“One step closer,” forward Maya Moore said. That one step she is referring to is that the Lynx are now setting their sights on a second WNBA Championship in three seasons. And that step was a big one when they won the Western Conference over the Chicago Sky 79-66 on Saturday night.
The Lynx won the title two years ago, then bowed to the Indiana Fever in the WNBA Finals last year.
That began a season long goal to rectify the loss to the Fever last year. Now they have a 26-8 record, the best in the WNBA.
That earned the Lynx homecourt advantage and most likely favorite role in every series, beginning with a best of three set against Seattle that starts Friday at Target Center.
Coach Cheryl Reeve is proud of the strong foundation that the team is now standing on. “Our record says we’re the best team in the league,” she said, “so I guess we start there.”
Moore and point guard Lindsay Whalen led the way Saturday in front of 9,613 at Target Center.
Whalen dropped in 23 points to go with six assists and six rebounds, while Moore scored 22 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and passed out six assists.
“Whenever Lindsay wasn’t scoring, Maya was,” Reeve said.
A second quarter push by Whalen — who was 6 for 8 from the field for 13 points — pushed their lead from 22-19 after one quarter to 45-34 at the half. From there, it was all the Lynx.
But Chicago managed to pull within six points in the third quarter, Seimone Augustus hit a short shot, Moore canned a three-pointer and then Whalen, firing just before the shot clock buzzed, hit her first three-pointer of the season to make it 67-53.
“It was just :03, :02, :01, so I had to shoot it,” Whalen said. “It was a good screen to get me open, and I just tried to get it up there.”
Whalen finished the season 1 for 9 from three-point range, Moore set a team record with a three-point shooting percentage of .453. She hit 4 of 6 Saturday.
Owner Glen Taylor is proud of the teamwork that come out of the Lynx and their willingness to help each other out, “When one person seems to be a little down, the other people pick it up,” he said. “When we are playing our game, I think we are the best team.”
While the Lynx are no doubt the favorites from here on out, Reeve wants to remind the players and fans that her players must focus on each game.
“Just staying really locked in,” she said, “and not uttering the word ‘championship.’ ”
The Lynx put together a stellar regular season, establishing WNBA records for fewest turnovers and highest assist/turnover ratio. The Lynx shot 47.4% from the field, second only to the Los Angeles Sparks 47.5% final game. They have won 18 consecutive home games going back to the end of last season.
But it wasn’t always everything Roses with the Lynx. Reeve remembers dreary crowds of three or four seasons ago when the seats were empty. But now the staff at Target Center is selling standing-room tickets for the season finale.
“Since we started winning, our crowds have really increased,” he said. “We’ve got ourselves into a profitable situation, when all those first years we didn’t have the fan base to support it. Now we do, so it’s a wonderful thing not only for the franchise, but for the team, too. It really helps them, especially when they get on a run.”