The Minnesota Lynx have reached their unprecedented fifth WNBA Finals — all in the last six years — are chasing their record-tying fourth WNBA title and could become the first WNBA team to repeat since 2002.
How did they get here? Here is Minnesota’s path to this year’s Finals:
May 14: Open Season By Crushing Phoenix
The Lynx opened the season against their rivals, the Phoenix Mercury, who were the GMs’ preseason pick to win the 2016 WNBA championship. But despite the Mercury being bolstered by the return of Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor, the Lynx cruised to a 95-76 victory behind 27 points and 10 assists from Maya Moore. Though no one knew it at the time, that win turned out to be strong foreshadowing of what was to come this season.
Exactly a month after taking care of business against the Mercury, the Lynx were still undefeated and welcomed the Indiana Fever to town for a rematch of the 2015 WNBA Finals. Like the Mercury game on opening night, the outcome in this matchup wasn’t in doubt long, as Minnesota crushed the Fever, 87-63. With the win, the Lynx moved to 11-0, setting a new WNBA record for the longest undefeated streak to start a season. Not surprisingly, the record they broke was their own, as they went 10-0 to start the 2012 season.
A week after the historic win over the Fever, the Lynx were still undefeated, and once again preparing for a historic matchup. This time it was an afternoon affair with the Los Angeles Sparks, who also entered the game without a loss. With the Lynx 12-0 and the Sparks 11-0, it was the first time in any professional sports league that two teams with undefeated records and at least 10 wins had met.
The game turned out to be worthy of its billing, as the two talented teams battled until the final buzzer. With the game tied at 69, Renee Montgomery drilled a three-pointer from the corner to give the Lynx the lead with just 2.9 seconds to go. Down on the other end, Kristi Toliver’s last-second heave went in, but was ruled to have come after the buzzer.
With the win, the Lynx moved to 13-0 on the season, which is where their undefeated streak would end, as they lost to the Sparks in a rematch a few days later.
Just under a month after the historic win over Los Angeles, the Lynx were back to making history. Riding a four-game winning streak, the Lynx made quick work of the Atlanta Dream, dispatching them 83-65. The win moved them to 20-4 on the season, clinching a playoff spot and giving them 20 wins for the sixth straight season, matching the Sparks for the longest such streak in WNBA history.
Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and coach Cheryl Reeve all made the trip down to Rio for the 2016 Olympics, and they all came home with gold. It was the third gold for Augustus and Fowles, and the second for Moore and Whalen. As for Reeve, it was her first trip to the Olympics.
If there were any questions about how all that extra play would affect the Lynx after WNBA play resumed, those were answered by Minnesota going 7-2 after the break — tops in the league — to finish the season 28-6.
September 11: Clinch Top Overall Seed With Win Over Stars
On September 11, the Lynx traveled down to San Antonio to take on the Stars. It was a much closer contest than expected, but the Lynx walked away with a 81-76 victory. They also walked away with the top overall seed in the 2016 WNBA Playoffs, which gave them a double bye under the new playoff format and home court advantage throughout the postseason.
October 2: Sweep Rival Mercury in Semifinals
After all the drama throughout the season and the changes to the playoff format, the Lynx still met their longtime rivals, the Phoenix Mercury, in the playoffs. It was the fifth time in six years that the two sides met in the playoffs and the second time in a row that the Lynx eliminated the Mercury. And just like in 2011, 2013 and 2015, it was a sweep.
How the Lynx Were Built
While Minnesota’s championship run began in 2011, the seeds of the dynasty were planted in 2010. In addition to hiring head coach Cheryl Reeve away from Detroit, the Lynx also traded for hometown hero Lindsay Whalen (giving up the first pick in the draft and Renee Montgomery, who has since returned to the Lynx) and selected Rebekkah Brunson in the Monarchs dispersal draft.
But at the same time, the team’s franchise player, Seimone Augustus, was recovering from an ACL tear that ended her 2009 season after just six games and had to undergo surgery to remove fibroid tumors from her abdomen and lower back, which further delayed her return to the court. The Lynx finished the season at 13-21 and missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season. Although their season fell below expectations, it did come with a silver lining as the Lynx had the second-highest chance of winning the upcoming Draft Lottery with UConn superstar Maya Moore as the clear-cut top pick.
On Nov. 2, 2010, the Lynx won the draft lottery and in April of 2011, they selected Moore with the first pick to add a rising star to a veteran team poised to compete for a championship. With Whalen running the show, Augustus back to full strength, Brunson in the post, Moore ready to elevate her game at the pro level and Reeve on the sideline, the Lynx had their championship core in place and later that fall brought the first basketball championship to the Twin Cities since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles back in 1960.
The center position has evolved over the years with Taj McWilliams-Franklin there for the first title, Janel McCarville in the middle for the second and mid-season acquisition Sylvia Fowles dominating the paint in 2015 on her way to winning Finals MVP honors. But in addition to the starters — with four members of the Lynx starting five being named to the U.S. Olympic team this year — Minnesota boasts a bench full of talent that is ready to step in and produce when Reeve calls upon them.
Seimone Augustus: Selected with 1st overall pick in 2006 Draft (April 5, 2006)
Rebekkah Brunson: Selected with 2nd overall pick in 2010 Dispersal Draft (December 14, 2009)
Anna Cruz: Acquired in trade with New York along with No. 16 & No. 35 picks in 2015 WNBA Draft in exchange for No. 11, No. 23 and No. 28 picks. (April 16, 2015)
Sylvia Fowles: Acquired in three-team trade involving Atlanta and Chicago along with Chicago’s 2nd round pick in 2016 WNBA Draft in exchange for Reshanda Gray and 1st round pick in 2016 WNBA Draft (July 27, 2015)
Keisha Hampton: Signed as free agent (March 30, 2016)
Natasha Howard: Acquired in sign-and-trade deal with Indiana in exchange for Deveraux Peters (Feb. 2, 2016)
Janel McCarville: Acquired in three-team trade involving New York and Tulsa along with Tulsa’s 2nd round pick in 2014 WNBA Draft in exchange for Candice Wiggins (March 1, 2013)
Renee Montgomery: Originally selected with 4th overall pick in 2009 WNBA Draft (April 9, 2009). Reacquired in trade with Seattle along with a 2nd round pick in 2016 WNBA Draft in exchange for Monica Wright (July 20, 2015)
Maya Moore: Selected with 1st overall pick in 2011 Draft (April 11, 2011)
Jia Perkins: Acquired in trade with San Antonio in exchange for draft rights to Jazmon Gwathmey (April 14, 2016)
Lindsay Whalen: Acquired in trade with Connecticut along with 2nd overall pick in 2010 WNBA Draft in exchange for Renee Montgomery and 1st overall pick in 2010 WNBA Draft (January 12, 2010)