The Indiana Fever concluded their morning workout before Game 4 of the WNBA Finals with a contest. A half-court shooting contest that left players howling with laughter as they trash talked one another.
The Lynx contingent arrived on the court a few minutes later. Players exchanged their usual banter as they conducted interviews.
The mood around both teams could be best described as loose and relaxed, which would make sense if the occasion was a summer pickup game.
There was no hint of the tension that’s enwrapped their championship series.
“This is fun,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve noted.
Fun? Not stressful?
“It’s both,” Lynx star Maya Moore said.
Fun, stressful and a half-dozen other emotions appropriately define an even-Steven matchup that’s now reached a decisive Game 5 at Target Center on Wednesday.
Another word to describe this series: Compelling. Yes, very much so.
As a basketball fan — not necessarily a die-hard WNBA follower but a fan of the sport — this series has struck a chord and made me appreciate the wonderful display of high-end talent and effort by two teams that have brought out the best in each other.
Games 1-4 haven’t been wire-to-wire flawless, but the competition is hellacious. They’re knocking each other around like bumper cars. Anything good that happens is earned.
“Everybody gets a chance to really experience WNBA basketball at its finest,” Lynx veteran Seimone Augustus said. “When you have experienced players — Olympians, players that compete at the highest level every year — it makes for great basketball.”
Both teams have experienced a gamut of emotions, a defining characteristic of any championship series worth elevating above others.
Nothing has come easy because the teams seem to be as close as close gets. The Fever has scored 298 total points in this series. The Lynx have 295.
The two sides alternatively have looked like the better team, and intriguing story lines have framed those ebbs and flows.
Reeve offered a sharp critique of two of her most respected veterans — Lindsay Whalen and Augustus — after Game 1.
Fever coach Stephanie White offered a sharp rebuke of the officiating after Game 2.
Moore launched a three-point dagger at the buzzer in Game 3.
The Fever played like a team desperate to avoid elimination in Game 4.
Game 5 ties it all together.
“This has been one of the most exciting [Finals] in my memory,” said ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, a Hall of Fame player who has been part of the league since its inception. “It’s been the most competitive in recent memory for sure.”
That competitiveness serves as the best advertisement for a league still attempting to grow its brand. Reeve has used the phrase “eyes on our product” several times, mindful of a potential (and hopeful) ripple effect from an entertaining series.
Whether women’s basketball gets any bounce in attention from this showcase remains debatable, but that’s really not the point here. In a narrower view, we can appreciate this series for what it is — basketball being played at a very high level.
“It’s definitely been a fun series for people to watch and for us to play in,” Moore said.
The series has featured the best player in the sport (Moore), one of women’s basketball’s greatest ambassadors (Tamika Catchings) and a host of players who would be standouts on any team.
“There have been years where maybe you’ve had two [elite] players and the rest kind of role [players],” Reeve said. “Now? Goodness gracious.”
That depth in talent is a reflection of the growth of the sport at youth levels. Strength training, higher participation numbers and AAU basketball have fueled an upward flow of better talent.
“In terms of the athletic ability, there are better athletes on the court now,” Lobo said. “And overall, they’re more skilled because they started playing younger. Every player in this league watched the WNBA from the time they were a kid on.”
The next generation waiting in the wings has been treated to a first-class championship series. Same goes for all of us.
Two proud teams have displayed much tenacity in their quest for a title, with a winner-take-all game left to settle their score.
The champagne will taste mighty fine to the team left holding a trophy.