PHoenix - Lynx veteran Lindsay Whalen won’t be the guard remembered for her magical Game 3 performance in the WNBA Western Conference finals.
Diana Taurasi stole that honor.
But behind the tears, consoling hugs and comforting words that Whalen offered her teammates in the locker room after Tuesday’s season-ending 96-78 loss to the top-seeded Phoenix Mercury at US Airways Center, she made one thing crystal clear.
Whalen has plenty of fight left after 11 professional seasons.
“I probably have more [fight] than when I came into the league,” she said. “I know now what it’s like to win and what it’s like to play in this league. It’s not just about the winning, but I know how great of a league it is and how much fun it is to be a part of great teams. You just don’t want it to end. You want it to keep going.”
The end to Minnesota’s three-year reign as Western Conference champion, highlighted by Taurasi’s 31 points and an 18-0 Phoenix run that began late in the third quarter with the scored tied at 67, wasn’t for lack of leadership on Whalen’s part.
The feisty 5-9 guard finished with 20 points (9-of-16 shooting), eight rebounds, six assists and three turnovers while matching wits with former league MVP Taurasi and a physical Mercury backcourt.
It was a microcosm of Whalen’s sterling postseason in which she proved to be the most consistent and unflappable player in the Lynx lineup.
“This entire season has been probably her best season, just keep us afloat throughout the season,” Lynx wing Seimone Augustus said. “And it kind of carried over to the postseason.”
Whalen kept Minnesota afloat in a first half that went Phoenix’s way but could have been much more lopsided than 50-42. She knocked down two three-pointers — matching her total made through the first 38 games this year — and poured in 14 points to answer the Mercury’s assault on the rim.
“I was there [at the arc] a couple of times, so I had to take them,” Whalen said.
Phoenix scored 56 points in the paint (36 in the first half) while placing a not-so-subtle emphasis on getting into the paint at any cost. The Lynx were more limited and content to play from the perimeter unless Whalen was creating creases.
Despite Phoenix’s height, namely 6-8 defensive player of the year Brittany Griner, Whalen proved again that she wouldn’t be detoured from penetrating and forcing the issue — or at least trying.
Until the fourth quarter, when the score got out of hand, Whalen was the confident voice and steady heartbeat of a team with a puncher’s chance. But her fighting spirit wasn’t enough this time.
“She’s unbelievable and I’m so grateful to play with [Whalen] and fight with her,” Maya Moore said. “She’s so genuine and brings her heart and soul every day and is always thinking about the team. She has a unique amount of talent, too. She works. And she puts the team on her back sometimes. She’s just inspiring to play with.”