Watch Lindsay Whalen for a quarter, for a game, for a season, for more than a decade and you think: Tough.
How many times have you seen it? Whalen, with that signature glide move, bounding down the lane, absorbing abuse, scoring? Whalen, ball in her hands, lending calm to a chaotic situation? Whalen, face impassive, running the show for a Lynx team about to play in its third consecutive WNBA championship series?
Whalen always seems to know when to shoot, when to drive, when to pass, how to win.
And it makes you think …
“Intensity,” teammate Seimone Augustus said the other day after practice. Augustus was talking about Whalen’s role on a very, very good team — one filled with great players, Olympians, veterans and leaders.
“I think: Gritty. ‘Wha’ is one of the toughest, grittiest point guards I’ve ever played with. Stone-willed, determined, smart. She knows when to push, when not to push. Just a brilliant player who plays within herself.”
Fans in Minnesota, of course, have known this for more than a decade. Before Whalen was playing for the Lynx, she was in maroon and gold over at Williams Arena. It was Whalen who took a moribund Gophers basketball program by the neck and thrust it into the Final Four.
It is Whalen who will be playing in her fifth WNBA Finals in her 10-year career come Sunday, who had perhaps her best regular season ever, who will be asked to run the show against a very athletic Atlanta team.
So, we’ve seen it.
She has a knack for knowing what her team needs, the ability to deliver it. Augustus, the 2011 WNBA Finals MVP, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner, the best player in franchise history, calls Whalen the heart and soul of this team.
And the most recent example of that came in the Lynx locker room in Atlanta after an 88-75 loss Aug. 20 when Whalen turned to fellow captains Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson and said, “I let you guys down.’’
More to the story
This is the part of Whalen the public doesn’t always see. Fans see stoicism; teammates see witticisms, the rituals. Whalen leads the team’s raucous pregame ritual. She is the one who does a little dance step for Brunson after every practice ends, before giving her a hug.
In the Lynx’s series-clinching victory over Phoenix last week, a game the Lynx won despite Whalen’s 1-for-12 shooting performance, she came to the bench during a timeout, looked at coach Cheryl Reeve and noted with humor, “I’d be pretty good if I could make a shot.’’
But just a few weeks ago, Whalen wasn’t joking.
The Lynx had just lost to the Dream in Atlanta in what everyone agrees was the low point of the season. It was the team’s fourth loss in five games.
“It was the valley, if you will,” Reeve said. “There was adversity. We were getting some islands on the floor rather than getting together and getting stronger.’’