We’re all missing basketball right now. I think that goes without saying.
It’s incredibly easy to turn to pessimism while we’re constantly waiting for the next COVID-19 update, wondering when our lives will return to normalcy. In past crises, sports were our constant.
The world of sports can’t provide us with new games right now — the safety of players, coaches, in-game staff and fans is a much higher priority. But we can still get our daily dose of optimism by recalling the nostalgic moments we once united over.
During these times, I’ve found myself re-watching the greatest moments in Minnesota sports history, most of which were provided by the Minnesota Lynx who currently hold the longest streak of playoff appearances in the WNBA.
In that streak, the Lynx have won four WNBA titles, which ties them for most championships with Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson’s Houston Comets. Not too shabby.
The Lynx have provided fans with a full time capsule of fond memories. Here are the top five playoff memories I keep returning to when I need a quarantine pick-me-up.
(Editor’s note: Of course the championship celebrations are favorites, but those were too easy of selections. Instead, we’re remembering the moments that lead to the hoisting of the trophies.)
5. Sylvia Fowles’ 20-Rebound Performance In Game 5 of Finals Against Sparks (2017)
Footage of players grabbing rebounds typically doesn’t end up on highlight reels. Unless, of course, that player is Sylvia Fowles.
We were all well aware of Fowles’ greatness heading into Game 5 of the 2017 Finals. Before that memorable series against the Sparks, Fowles had already been named a five-time Western Conference Player of the Week, a three-time Western Conference Player of the Month and an All-Star, made her way onto the All-Defensive First Team, and was declared the league’s MVP less than a month before the Finals.
And yet, Fowles still did the unthinkable in Game 5 of the Finals.
Fowles recorded a double-double of 17 points and 20 rebounds and added four assists, two steals and three blocks to her final stat line of her near-perfect season.
Sometimes monstrous stat lines such as Fowles’ lose their significance once they’re compared to that of their opponents. That wasn’t the case for Game 5 Fowles.
Fowles shot 6-for-10 from the field while Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker, her two primary defensive assignments, shot a combined 12-for-23 and were held to 18 rebounds (15 of which came from Parker).
Fowles’ brilliance was highlighted by her ability to track down rebounds while keeping track of her opponents in the meantime. You won’t find many instances where Fowles attempts to grab a rebound and turns her back to an opponent only to have them swoop in behind her and complete an easy put-back. She’s way too savvy of a defender to allow that to happen.
Her defensive IQ was matched with an imposing physical presence that deemed the paint her territory. Whether she was beating a guard to a spot, blocking the floater they resorted to after being bodied by Fowles near the rim or out-dueling her fellow frontcourt players, Fowles was unstoppable.
When the Sparks cut Minnesota’s lead to five in the final 30 seconds of the game, Fowles did what she does best by grabbing a long rebound from a missed 3, securing the ball, and heading to the free-throw line where she sealed the Lynx’s fourth championship.
Fowles, who only recorded three fouls in the highly-physical game, showed her composure throughout the Finals and showed us that she could become the next leader of the dynastic franchise.
4. Rebekkah Brunson’s Game-Saving Steal In Game 2 Of Finals Against Sparks (2017)
Like Fowles’ rebounds, Rebekkah Brunson’s game-saving steal in Game 2 of the 2017 Finals is probably an unconventional highlight to go back and re-watch.
But if you’re a big fan of poised defense, this one is for you.
After an uncharacteristic botched pass by Seimone Augustus, the Sparks, who were down 70-68, had 12.4 seconds to tie or win the game. In the Sparks’ final possession, Odyssey Sims started with the ball at the top of the key and found Chelsea Gray who was turning off a screen set by Candace Parker. Gray managed to make her way past Augustus but was met by a helping Brunson who stripped the ball from Gray without fouling.
Maya Moore recovered the loose ball, and the series was tied at 1-1.
Brunson’s late-game poise and defensive wit aren’t shocking, but they deserve some greater context.
Heading into Game 2, Brunson was coming off a 2-point, 3-rebound performance in which she shot 1-for-6 from the field, didn’t earn a trip to the free-throw line and recorded a plus/minus rating of minus-22. She averaged 27.9 minutes per game in the 2017 playoffs but only earned 15 minutes, 54 seconds of court time in the Finals opener.
But knowing Brunson’s competitive drive, we all should have known she wouldn’t be hanging her head for long.
Brunson quickly returned to her trademark archetype of a fighter and recorded 12 points, three rebounds, three assists, three blocks and one Finals-changing steal.
What would have happened had Gray made a play and given the Sparks a 2-0 series lead? Thanks to Brunson’s comeback, we’ll never know.
