Minnesota now can stake a claim to 10 pro basketball championships. The Minneapolis Lakers won six titles from 1948 through 1954. The Minnesota Lynx won their fourth WNBA title since 2011 on Wednesday night with an 85-76 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks.
The Lakers won those half-dozen titles in the Mikan Era. The Lynx have won their four titles in the Maya Era.
We don’t want to be first-name sexist here, but mention Mikan to basketball people and you automatically think of George, and mention Maya to the same crowd, and you automatically think of Moore.
On Wednesday night, the Lynx were in a rematch with the Sparks, a team that had defeated them in five bouts to win the 2016 title. The Lynx were rather peeved — particularly coach Cheryl Reeve — about a blown call near the end of the decisive fifth game in Minneapolis.
This time, the final would not be played in Target Center, since the long-running, $140 million remodeling will not be unveiled until the Timberwolves open at home on Oct. 20.
The Lynx spent all summer playing on a court at the hockey arena in St. Paul, then they were moved to Williams Arena for the playoffs. Reeve and peeve rhyme for a reason, and she added being moved to a second alternate arena to her complaints.
Reeve’s unhappiness was not shared by Lindsay Whalen, the former Gophers great and immense fan of The Barn. She assured teammates that they were in for a tremendous experience playing on the elevated court.
The first four Barn games — two victories over the Washington Mystics in the semifinals, a split with the Sparks last week to open the finals — drew respectable crowds.
Yet, it wasn’t until Wednesday’s title-deciding fifth game that the Lynx not named Whalen were able to experience The Barn — as it was experienced in the 1980s when Trent Tucker and Darryl Mitchell were winning a Big Ten title, as it was when Bobby Jackson and compadres were winning the same in the magnificent winter of 1996-97, and as it was experienced by Whalen and her teammates in regional victories over UCLA and Kansas State on the way to the 2004 Final Four.
The crowd was announced at 14,632, an absolute sellout, and they weren’t lying like most teams and promoters lie about attendance. It was full to the back rows upstairs, with most fans wearing the gray T-shirts they found draped over the seats and benches.
Brian Agler, the original coach of the Lynx and now with the Sparks, analyzed the matchup succinctly after the game: It was the “quickness and mobility’’ of his team vs. the “power and structure’’ of the Lynx.
The advantage was with the power most of the night, as the unstoppable Sylvia Fowles muscled and reached for 20 rebounds, and gave the Lynx another immense advantage (46-29) on the boards.
Moore was sitting at the interview table 45 minutes after the game, when Fowles’ rebound total was mentioned. “Twenty,’’ she said, shaking her head and staring wide-eyed at Fowles. “Twenty!”
The Lynx had powered to a 79-67 lead with 2 ½ minutes left. Then, out of nowhere, the Sparks smacked the Lynx with a 9-0 run and it was 79-76 with 35 seconds left.
The crowd’s cheering turned to gasping. Reeve called a 20-second timeout. What were the Lynx going to do?
Fowles was monstrous, and Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson and Whalen were relentless, but this was game time. The Lynx were going to look for Moore.
“They got the ball to her,’’ Sparks star Candace Parker said. “I tried to make it difficult for her. I tried to mess her steps a little. She made a tough shot.’’
Whalen offered a winner’s view: “She made the runner at the free-throw line, and that’s why she’s Maya Moore. And that’s why we like her on our team.’’
Whalen was with the Lynx for one season before Moore arrived from UConn as the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2011. At that point, the Lynx had been operating for 12 years and had one playoff victory. On Wednesday night, they won the 40th playoff game of Moore’s seven seasons, and a fourth WNBA title.
How did Maya enjoy an evening in a full Barn?
“Unbelievable,’’ Moore said. “It was just deafening … so loud. It helped us, to have people show up as they did. Our fans, they didn’t take anything for granted.
“Just when you think it can’t get any better, we create a new memory in the House that Weezy [Whalen] Built. I’m just happy the way we did it. No questions, it’s clear that we were the best team this year.’’