In 2005, the WNBA Finals moved to a best-of-five format, and in the 11 years since then, we’ve seen four Finals go the distance.
Thursday night will mark the fifth occasion, as the WNBA’s historic 20th season ends in style with a winner-take-all Game 5 between the league’s two best teams, the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks. Before that happens, however, let’s take a trip down memory lane to relive the four previous Game 5s.
|Katie Smith – G||Ticha Penicheiro – G|
|Deanna Nolan – G||Kara Lawson – G|
|Swin Cash – F||Nicole Powell – F|
|Cheryl Ford – F||DeMya Walker – F|
|Ruth Riley – C||Yolanda Griffith – C|
The first four games of the 2006 Finals were, frankly, not very compelling. All of the contests were decided by double digits, and three of them by 20-plus points, including Detroit’s 72-52 Game 4 victory in Sacramento to force Game 5.
After a competitive start to the matchup, Game 5 looked to be heading along the same path, as the Shock used a couple of triples from Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan–who played all 40 minutes–to help them go on an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter that extended their lead to 68-55.
And with just 1:05 remaining, the Shock remained firmly in control, up 78-69. Sacramento came out of their timeout inspired though, quickly getting an and-one layup from Kristin Haynie. Nicole Powell then capitalized on a Smith turnover, drilling a triple to bring the Monarchs within three points with 33 seconds remaining.
Katie Smith made up for her turnover on the previous possession, however, knocking down a jumper to put Detroit up 80-75 with 14.8 seconds remaining, which is how the game would end, giving the Shock their second title in franchise history.
|Diana Taurasi – G||Deanna Nolan – G|
|Kelly Miller – G||Elaine Powell – G|
|Cappie Pondexter – G||Swin Cash – F|
|Penny Taylor – F||Katie Smith – F|
|Tangela Smith – C||Katie Mattera – C|
For a second straight season, Bill Laimbeer’s Detroit Shock found themselves at home in a do-or-die Game 5 of the Finals. This time around, however, they wouldn’t be celebrating a championship when the final buzzer sounded.
Led by eight first quarter points from Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor, the Mercury jumped out to a 30-17 lead after the opening 10 minutes, and try as they might, the Shock never got back within single digits.
Taylor finished with a game-high 30 points–which included a remarkable 18-18 performance from the free throw line–Cappie Pondexter scored 26, and Taurasi added 17 as the Mercury won 108-92 to secure the first championship in franchise history.
|Diana Taurasi – G||Tully Bevilaqua – G|
|Tameka Johnson – G||Katie Douglas – G|
|Cappie Pondexter – G||Tamika Catchings – F|
|Lecoe Willingham – F||Ebony Hoffman – F|
|Tangela Smith – C||Tammy Sutton-Brown – C|
For the third time in four years, the WNBA Finals went a full five games, as the Phoenix Mercury returned to the Finals, this time facing the Indiana Fever.
The series was one of the most memorable the league has ever seen, as it started off with the highest scoring game in WNBA history, as the Mercury won 120-116 in overtime. Ebony Hoffman then won Game 3 for the Fever on a jumper with just under a minute remaining. Following the Mercury’s win in Indiana in Game 4, it all culminated with Game 5 back in Phoenix.
Similar to 2007’s Game 5, it didn’t take Phoenix long to take control, as they outscored Indiana 35-19 in the second quarter to take a nine-point lead into halftime. Unlike in 2007, the Mercury’s lead wouldn’t last; with 4:29 remaining, Tammy Sutton-Brown hit a jumper to tie the game at 80.
The game remained tight the rest of the way, as a Tamika Catchings layup with exactly one minute remaining made it 88-86 Mercury. That was the last basket the Fever would score as Penny Taylor hit two clutch free throws with 37 seconds left to extend Phoenix’s lead to 90-86. 20 seconds later, DeWanna Bonner sealed the game with two freebies of her own, and the game finished 92-86, giving the Mercury their second title in three years.
|Lindsay Whalen – G||Briann January – G|
|Seimone Augustus – G||Shenise Johnson – G|
|Maya Moore – F||Marissa Coleman – F|
|Rebekkah Brunson – F||Tamika Catchings – F|
|Sylvia Fowles – C||Erlana Larkins – C|
It would be six years until the league again saw a Finals series go the distance, and once again it featured a past WNBA Finals Game 5 participant. In 2015, the Indiana Fever–who finally got their first championship in 2012–were back in the Finals, and coincidentally, facing the team they had beaten three years previous, the Minnesota Lynx.
After being stunned by Maya Moore’s epic buzzer beater in Game 3, the Fever recovered to win Game 4 at home and force Game 5 back in Minnesota. Unfortunately for the Fever, that turned out to be a disappointing trip.
The Lynx defense stifled the Fever, holding them to just four points in the second quarter and eight points in the third to take a 19-point lead into the final quarter. It didn’t get much better for the Fever, as the Lynx held on for a 69-52 victory.