3. Seimone Augustus’ 36-Point Performance In Game 2 Of Finals Against Dream (2011)
Given Augustus’ free-agency departure, this re-watch is extremely bittersweet.
The Lynx won the first game of their 2011 series against the Atlanta Dream, 88-74, and were just two games away from clinching their first WNBA title. They were riding a 5-1 postseason record before this game and could taste the fruition of their franchise’s rebuild.
However, they had to go through Angel McCoughtry first.
McCoughtry led the Dream to a 58-50 halftime lead after scoring 24 points on 8-for-9 shooting from the field and by hitting both of her 3-point attempts. As a team, the Dream were shooting 59.5% from the field. I’ve got a feeling Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve wasn’t too happy about that.
At the break, Augustus, who cashed in 19 first-half points, was the only Lynx player with more than eight points.
Given how McCoughtry was playing, it would have been easy for the Lynx to fold and hope for a better team performance in Game 3, but Augustus wouldn’t allow for that outcome.
Money Mone led all scorers with 17 points in the second half and left all of Target Center with this type of astonishment.
McCoughtry finished with a game-high 38 points and a WNBA record for most points in a Finals game that still stands today. Augustus’ 36 points may not have topped McCoughtry’s 38, but I’m guessing she’s OK with being second on the all-time Finals scoring list since she and her team took first in 2011’s championship run.
Minnesota claimed a 101-95 Game 2 comeback win and an eventual 3-0 Finals sweep. Augustus was named the Lynx’s first Finals MVP, and her Game 2 performance was even more significant considering how her 2009 and 2010 were derailed and shortened due to a torn ACL and fibroid tumor surgery. Her 2011 season will go down as one of the greatest comeback seasons in sports history.
Augustus may not be a part of the Lynx’s foreseeable future, but she will always be a key component in the Lynx’s past, which laid the foundation for what the franchise is today.
2. The Perfect Postseason (2013)
There’ve only been two WNBA teams who’ve recorded undefeated playoff records in a three-round postseason with a best-of-five Finals series, and your Minnesota Lynx are one of them.
The Houston Comets became the first WNBA team to complete a flawless postseason run in 1997 and 2000, the Sparks won all six of their playoff games in 2002, and the Seattle Storm were crowned the 2010 champs after becoming the first team to sweep the playoffs once the Finals were expanded to a best-of-five series.
The Lynx repeated the feat 13 years later by defeating the Storm 2-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals, going 2-0 against the Phoenix Mercury 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals and completing the sweep with another 3-0 Finals series against the Dream.
Let’s try to grasp just how difficult such an achievement is.
The Lynx played three games on the road and didn’t drop a single game where they didn’t have a homecourt advantage. Their closest road game came against the Seattle Storm in the Western Conference Semi-Finals when they defeated the Storm by three points at Tacoma Dome thanks to more heroics from Augustus. They went on to defeat the Phoenix Mercury by seven points at US Airways Center and concluded their playoff run with an 86-77 win over the Atlanta Dream in Game 3 of their Finals sweep.
They posted four double-digit wins, including two blowout wins in Games 1 and 2 of the Finals and recorded an average margin of victory of 15.4 points.
The 2013 playoffs probably weren’t the most enjoyable postseason for non-Lynx fans given the lack of drama, but here in Minnesota, we’ll always be up for re-watching that clobbering.
The Lynx’s responded to their 2012 3-1 Finals loss to the Indiana Fever was what set them apart from the rest of the league, and at the time, they had yet to add future MVP Sylvia Fowles to their roster. Sheesh.
1. The Shot (2015)
If you have yet to re-watch Maya Moore’s 2015 Game 3 Finals buzzer-beater since sheltering in place, you might want to reconsider your quarantine regimen.
Plays like Moore’s game-winning shot include everything we’re missing about sports right now.
First, of course, we get the suspense. With the game tied, Lindsay Whalen was tasked with inbounding the ball with just 1.7 seconds remaining in Game 3. Moore’s initial inability to break away from Indiana’s Tamika Catchings and Marissa Coleman only adds to the play’s greatness.
Next comes the amazement. Moore caught the ball in front of Coleman, gave a pump fake, took one dribble to the right and managed to get off a 3 with 0.1 seconds to spare. Mind you, this wasn’t some wild, how did that go in? shot. In just 1.6 seconds, Moore created just enough space and released the type of jump shot you show to young players when teaching them what ideal shooting form looks like.
I mean, come on. How on Earth did she do that?
Finally, Moore and her teammates’ celebration provides us with that mixed feeling of both relief and joy that only comes after a racing heart is settled by a desired outcome. Even if the feelings are brief, we could all benefit from reliving the comforting moments such as Moore’s shot during these uncertain times.