When the Minnesota Lynx met the Atlanta Dream in the 2011 WNBA Finals, the Lynx swept the series in three games.
When the teams meet in this year’s Finals, which begin Sunday, the Lynx will be aiming for a sweep of the entire postseason.
Minnesota plays host for the first two games, Sunday and Tuesday. Atlanta will be home for Game 3 on Oct. 10 and Game 4 (if necessary) on Oct. 13. If a decisive fifth game is needed, it would be at Minnesota on Oct. 16. ESPN will air Game 1 before ESPN2 broadcasts the remainder of the series.
The Lynx posted the league’s best regular-season record (26-8) and backed up their dominance in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Minnesota swept the Seattle Storm in two games, then knocked out the Phoenix Mercury in two games in the Western Conference finals. MVP candidate Maya Moore said those series have no bearing on the Lynx in the Finals.
“This is a tough league. A window of opportunity in the playoffs is so small. One game can make the difference because the series is so small,” she said. “The race being as tough as it was I think speaks to the depth of our league which is awesome.
And that’s the beauty of championships versus individual awards. Championships, it’s anybody’s game. It’s up in the air, that’s why. It’s so compelling to watch the playoffs. I love the fact that it’s not always a shoo-in for the team that’s got the MVP that’s going to win the championship. I think that just speaks to the level of the WNBA and the talent that we have and the great quality of teams that we have and the fight of some of the teams and the big plays that people make to try to propel their team to a championship.”
The Dream limped into the playoffs with a 17-17 record after losing their final four regular-season games, but they edged Washington two games to one before sweeping the Indiana Fever for the Eastern Conference title.
The finalists split two regular-season meetings, the Lynx winning 94-72 at home on July 9, and the Dream prevailing 88-75 at home in the Aug. 20 rematch.
Moore, a rookie during Minnesota’s 2011 title season, is now the top scorer on a team has four players averaging in double figures. Moore averages 18.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
The Lynx, the league’s highest-scoring team at 82.9 points per game, also feature the 2011 Finals MVP, guard/forward Seimone Augustus (16.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg this season); guard Lindsay Whalen (14.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.8 assists per game); and forward Rebekkah Brunson (10.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg).
In addition, reserve guard Monica Wright scored a team-high 22 points in the Lynx’s July rout of the Dream.
Atlanta’s scoring isn’t nearly as balanced.
Guard/forward Angel McCoughtry averages 21.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Forward/center Erika de Souza is the team leader at 9.9 rebounds per game, and she contributes 12.9 point. Guard Tiffany Hayes is Atlanta’s third-leading scorer and rebounder at 11.3 and 3.7, respectively.
McCoughtry said the difference in the postseason has been the regular and significant contributions from Aneika Henry.
She’s been playing well in these series, and she’s been rebounding the ball well, scoring well,” McCoughtry said. “They’re probably going to leave her to try to double. So I look for her to be confident, shoot the jumpshot or take it to the basket. That’s the main thing. But I think Aneika Henry is the one that’s stepped up and shown us she’s ready to play in these games.”
Hayes and McCoughtry combined for 42 points when the Dream topped the Lynx in August.
“I don’t think can you really look at the season,” McCoughtry said. “You’ve just got to refocus and try to get this game going. Really defensively is what’s going to make the difference.”
Moore and the Lynx are back in the Finals for the third year in a row; they lost 3-1 to the Indiana Fever in last year’s title series. For Moore, an unusual set of circumstances could allow her to capture a WNBA championship on the same floor where she won three high school state crowns.
While playing for Collins Hill High School in suburban Atlanta, she guided the team to three Georgia Class 5A state titles, all culminating with win at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga.
With Disney on Ice scheduled for Phillips Arena the week of the WNBA Finals, the Dream was forced to move its two home games to the Gwinnett Center, which is 28 miles northeast of Atlanta.
“Each year is its own journey,” Moore said after the Lynx captured the Western Conference title. “We have some new faces that haven’t had the experience that our leaders have. Some of us middle-aged players, three, four, five years, it’s really exciting to feel that energy from some of them who haven’t been at this stage yet. It’s refreshing. It’s fun for all of us.”
Atlanta hopes to experience a new feeling: winning a WNBA title. In addition to the Finals loss to Minnesota in 2011, the Dream was swept in the 2010 title series by the Storm.
“I’ve been through so much,” said McCoughtry, a five-year veteran. “It means so much more when you can get to this point after what you went through.”