MINNEAPOLIS – Before the start of this year Sylvia Fowles had already left an indelible mark on the WNBA. She was a three-time All-Star, WNBA champion, and Finals MVP.
Over the course of her 10-year career she emerged as one of the preeminent bigs in the league as a whole with an arsenal of post moves that left her virtually unguardable on game nights. But still, her trophy case lacked what every great player wants, and needs to be considered truly one of the best, a league MVP award.
What did she do about that in 2017? She put up 18.9 points on a league-high 65.5% shooting from the field, 10.4 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and even dished out 1.5 assists per game. She paced the Lynx to the league’s best record and when the dust settled on the 2017 regular season there was no other option than to reward her with her first WNBA MVP award.
Now, on the eve of yet another WNBA Finals Game 1 for the 6’6″ center from LSU, her regular season success will take a backseat as all eyes including her own are focused on another piece of hardware.
“I had my moment,” Fowles said after Minnesota’s final practice ahead of Sunday’s clash at 3:30 on ABC. “I was happy with what I did throughout the regular season to get that award, but now it’s a whole new chapter for me. I did a good job in the season but now my focus is solely on the postseason and getting it done here.”
While her regular season was prolific in many ways, Fowles knows better than most that what you do in the regular season both individually and collectively as a team has no bearing on what the future may hold in the postseason. Although she did play a pivotal role in the 2015 championship team in Minnesota she also felt the bitter taste of defeat on the Lynx’s home floor last season.
Before she became MVP this year, @SylviaFowles won #WNBAFinals 2015 MVP in lifting Minnesota to its 3rd title!
GM 1: Sun., 3:30 pm/et, ABC pic.twitter.com/qsRNDKn2nM
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 22, 2017
“At this point we’re not thinking that it’s a rematch or of last season but if you would have caught me before the start of this season then yes,” Fowles said. “I think I carried a lot of that weight overseas with me when I played and I made a promise to myself that it was going to be a clean slate and I wasn’t going to carry it anymore — it’s too much heartache and too much to think about anymore. I’m over the rematch thing and I’m ready to get this year’s started.”
One inevitable road block in Fowles’ way to another chamionship will be fellow dominant big, Nneka Ogwumike. The 2016 WNBA MVP put together another impressive regular season leading the Sparks in scoring at 18.8 points per game while also nabbing 7.7 rebounds per game. In the Sparks’ three postseason games thus far she’s averaging a double-double with 15.3 points and 10 rebounds per game.
The matchup down low will test both players will and be a de facto clinic on effective post play as both can create their own shot with a bevy of crafty moves around the rim.
“I’m going to have be smart, Nneka is strong, athletic and very agile,” Fowles said when asked about the impending duel with Ogwumike. “I’m going to have stay out of foul trouble and make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing to stay out on the floor.”
Fowles does hold a four inch height advantage over Ogwumike but Nneka’s ability to use her smaller frame to her advantage and maneuver her way around the court to get open looks is part of what makes her such a force on the floor. She’s going to test Fowles’ agility as she has so many times before.
Game 1 won’t be played at the Lynx’s usual home, the Xcel Center, or even the Target Center, where they’ve played many times before. Williams Arena, the site of Game 1 on Sunday, has become like a second home for the Lynx and it’s expected to be an electric environment.
“Our fans do a really good job of making this feel like home,” Fowles said. “When we played the semis here they filled the gym so it feels like home because I know our fans will be here rooting us on. I’m hoping it gets crazy on Sunday it gets pretty loud in here. Our fans are crucial, when you’re trying to get that extra possession and you’re tired but you hear them you find inside yourself push a little harder.”
The reigning MVP will look to give Lynx fans everywhere a reason to keep the atmosphere eletric no matter how many games this series ends up going. She did it time and time again in the regular season so now, with the stakes being that much higher, Fowles will again be the focal point of what she and the Lynx hope is another championship run.