Since first meeting for training camp last spring, the Lynx have used a buffet approach when it comes to motivation.
You know, a little bit of everything.
After the WNBA draft, when the league pushed rookies Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins, the Lynx reminded us not to forget veterans Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen. As the season began, and pundits were making their predictions, the Lynx noted how few folks were picking them to win a league title.
But more than anything, what has stuck in their collective craw is what happened in last year’s finals, when the Lynx — defending champions — were dispatched in four games by underdog Indiana. So, ever since the final game of that series, the Lynx have been looking forward to this.
Minnesota has advanced to its third consecutive championship series, this time against Atlanta. The Lynx are looking for its second title.
“I think a lot of the fire that we have, the motivation we had coming into this year, has a lot to do with what happened last year,” Augustus said, while waiting with teammates after their return flight from Phoenix and then being greeted by fans at the airport.
“It doesn’t get old,” Augustus said of going to the finals. “It just gets better, like wine. Each experience has its own journey and is different. The first one will always be our best one, the one we’ll prize the most, because it was the first one. Last year? Mmmm. Growing experience. Learning experience. This year is redemption, getting back what we feel is rightfully ours.”
It won’t be easy. After an up and down season Atlanta is playing very well, with its quickness and stellar interior defense.
The best-of-five series opens with games Sunday and Tuesday at Target Center.
The next two games would be in Georgia. But because of a scheduling conflict, the Dream will not be able to play in Philips Arena, its normal venue. Instead the games will be played at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, in Duluth, Ga., a northern suburb of Atlanta. Moore, who went to high school at Collins High School in Gwinnett County, hoisted three state title trophies in that arena.
The Lynx would like to lift a trophy there, too.
“It gets harder each time,” said coach Cheryl Reeve, who was an assistant on the Detroit Shock, the last team before the Lynx to reach three consecutive WNBA championship series starting in 2006. That Detroit team won in its first trip, lost to Phoenix in 2007 but returned to win it all in 2008. So Reeve knows what she’s talking about.
“That’s what makes it so gratifying to [return],” she said. “The first one to climb is so special, but staying on top is the challenge of it. Now we have to finish the job. That’s what is on our minds, more than anything. You can’t win a championship unless you’re in the finals. We’re in position now to do it, to get our goal.”
With a week between games, Reeve told her players to take two days to celebrate before the team gets back to work Wednesday. Among the big plans was a marathon Grand Theft Auto-playing party at Augustus’ place. The Lynx will return to practice Wednesday and do some skill work, followed by extended video viewing.
The Lynx and Dream split two regular-season games, but the Dream has gotten hot in the playoffs, with star Angel McCoughtry moving to the power forward position and the team ramping up its defense.
“Just to get back here is an accomplishment,” said Whalen, who is playing in her fifth championship series in 10 league seasons. “But we know we have a lot of work to do yet.”