WASHINGTON D.C — Elena Delle Donne’s team, set out to prove something to the league this season: they can ball with the big cats.
Until Washington was outscored 21-14 in the third quarter and 22-17 in the fourth, the Mystics had a fighting shot against mighty Minnesota.
“We don’t look forward to games like this,” said Sylvia Fowles.
But mediocre stamina won’t cut it against Maya Moore ripping up the hardwood. Reaching the WNBA semifinals for the first time since 2002 is an incredible feat for the capitol, but if you don’t make your shots efficiently, the MVP Fowles will eat you alive.
“We're one of the best teams on the offensive end as far as scoring the basketball and that's just a matter of not turning the ball over, giving them easy baskets on the other end or difficult situations for us they have to defend, them pushing the ball in transition,” said Seimone Augustus. “Once we were able to clean that up, like [Sylvia Fowles] said, coach said, the luxury of our team is we can go to anyone at any given time.”
Washington’s steamboat had docked before Minnesota even gassed up for a run. Their first half offensive explosion, only surmounted a one-point lead into the locker room – and that was all Delle Donne’s doing.
“What the Mystics brought to this series, just crashing the boards and making it hard all three games, it was something different,” explained Fowles. “They did it in different ways and so I think they gave us a different look every night and we looked forward to the challenge and challenged ourselves to go out there and getting it done.”
“We have taken our first step and hopefully the next step will be a big leap too and that a year from now we’ll figure out how to get farther in this,” said Washington Head Coach Mike Thibault. “I’m proud of them, they did a lot of great things and they have nothing to be ashamed about.”
And while, Washington has nothing to hang their heads about, it was inevitable, they weren’t able to keep up with the endurance — and heart of Minnesota. For a team that’s playing for back-to-back-to-back spots in the Finals, they are so seasoned, so confident, Minnesota knows how to do something extremely well: finishing out the fourth quarter like a powerful sprint, that would make Usain Bolt envious. Enough to rise from retirement.
“At halftime we asked Seimone [Augustus] to give a little bit more and get more involved offensively because she has been the key to the series and she took that to heart. It really was impressive, made some shots, played some defense and then obviously Sylvia Fowles went to work down there, it was crowded down there and she just persisted and found other ways to score other than just set plays and I think that was the key to our success,” said Minnesota Head Coach Cheryl Reeve.
“Hustle plays, offensive rebounds, ducking in and I just thought overall, we were pretty hard to play against.”
Sprinting to that Finals finish line, is exactly what Augustus, Moore and Fowles did, to book the Lynx’ sixth trip to the WNBA Finals in seven years. Minnesota will make a run at title number four within that seven-year stretch, and it’s the “hurry up and wait” strategy, that should carry them through the thick of postseason.
“We just played an unbelievably great team and hats off to them for being as good as they are,” Thibault recalled. “You can see the experience that they have. This is a team that has learned to play together and they have great players and have figured it out. They have poise.”
The race isn’t over just because the dust has settled. And if these Minnesota veterans have learned through many playoff trials and tribulations, it’s taking advantage of opposing weak spots, and playing those tactical elements to their advantage until the clock runs out.
Augustus summarized it best:
“If we can take care of the ball, it's difficult for any team to defend us."
After taking the semifinals series 3-0 over Washington, Minnesota will host Game 1 of the WNBA Finals next Sunday against 2016 Champion Los Angeles. Deja Vu, anyone?
Most importantly, will they be able to win this race – and end up in first place this time?