A question: Can a crowd, a big crowd, a frenzied crowd, both roar with joy and breathe a sigh of relief at the same time?
It happened Wednesday night at Williams Arena, around 9:30 p.m., when Maya Moore wound into the lane and hit a 6-foot runner.
That’s when the Los Angeles Sparks’ frenzied last-second run ended. That’s when the Barn, filled with 14,632 fans, started making so much noise that it was almost painful.
Leading from start to finish, fending off every Sparks run along the way, the Lynx sealed their legacy.
They won Game 5 of the WNBA Finals 85-76, pulling away after the Sparks cut the lead to three points with a late flurry. They became the second franchise in league history with four championships, winning their fourth in seven seasons. Those four titles match the Houston Comets, who won the first four titles.
So, with 8.3 seconds left, Lindsay Whalen was at the free-throw line, about to score the final two points of the game, her final points at her beloved Barn.
“It’s like a movie,” said Whalen, who scored 17 points. “It’s surreal. I didn’t want to get too hyped up before. I knew I had to stay focused. Forty minutes. But I was standing at the line and I had to take a couple seconds. I know how precious this is. We brought another one home for Minnesota.”
They did it in classic Lynx style. With defense. With grit. And, for the second game in a row, by beating the Sparks up on the boards.
Center Sylvia Fowles scored 17 points and had a Finals-record 20 rebounds while winning her second Finals MVP award. It was her up-and-under layup midway through the fourth quarter that stopped another Sparks run that had brought them within four. It also fouled out Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks’ star center.
To Fowles, it’s all she could do. For a year she’d been haunted by the memory of last year’s last-moment loss to these same Sparks in Game 5, when she fell down while Ogwumike scored the game-winner.
“I wanted to come in and show my presence,” Fowles said. “And if that was rebounding, then rebounding it was.”
Rebekkah Brunson became the first player in WNBA history with five championship rings; she scored the game’s first four points and finishing with 13 and eight rebounds. Moore had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Seimone Augustus had 14 points.
The Lynx outrebounded the Sparks by 17, scored 19 second-chance points. They brought the energy early, never trailing.
And if the Sparks had runs at the end of every quarter? None of those runs went far enough to overtake the Lynx.
“This one was so hard,” Moore said. “I know I’ve never worked harder. In a playoff series. On or off the court. And it just feels so good to do it.”
The final run came after Augustus’ fadeaway with 2:32 left put the Lynx up 12. Over the next two minutes, turnovers and misses led to a 9-0 Los Angeles run that ended with Odyssey Sims’ three-point play with 34.9 seconds left, cutting the lead to three at 79-76.
Enter Moore. She hit that 6-footer. Sims missed a three-pointer and Fowles pulled down rebound No. 20.
Over. The Sparks, looking to become the first repeat champs in 15 years, were done.
And the Lynx?
Dynasty. “You can say it,’’ Moore said. “You are absolutely allowed. Yes, sir. No question.’’
Said Augustus: “First team I watched play was the Houston Comets. They motivated each and every one of us just to be here. But here we are. Speaking in the same breath as Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper, that great Houston team.’’
Coach Cheryl Reeve, soaked in champagne, refused to say which of the four titles was the most, well, precious. And she wasn’t talking dynasty. “When it’s all done, when they all retire, use any word you want. Right now, we’re still working.’’
Whalen, in the plastic-lined locker room, clutched two bottles.
Precious, for the former Gopher.
“I never drank champagne in the Barn before,” she said. Then she smiled: “Not that anybody knows about, anyway.”