Sunday afternoon in Minnesota, the dream matchup between the WNBA's two superteams begins in a WNBA Finals between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks. Game 1 is at 3 p.m. EST, and will be televised by ABC.
The two combined to finish 54-14 this year, each earning the double bye in the league's new playoff format, and then stormed through their semifinal series. Perhaps the most compelling part of the battle ahead is that each team's strengths are mirrored by the other, each side's roster overflowing with seemingly unanswerable challenges for the other.
In a season that might be the finest the Lynx have enjoyed during the Cheryl Reeve/Maya Moore Era — no small feat considering the Lynx have already won three WNBA titles in their first five seasons together — their adversary has been nearly as good.
“All year, we've shown that we were the two best teams,” Maya Moore told USA Today Sports. “And to be able to play in the finals will be a thrill, it really will be fun. It's an exciting challenge as a competitor. It's what you want.”
The Lynx not only finished 28-6, they managed to top the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Their roster begins with Moore, the 2014 MVP and perennial candidate for the award, but she is far from lonely when it comes to decorated teammates, from the three American Olympians who joined her in Rio this summer — WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus — to a bench that offers opponents no respite. Anna Cruz, Spain's starting point guard in Rio, is essentially their fifth guard.
“For sure, that's something we're excited about, the strength in numbers,” Reeve told USA Today Sports. “Even sometimes, you get to the playoffs, you shorten your bench a little bit. But we have zero intention of doing that, because it's worked, and it's created ownership. I think for sure, this has been our best team in that area. And in a 200-minute series, that's very important.”
But Moore did not win the 2016 MVP — that went to Nneka Ogwumike of the Sparks, who even Reeve said publicly deserved the honor after putting up the finest shooting season, by true shooting percentage, in WNBA history. She managed to shoot better than 66% from the field, and an absurd 61% from three.
Ogwumike is hardly a one-woman show. She and Candace Parker both have MVPs in their trophy case now, while guard Alana Beard is a fearsome perimeter defender, and Kristi Toliver, who shot better than 42% from three, can punish defenses that overcommit on Ogwumike or Parker.
“Nneka is highly efficient,” Reeve said. “Candace Parker is a hell of a player, so many ways to get you involved. Scoring, rebounds, assists. And then you add a third person? And not just stretch the defense, it's the way she goes about it. There's nothing easy about defending her. And when those three are really on, it's very hard to beat them.”