Tamika Catchings

Lynx capture 3rd title in 5 years with 69-52 win in Game 5

Leave a comment

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) With a sweltering defense and a yearning to celebrate in front of their loyal fans, the Minnesota Lynx turned a tense WNBA Finals into a runaway.

Sylvia Fowles had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Lynx captured their third championship in five years with a 69-52 victory over the Indiana Fever in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

Seimone Augustus added 16 points and Rebekkah Brunson grabbed 14 rebounds for the Lynx, who also won it all in 2011 and 2013. Maya Moore scored just five points on 1-for-8 shooting, but the Lynx defense forced 21 turnovers and held Indiana to 35.7 percent shooting in the league’s first Game 5 since 2009.

Tamika Catchings had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Fever, who were looking for their second championship.

Finally, the Lynx got to celebrate on their home court.

They won their first two titles on the road in Atlanta, forcing the success-starved Twin Cities sports fans to revel from afar. When the final buzzer sounded, a franchise-record 18,933 fans waved white towels while Prince watched from a suite above Target Center’s lower bowl.

And celebrate they did.

Augustus shed tears of joy after a throwback performance. Owner Glen Taylor hugged Cheryl Reeve, and Moore leaped on to the scorer’s table and pumped her fists toward the crowd.

“The way we grinded together, a lot of things happen throughout the season that people don’t even know,” Augustus said. “We kept grinding and working despite everything that we’ve been through.”

It was a stunning collapse for the previously unflappable Fever, who had staved off elimination five straight times in these playoffs leading into Game 5.

January and Catchings helped turn Indiana into a tough, confident bunch that erased an 18-point deficit to beat the New York Liberty in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, but finally ran into a wall they couldn’t break through at the boisterous Target Center on Wednesday night.

In the second and third quarters, the Fever scored 12 points total and turned the ball over 17 times.

Star guard Briann January scored six points in the first quarter for Indiana, but didn’t get her next bucket until six minutes were gone in the third quarter. She finished with 13 points on 6-for-15 shooting.

The game got off to an ugly start, with the Lynx slugging out a 27-21 lead at halftime in the lowest-scoring first half in finals history. Neither team could hit a shot or hold on to the ball, and Moore was held to just three points on 1-for-5 shooting.

The Lynx kept the defense set to stifling in the second half, but finally started to generate a little offense in the third to gradually pull away.

Fowles, who was named series MVP, had her way inside as she did for much of the series and finally got some help from Augustus, who chipped in a vintage jumper and drive before Renee Montgomery turned the 20th turnover of the game into a layup just before the third-quarter buzzer that pushed Minnesota’s lead to 19 points.

In a community that has suffered through so much sports heartache over the last two decades, the Lynx have cemented themselves as a welcome respite. The record crowd that turned out for Game 5 got to watch a star-studded team that has become the league’s gold standard finish off one of the most impressive five-year runs in WNBA history.

Four finals appearances. A championship every other season starting in 2011. And on Wednesday night, a little revenge that was three years in the making.

The Fever stunned the heavily favored Lynx in 2012, beating them at home in Game 1 and finishing them off back home in Indiana to dethrone the champions. The Lynx came back to win it in 2013 before losing to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals last year.

The march to their third championship was harder than ever, with stars Lindsay Whalen and Augustus missing big chunks of time with injuries and a style-altering trade that brought Fowles to the post midseason.

Reeve said the struggles made her veteran core appreciate this run more than any other, and they partied like it.

“It was a piece of cake,” Reeve deadpanned before getting choked up. “I’m just so proud.”

WNBA Finals between Lynx and Fever go to decisive Game 5

Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) It’s only fitting these WNBA Finals are going the distance.

“It’s absolutely been a great series,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Four really, really hard fought games. Why not go to a Game 5? It’s been that good of a series. It’s one of those things that people like to see. I think it’s good for the game. Good to have eyes on our product right now because there’s a lot of great things to watch and a lot of great people out there putting it all out there.”

This is the first time since 2009 the league’s championship has gone the full length. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Minneapolis, where the Fever won Game 1.

“It gives us confidence knowing that we’ve been able to win on the road all season long,” Indiana coach Stephanie White said. “We’re happy to be playing another day.”

Indiana won 75-69 on Sunday night in Game 4. As they’ve done all postseason, the Fever found a way to stave off elimination. Indiana is 5-0 in the playoffs this season in elimination games. Starting with their run to the franchise’s lone title in 2012, the Fever are 9-2 in elimination games.

The only other series to make it to a fifth game since the WNBA started playing best-of-five in 2005 were in 2006 and 2007. History may be on Indiana’s side. The team that won the championship in all three of those series lost Game 3.

Maya Moore, who hit a buzzer-beating shot for the Lynx in Game 3, can appreciate what this series has meant.

“It’s been a fun one to watch,” she said. “Especially the last few games have been very fun from a fans standpoint. Lots of great things happening, players making plays. If I was to say where do I want to finish my season, it would be at the Target Center.”

