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Practice Report: Experience and Grit Have Minnesota Primed For Another Championship

In 24 hours the entirety of the women’s basketball world will turn its attention to Minnesota as the Lynx and Sparks take part in the exhilarating culmination of the league’s historic 20th season.

The Sparks had a chance to win their first championship since 2002 on Sunday, but Maya Moore and her 31 points had other plans.

Now, after 40 minutes of play and potentially some extra on Thursday, the Lynx could tie the Houston Comets dynasty that started the WNBA with four straight championships with four of their own. A win would undoubtedly cement this group as one of the best franchises in the history of the game.

Before the winner-take-all showdown, Minnesota hit the practice floor on Wednesday to work out some last minute kinks and again devise a plan to shut down L.A.’s dueling MVPs, Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker.

“I think both teams are really good defensively. Both teams are really good at taking out one another’s top options. You’re going to have to find other ways to manufacture other opportunities, and that’s what we saw Maya do really well in that game,” said Coach Reeve on Wednesday. “I don’t coach Parker, so I don’t really know. I mean, I’ve watched her system, and we’re playing against her system, but I don’t really know what’s being asked of her. For us, we just try to make sure Parker or anybody else that we make life difficult for them.”

Containing Parker and Ogwumike should be priority number one for Minnesota on Thursday. In the two Lynx wins in this series they’ve held the duo to an ineffective 17-for-42 shooting from the field. It’s been a collective effort from guards to bigs, a style of play that’s been a staple of Reeve’s Lynx squad’s since taking over in 2010.

One benefit to the series going to a decisive Game 5 was that the team was awarded a three-day layoff to get their bodies right, and reflect on what worked well en route to the Game 4 victory.

“We’re rested. I did little things here and there to get my body ready,” said Maya Moore. “Whenever we can play with that much energy and are locked in on defense, we give ourselves a great chance to win the game. We still have areas we want to clean up, but people made big plays on both sides of the ball. That resiliency is something that is fun to be a part of. When everybody takes their moment to do what they need to do for the team, it’s really fun and rewarding.”

Moore and the rest of the Lynx had little time to bask in their Game 4 glory though as they had to immediately refocus and turn their attention to Thursday. Another advantage this team has is that they’ve been here before, exactly one year ago in fact.

The squad won the 2015 championship over the Fever in dramatic Game 5 fashion and will have that experience to pull from before tip-off tomorrow. “It feels like Game 4 times 10. It’s a stressful game, man,” said Sylvia Fowles. “That’s something that we can refer back to when our backs our against the wall. I would rather go to war with these ladies than anybody else.”

“We’ve played in a Game 5 so we know what it feels like but it’s a new season and we have to be ready to go tomorrow night. That’s all that we’re focused on right now,” echoed Lindsay Whalen.

Just like in 2015,  the pivotal Game 5 will take place inside the raucous confines of the Target Center, and in front of some of the most passionate fans the W has to offer.

“It’s going to be an electric atmosphere and we are so excited to play,” said Moore. “The last home game we had was awesome. I’m expecting everyone to give everything they have just like we will. With the combination of our fans and we doing what we need to on the court, that’ll create some special memories tomorrow.”

While Wednesday’s practice was necessary these teams know what to expect from one and other, they’ve now played a total of seven times if you count their three regular season matchups. Thursday is just as much about who wants more as it is about who runs the better sets.

“Tomorrow is going to be very gritty. Nothing is going to come easy. You just have to be focused on what you’re out there doing and making sure we don’t make as many mistakes. Just doing what we do well, and that is just play and have fun,” said Fowles.

As this season reaches its apex it’s more than fitting that the Final playoff series has gone the distance. These two teams are definition of evenly matched, and vied for the top spot in the standings all regular season. The new playoff format worked to perfection as a matchup that would have only been for the Western Conference championship is now the true determiner of which team is the best in the league this season.

“You definitely couldn’t ask for more. It’s been a dramatic series. One that will definitely go down as one of the best,” said Moore. “It’s been really fun and hard. To have a chance to end it here on our home court, that’s all we could really ask for. We worked hard all season to put ourselves in this position. We want to put everything we have into Game 5.”

“We needed this. With the new playoff format, we didn’t know how it was going to pan out, but it panned out well. The league has the two best teams playing each for a championship,” said Seimone Augustus on Wednesday. “This is what we’ve all been waiting for.  It’s been great basketball from Game 1 to Game 4. We just expect the same in Game 5.”

The basketball has been great. It’s been thrilling, compelling, and well-executed from start to finish in these Finals. But now it’s time to crown a victor. Both the Lynx and Sparks are left with one game to make their lasting mark and etch their name into the record books as 2016 WNBA champions.