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Roundtable: Five Questions Heading into Game 5

Every question surrounding these epic WNBA Finals will be answered once the ball is tipped off on Wednesday night in Minneapolis (8 PM ET, ESPN 2).

Until then, here are five more to ponder heading into the winner-take-all Game 5:

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What’s been the biggest story of the Finals so far?

Anthony Oliva: The level of play. Through four games, this has already been one of the best played WNBA Finals of all-time. Of course Maya Moore’s game-winner and the attention it received from seemingly everywhere is the headline, but all four games have been intense and close. We’re heading to our first Game 5 since 2009, but this series has been an exclamation point on an already exciting WNBA season.

Josh Zavadil: Level of competition. The WNBA Finals 2015 presented by Boost Mobile have been one of the best in recent memory, due in large part to the down-to-the-wire, high intensity contests. Maya Moore’s game-winning buzzer beater with 1.7 seconds left will go down in WNBA history as one of the biggest shots – especially if the Lynx win the title Wednesday night. Expect Wednesday’s game to be another close one, full of runs, big shots and late-game heroics.


Brian Kotloff: Everything Maya Moore has done. Anytime you can get shoutouts from Chris Paul and Prince in the span of an hour, you’re the biggest story of the Finals. Maya has turned into the most fascinating figure in this series — a true superstar in her prime with a chance to already stamp her place among women’s basketball’s all-time greats. And her Game 3 game-winner may have been the biggest moment in WNBA history in terms of sheer reaction from the basketball world (and beyond). Putting Moore’s “legacy” up against Tamika Catchings’ has reminded me of the LeBron vs. Dirk Nowitzki/Tim Duncan battles we’ve had on the NBA side.

Who is your MVP through four games?

AO: Maya Moore for the Lynx and Briann January for the Fever. When it comes to Moore, it’s an obvious choice. She is averaging a series-best 22.5 points per game and has the series’ most iconic shot with her game -inner in Game 3. For the Fever, there are a few legitimate options, but January beats out players like Marissa Coleman, Shenise Johnson and, of course, Tamika Catchings. January has averaged 16.0 points per game and has hit countless big shots for Indiana, whether they are late in the game or to slow a building Lynx run.

JZ: For Indiana, it’s tempting give Tamika Catchings the honor of MVP simply because she’s Tamika. But the fact of the matter is her teammates have performed better than she has in each of the four games. Has she left an indelible mark on each game? Sure, but it’s been Briann January, Marissa Coleman and Shenise Johnson who have really stepped up. If the series ended today, my MVP vote would go to Briann January. She’s averaging well above her season average in points per game, and she’s orchestrating the Indiana offense extremely well. On top of that, she’s been a vocal leader defensively and has been phenomenal at limiting Minnesota’s guard impact.

For Minnesota, the answer is simple. It’s Maya Moore. She’s averaging the most she’s ever averaged in a WNBA Finals series, and if the Lynx pull off the Game 5 win, her iconic buzzer beater probably would have been enough to sway voters in her favor (the only other likely candidate being Sylvia Fowles). A second WNBA Finals MVP would put Moore in good company. Cynthia Cooper holds the record with four WNBA Finals MVP honors, but a second for Moore would put her in a tie for second with Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson. Oh, and that’s just in her fifth year in the league.

BK: How could it not be Maya Moore? She’s been the most consistent player in this series. The Lynx have needed every one of her 90 points, even if they haven’t come with her usual efficiency. It’s hard to be relied on to score 20+ points every game, especially in a series with two great defensive teams who are as familiar with each other as these teams are. Moore has gotten it done and is the No. 1 reason this series is tied right now.

On the Fever’s side, it’s been Briann January. Her perimeter defense is vital to what Indiana does, and she has raised her offensive effort to another level for all four games. The January-Whalen matchup appeared to be pivotal heading into this series, and January gaining the upper hand so far has in turn given the Fever the upper hand. If they manage to steal another game in Minnesota to win this series, you can bet that January will play a huge role.


