At first, Shelley Patterson wanted no part of the comparison.
Patterson is an assistant coach for the Lynx, who just finished a dominant 7-0 run through the WNBA playoffs. Appearing in their third consecutive championship series, the Lynx swept Atlanta to win their second title.
Patterson was director of basketball operations for the Houston Comets in 1999, the year that team won the third of four league titles in a row. She saw the trio of Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson dominate. When the subject of WNBA greatness comes up, the early Comets teams are where the discussion begins.
So Patterson was asked to compare. Given how far the women’s game has come in the last decade-plus, how much more athletic the league is, given how dominant the Lynx were this season while taking back a title lost a year ago, if these Lynx played those Comets, who would win?
Or, stated more boldly: Have the Lynx joined the conversation when it comes to the best teams in league history?
Patterson initially hemmed and hawed, demurred. But, Thursday night?
“This team would win,” Patterson said of the Lynx, 80-22 in the regular season and 19-5 in the playoffs since the start of the 2011 season. “I don’t want to disrespect what the [Comets] did. But I will say that the game has grown so much. The sets we run, the game planning that we do for each game, the athletic level of the league? The Lynx would have to be one of the great teams in league history, at this point.”
Thirteen years removed from the last Comets title, the Lynx have their big three of Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. That trio has won multiple WNBA titles and Olympic gold. They and fellow All-Star Rebekkah Brunson have been a part of the past three Lynx teams and will be together going forward.
Already Minnesota is one of just four teams to appear in at least three consecutive championship series. Like the Los Angeles Sparks (2001-03) and the since-relocated Detroit Shock (2006-08), the Lynx went 2-for-3.
Is it time to start talk of a dynasty?
“We sure set ourselves up for it,” Moore said after Thursday’s victory. “We’ll see. I think we have huge potential.”
In mix for the best
ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo was there.
She was a rookie on the New York Liberty team that lost to the Comets in the championship of the inaugural 1997 season. She played against the great Comets teams and the Sparks teams that followed.
So where do the Lynx rank?
“It’s hard to say,” Lobo said. “I mean, think about it. Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper, with Tina in the post? They set the standard that every other team will be compared to. But, for this generation of WNBA teams, this Minnesota team is very, very good.”
And with the potential of joining the discussion of greatest teams. Lobo already puts the Lynx at least on a par with those great Sparks teams led by Lisa Leslie. And what if the Lynx win another title?
“Sitting at a bar, debating which was the best team? They’d be a part of it,” Lobo said.
So much has to happen. During a season in which several top players and top teams were hurt by injuries — Seattle, Phoenix and Indiana come to mind — the Lynx were lucky. They lost Augustus for three games with a sprained ankle and McCarville two games with a concussion.
So it takes some luck.
And then there is the league. The depth of talent is far greater than it was 10 years ago, so just getting to the playoffs — much less advancing to the finals — is tougher.
“Minnesota was the best team this year,” Lobo said. “Assuming you have your players coming back healthy, that nothing happens overseas, this could be the WNBA’s next dynasty.”
Under coach Cheryl Reeve, the Lynx have become both talented and ego-free. All five starters scored in double figures in the final two games of the title series, which speaks to the team’s willingness to share the ball.
And the team played with a toughness that perhaps it didn’t have last season while losing to Indiana. Indeed, it was the Lynx’s toughness that had Atlanta star Angel McCoughtry off balance all series.
Add in Sixth Woman of the Year candidate Monica Wright and backup forward/center Devereaux Peters, and the Lynx are a very deep, talented team that plays with remarkable focus.
Even so, Reeve wasn’t comfortable with a comparison to the great Comets teams.
“I think winning tonight puts us in the conversation to make those comparisons,” said Reeve, who was an assistant on the Detroit teams that won two titles in three seasons. “But I’m somebody who respects the past generation. I’m sure the game has changed. You know, bigger, faster, stronger. But Houston won four in a row. I think we can be in the conversation for maybe being the second-best team, right up there with L.A.”
And what about a dynasty?
“I don’t think you’re in position to talk about that until you win your third title,” she said.
The good news: The Lynx should be just about everyone’s favorite when next season starts.
As owner Glen Taylor said in the team’s champagne-drenched locker room Thursday: “We’re going to keep ’em together. So we’ll see.”