The basketball gods couldn’t have scripted this any better.
The two best teams throughout the regular season for the last two years in a row, coming together in a clash of historical reverence. Two teams that have a history that is not the prettiest, but has been highly entertaining. For one of these teams, they will tie a hallowed record (4 championships - Houston Comets, 1997-2000), for the other...they will go home with their heads hung in disappointment.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are talking about the participants for the 2017 WNBA Finals: the Los Angeles Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx.
Here, we’re going to take an in-depth look at this year’s finals and share some fun facts.
LOS ANGELES SPARKS
The Sparks (26-8) are the defending champions, and as of right now, are the team to beat. The most recent update from Vegas Insider has the Sparks as a 7 to 5 favorite to win the Finals, while the Lynx have 5 to 8 odds. Yet, by listening to the team, they are treating this just as they would any other series.
Los Angeles head coach Brian Agler, who has now led the Sparks to two Finals appearances in his three years with the team, hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about getting back to the Finals. However, he recognizes how special it is to be on this stage.
“It feels great. This has been one of those years where I really hadn’t thought much about it, just trying to keep our team focused and trying to get better,” Agler said. “For the most part, we’ve had some injuries here and there, but we’ve stayed somewhat healthy, which helps us, other teams haven’t been that fortunate.
“But we know that there’s a lot of good teams in this league, so to be one of the final two standing we feel like we’re worthy of that, but we also feel fortunate to have the opportunity to go play.”
One player who is definitely stoked about going to the Finals is Odyssey Sims, who was traded to the Sparks in the offseason from the Dallas Wings. Appearing in her first-ever Finals after three years in Dallas, Sims has proven to be the fuel that sparked LA’s three-game sweep over the Phoenix Mercury, doubling her scoring output from the regular season (18.3 ppg from 9.6).
“It feels good, I can tell you that much. I’m still speechless, I have to let this all soak in,” Sims said. “This is a great opportunity, I’m so excited, I have some of the greatest teammates I’ve ever played with and I couldn’t have done it without them. Individually and collectively as a team, they stay on me and they push me every possession of every game.
“That’s the biggest thing, we stay together. And going into the finals, we just need to take it one game at a time and see what happens.”
For the Sparks, however, they will go into this series having to prove that their win last year wasn’t just luck on their side. Of the three wins, only their game 3 win (92-75) was convincing, and the other two came on an Alana Beard buzzer beater (game 1) and the most controversial call in Finals history (game 5). That being said, the Sparks did win the season series over the best team in the league, and looked strong in doing so.
FACTS ON THE GO:
Los Angeles has won 10 straight games going into the WNBA Finals, the most of any team in league history going into a WNBA Finals series. The Sparks also finished in the top 2 in offensive and defensive rating, behind their Finals counterparts. In their three appearances in the WNBA Finals, the Sparks are 7-2, with two sweeps in 2001 and 2002 (then led by Lisa Leslie and head coach Michael Cooper).
The Lynx finished with the best record in the league (27-7) for the sixth time in the last seven years, are appearing in their sixth Finals appearance in that span, have the best regular season record during that span (182-56), and for the eighth time during their postseason run, have swept an opponent en route to the Finals.
Yet they are being looked at as the underdogs.
After floor leader Lindsay Whalen went down with a broken bone in her hand, the Lynx went 4-5, proving that even this superior lineup had kinks in its armor. However, they still finished the season with three straight wins, clinching the best record in the league. And it’s not like the Lynx are bereft of talent.
Maya Moore (2014) and Sylvia Fowles make up two of the last five MVP's. The duo, along with Seimone Augustus (2011), have won the Finals MVP in three of the last six years. Head coach Cheryl Reeve has cultivated an environment where winning is no longer a welcome surprise (two playoff appearances in their first 12 seasons), but it is the GOLDEN RULE.
The Lynx, however, did show that they are prone to lapses, as the Washington Mystics were able to show this postseason. Minnesota head coach gave a lot of praise to the fairly young Mystics squad, which fought through some serious injuries and only had two players with significant experience in the postseason.
"This is a team that didn’t have most of their team together for a big stretch of the season. What concerned me was that the longer they played the better they were getting," Reeve said. "Mike Thibault is one hell of a coach, they challenge your schemes in every possible way. Just look at what they did, I mean they found their identity on the glass, they were good during the regular season but they went another level at the end of the playoffs."
What kept the Lynx together was their ability to bounce back into focus, which starts with their floor leader in Whalen.
Seimone Augustus made it no secret who the team looked to when they needed a fire lit underneath their feet.
"Yeah, Whalen is our emotional leader. I mean, obviously, most of you have been at practices and stuff, when she gets fired up, whether we're in practice or the game, it really changes the momentum of our team, the mentality, how aggressive we become, the intensity," Augustus said. "We always say, when Whalen cusses and spits, you best believe the Lynx are probably about to go on a run or something good is about to happen.
While the Lynx are being looked at as underdogs, they are nowhere near ready to cower and run. Their offensive and defensive ratings were the best in the league, and not only outscored and outrebounded their opponents, but they have the one thing no other team besides one in league history (Houston Comets) can claim to have: four potential future Hall-of-Famers in their starting lineup.
FACTS ON THE GO:
The Lynx have outscored their opponents every season since 2011 (their biggest differential was 11.2 in 2017 - 85.4 ppg to opponents' 74.2). Their two number one draft picks, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus, have combined for 12 All-Star games, six All-WNBA Second Team honors, and five All-WNBA First Team honors.
Two teams fighting for history and overall league supremacy. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2017 WNBA Finals.