What will be the X-factor in Game 5?

AO: Indiana’s Marissa Coleman. Nothing quiets a rowdy crowd like an opponent knocking down a clutch three-pointer and only Maya Moore has hit as many threes this postseason as Coleman (both have hit 21). Coleman, who made her first All-Star Game this season, has established herself as one of the league’s best deep threats and with a shooter like the 6-foot-1 wing, the Fever certainly have a puncher’s chance at taking a Game 5 on the road.

JZ: Bench impact. Both teams have benefitted from big games from their bench during the series. In Game 4, it was Natasha Howard, Shavonte Zellous and Layshia Clarendon who came in and made an impact for the Fever. Minnesota has been the beneficiary of guards Anna Cruz and Renee Montgomery’s defensive pressure, as well as their confidence offensively. Every time each team’s respective bench has stepped up, they’ve emerged victorious.


BK: I would say home-court advantage, which the Lynx earned as the West’s best team during the regular season. But Minnesota’s 91-14 home record doesn’t hold much weight here, considering its two most recent losses came against the Fever in the WNBA Finals (Game 1 last week; Game 1 in 2012). So I’ll say Sylvia Fowles. She needs to reestablish herself as a dominant presence inside, as she was in Games 1 and 2. With the way Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen have been limited, I’m not sure the Lynx can win if she doesn’t.

The Fever will win if…

AO: They rebound and take care of the ball. Obviously winning the glass and turnover battle are major facets of the game, but they are even more important for the Fever who will be playing in front of an energized Target Center crowd. Nothing ignites a run or seems to snowball quicker than when a team is generating extra possessions, and if the Fever allow the Lynx to go on one big run like that, it could give them a lead they might not relinquish.

JZ: … their starting lineup continues to be effective on the perimeter. The Fever were the best three-point shooting team in the league during the regular season, and when they’re knocking down the three ball they’re hard to beat. On the flip side, Minnesota has struggled from deep in the series. A good shooting effort from 16-23 feet will be huge, especially if Sylvia Fowles is on the floor dictating what Indiana is able to do when it attacks the basket.


BK: … they win the battle at the three-point line. This series has been so tight, with such a small margin for error, that Game 5 may come down to the all-too-simple question of “make or miss.” Of course, the Fever are known to spread the floor with shooters and force misses with hounding perimeter defense, so they can certainly take matters into their own hands. So many factors will decide this series, but a point swing beyond the arc in either direction could go a long way.

The Lynx will win if…

AO: They defend the perimeter. The Fever have averaged five 3-pointers per game so far this series and the deep ball could be the great equalizer for the road team. Additionally, Minnesota’s Game 2 win was jump started by the perimeter pressure of Maya Moore, Anna Cruz and Renee Montgomery. If those three make it tough for the Fever to get into their offensive sets, their offense has a tendency to be stagnant.

JZ: … they take care of the “little things.” Both teams have had a game or two where they were left bemoaning the fact that they didn’t take care of the ball, hit their free throws, make the right rotations and other small details that loom large in the WNBA Finals. Minnesota’s lapses when Indiana went on its run in Game 4 made the difference, whether it was a turnover, a missed read or a late rotation. But they’ve shown that when they lock in and focus on the details, they’re incredibly hard to beat. Minnesota will win the title if they clean up the little things and pay attention to detail.

BK: … Maya Moore gets strong support. Minnesota needs someone — anyone — to step up as a secondary scorer to lighten Moore’s load. They got it in Game 2 from Sylvia Fowles and in Game 3 from Anna Cruz and Renee Montgomery off the bench. But that may not be enough if the well-rounded Fever bring their A-game. In a do-or-die situation, the Lynx need one of their other three stars to shine. Of course, that’s only option A. Option B is “if Maya Moore goes into legend mode and drops 30+.”