If Lindsay Whalen wasn’t retiring, and if Sunday night’s game didn’t have a good chance of being her last home game as a player in Minnesota, Sylvia Fowles would have been the center of attention at Target Center.
With a weak-side tip to herself for a rebound and a putback basket in the fourth quarter of the Lynx’s victory over Washington, Fowles set the WNBA single-season rebounding record. She finished with 404, providing a couple of pertinent reminders to the league as the Lynx prepares for a one-game playoff on Tuesday at Los Angeles.
Reminder No. 1: Fowles is the league’s reigning MVP and reigning Finals MVP, and is not one of the Minnesota players nearing retirement. She remains a powerhouse player in her prime.
Reminder No. 2: For all of the Lynx’s stumbles this season, this team has two of the past four league MVPs, in Fowles and Maya Moore, and Fowles on Sunday adeptly handled what has been her biggest challenge this season.
Fowles has faced increasingly varied double-teams, and too often has found herself frustrated. Sunday night, she attacked the rim as soon as she touched the ball and shot 10-for-12 from the field, for 26 points and those 14 historic rebounds.
Fowles owns two of the five most prolific rebounding seasons in league history, and will require greedy hands and sharpened elbows on Tuesday.
The Sparks-Lynx rivalry is heated. The teams have played five-game series to determine the past two league championships; now they will play a one-game playoff, essentially skipping to Game 5.
Recently Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said this of her team’s near-decade of championship play: “It wasn’t going to last forever.”
True. Whalen was not at her best this season, and eight days ago was benched for the first time since her league debut in 2004. The Lynx finished 18-16 as their problems were exacerbated by a compressed schedule and improved competition in a league packed with talent.
Now they are the seventh seed in the playoffs, trying improbably to win a fifth title in eight seasons and for the first time repeat as champions.
They will need to win two one-off playoff series just to get to the league semifinals. Fowles can dramatically improve their chances if her offensive game is as efficient as her always-reliable rebounding.
“Syl had a nice game today,” Whalen said during her postgame speech. “We got Syl in 2016. We knew what kind of a center we were getting, what kind of a post player, but I don’t think we knew we were going to be getting one of the nicest people on the planet.
“Syl’s the real MVP.”
Syl could use some help. The Lynx have said for years that Rebekkah Brunson is the team’s hidden superstar, and their play without Brunson this season has proved that true. If Fowles can dominate inside and Brunson can return from her concussion to play defense and help with rebounding on Tuesday, the Lynx could turn back the clock.
Brunson was able to sit on the bench and speak at Whalen’s ceremony. Those might not be signs that she’s ready to play, but she was able to handle light and noise, an indication she may be getting closer.
“Something really cool happened for Sylvia Fowles along the way tonight,” Reeve said. “Setting the single-season rebounding record is really quite impressive.”
To everyone but Fowles, who said, when asked what the record meant: “Nothing. Maybe tomorrow. Talk to me about it tomorrow. Today is all aboutWheezy. I dedicated everything toWheezy.”
“Wheezy” is Whalen’s nickname. Reeve said she’s heard Fowles use that sentence a lot lately. “Syl cares about everybody so much,” Reeve said. “Syl in particular wanted to send Lindsay out in a particular way, and that’s what you saw tonight. Syl knows that she’s got some control over how that turns out.”
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org