year is no different in terms of wanting to fulfill our potential and winning a WNBA Championship. We’re so close and we really love to play with each other, so I think it means that much more to us trying to repeat.”
It hasn’t been easy for the Fever, either. Five minutes into Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals, their second-leading scorer and one of their most important leaders, Katie Douglas, went down with an ankle injury.
It would have been easy to think that their championship dreams lay right on the court with her. Instead, the team rallied – as they’ve come accustomed to this postseason – and blew out the Sun, 87-71, to reach the Finals.
For a team that won four straight win-or-go-home games in the playoffs after losing the first game of both of their playoff series, that kind of resiliency did not come as a surprise.
From there, though, it didn’t get any easier. And that’s not in reference to the impeding matchup with the Minnesota Lynx. It’s about travel.
“We went from Indiana to Boston to Connecticut to Rhode Island to Chicago and then here,” Indiana guard Briann January said with a smile, referencing the team’s travel over the past few days.
The team had to book last-minute flights out of Hartford, Conn. – not exactly LAX – and all the members of the organization actually had to break into three separate groups to travel to Minnesota.
“It took us all day to get here,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said.
This Fever will not make excuses, however. They’re not going to make excuses about stopovers just as they’re not going to make excuses about Douglas going down. In fact, Douglas’ injury gave the team a chance to show off its deep bench.
“To everybody else (Thursday’s win over Connecticut) might have been unbelievable, but we know what our bench has,” January said. “We know we have one of the strongest benches in the league, everyone on our team is able to go out there on the court and produce at any time and it was great to have the opportunity to show how deep we really are.”
In what only seems appropriate for this team, the Fever – waiting with the nervous patience of a passenger on stand-by at Chicago O’Hare – do not know if Douglas will be able to play in Game One or at any point in this series. Once again, they are not fazed.
“We’ll prepare as normal with or without Katie,” Indiana guard Erin Phillips said. “She is a huge part of these team and we’d love to have her on the court…and just for Katie herself, she deserves to be here playing in these Finals. She wants it really badly, but if she can’t go, we’ll have to do what we did in Connecticut and everyone will have to take it up take it up another level.”