Now the Lynx return home with a chance to win their third title in five years. Only the Houston Comets won more in a similar stretch when they took the first four WNBA championships. The Lynx won their previous two titles on the road, in Atlanta in 2011 and 2013. They’ll have a chance to win one in front of their home fans.

“Great opportunity for us and our fans who have been with us all season,” Moore said. “That’s the beauty of it. Be ourselves at homes. We have a really good chance if we do that.”

Tamika Catchings has been a huge reason for the Fever’s postseason run, seemingly willing them to victories.

“This was a great series for the WNBA, great for women’s basketball,” Catchings said. “It’s great it’s on TV and so many people are locked into this that have never seen a WNBA game. Never been interested in women’s basketball. Basketball is basketball. You can’t deny there’s great competition on both sides. Great plays on both sides of the ball. It’s only fitting that we go to Game 5. We’ll go to Minnesota and the place will be loud. That’s what you play for.”

Catchings announced before the season she will retire after the 2016 season. She has spent her whole career in Indiana, getting to the title series three times. She was on the team that lost to Phoenix in Game 5 in 2009.

“We’ve been very blessed as an organization to be able to make the playoffs 11 years straight,” she said. “But making it to the finals, out of 11 years, we’ve only been there three times. So this doesn’t happen every single year, and every game you have to take advantage of your next opportunity.”

 

Fowles, Lynx pull out tense Game 2 to even WNBA Finals 1-1

Leave a comment

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Sylvia Fowles and the Minnesota Lynx walked off the court after Game 2 of the WNBA Finals standing tall, responding with an aggression and desperation that was sorely needed after losing homecourt advantage in the opener.

Coach Stephanie White and the Indiana Fever finished the night crying foul after star Tamika Catchings was limited to 24 minutes of playing time.

Fowles had 21 points and nine rebounds and the Lynx evened the best-of-five WNBA Finals at one game apiece with a 77-71 victory over the Fever on Tuesday night.

Fowles, who turned 30 on Tuesday, made 10 of 13 shots. Maya Moore added 19 points and eight boards for the Lynx, who are looking for their third championship in the last five years.

“I think we learned some things and we showed some grit,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Indiana was going for that knockout with the second win on the road. I appreciated our resilience.”

Briann January scored 17 points and Catchings had 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists while struggling through foul trouble for the Fever, who nearly won their second straight game on the road to open this rematch of the 2012 series won by Indiana.

“This game was a bloodbath,” White said. “I’ve never seen a player, of Tamika Catchings’ caliber get so disrespected in my life. Never. And to me that’s a travesty. That’s a travesty. ”

Reeve spent the day between Games 1 and 2 publicly chiding the officials for allowing Indiana’s defenders to get so physical with guard Lindsay Whalen. She wouldn’t comment on if she received a fine for her remarks, but the rookie coach White said Reeve the veteran showed her how to control the narrative.

Catchings had two fouls in the first 5:30 of the game and picked up her fifth with 4:13 to play in the third quarter and the Fever up by eight. When she went to the bench, the Lynx pounced.

Just 2 for 7 in the first 25 minutes of the game, Moore scored six points in under two minutes, assisted on two more buckets and grabbed a key rebound off of a missed free throw to spark a 17-5 run that closed the third quarter and gave the Lynx a 63-59 lead.

“First and foremost, I learned a valuable lesson today,” White fumed. “I learned that it pays to go public with comments about officials. Who would have known that.”

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Reeve said, “I cannot comment on the officiating.”

Moore scored eight of Minnesota’s 14 points in the fourth quarter, two on technical fouls given to Shenise Johnson and Marissa Coleman that helped the Lynx hold off the Fever.

“We just lost focus,” Catchings said. “As a team we lost our poise, we lost our composure. We’re too good for that. We’re too good of a team to let things like that deter us in what we’re trying to do, trying to accomplish.”

Game 3 is Friday night in Indianapolis.

“It’s going to be a dogfight, just like it has been these first two games,” Moore said. “It’s set up to be a very entertaining Game 3. Both teams are very hungry.”

Seimone Augustus scored 11 points on 5-for-14 shooting and the Lynx outscored the Fever 21-8 on second-chance points after losing that category 22-12 in the opener.

While the rest of her team struggled through the first 24 minutes, Fowles stood tall in the paint. She made nine of her first 11 shots and held down the fort before Moore got going.

“Sylvia’s a beast,” White said. “She’s one of those players … that the only person who limits her is herself. With that body, with that athleticism, with how quickly she gets up in the air, she should dominate.”

Catchings was playing in her 64th career playoff game, tying Taj McWilliams-Franklin for most in WNBA history.

Despite the loss, the Fever return home for Games 3 and 4 with the chance to close out the series without having to come back to Minnesota.

“I’m very frustrated with how the game went, but more so because I wasn’t on the court,” Catchings said. “As a great player, you should never be sitting on the bench. You should never put your team in a situation where they have to play without you. So I’m frustrated and you better believe I’ll be ready.”