With a sweltering defense and a yearning to celebrate in front of their loyal fans, the Minnesota Lynx turned a tense WNBA Finals into a runaway.
Sylvia Fowles had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Lynx captured their third championship in five years with a 69-52 victory over the Indiana Fever in Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Seimone Augustus added 16 points and Rebekkah Brunson grabbed 14 rebounds for the Lynx, who also won it all in 2011 and 2013. Maya Moore scored just five points on 1-for-8 shooting, but the Lynx defense forced 21 turnovers and held Indiana to 35.7 percent shooting in the league’s first Game 5 since 2009.
Tamika Catchings had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Fever, who were looking for their second championship.
Finally, the Lynx got to celebrate on their home court.
They won their first two titles on the road in Atlanta, forcing the success-starved Twin Cities sports fans to revel from afar. When the final buzzer sounded, a franchise-record 18,933 fans waved white towels while Prince watched from a suite above Target Center’s lower bowl.
And celebrate they did.
Augustus shed tears of joy after a throwback performance. Owner Glen Taylor hugged Cheryl Reeve, and Moore leaped on to the scorer’s table and pumped her fists toward the crowd.
“The way we grinded together, a lot of things happen throughout the season that people don’t even know,” Augustus said. “We kept grinding and working despite everything that we’ve been through.”
It was a stunning collapse for the previously unflappable Fever, who had staved off elimination five straight times in these playoffs leading into Game 5.
January and Catchings helped turn Indiana into a tough, confident bunch that erased an 18-point deficit to beat the New York Liberty in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, but finally ran into a wall they couldn’t break through at the boisterous Target Center on Wednesday night.
In the second and third quarters, the Fever scored 12 points total and turned the ball over 17 times.
Star guard Briann January scored six points in the first quarter for Indiana, but didn’t get her next bucket until six minutes were gone in the third quarter. She finished with 13 points on 6-for-15 shooting.
The game got off to an ugly start, with the Lynx slugging out a 27-21 lead at halftime in the lowest-scoring first half in finals history. Neither team could hit a shot or hold on to the ball, and Moore was held to just three points on 1-for-5 shooting.
The Lynx kept the defense set to stifling in the second half, but finally started to generate a little offense in the third to gradually pull away.
Fowles, who was named series MVP, had her way inside as she did for much of the series and finally got some help from Augustus, who chipped in a vintage jumper and drive before Renee Montgomery turned the 20th turnover of the game into a layup just before the third-quarter buzzer that pushed Minnesota’s lead to 19 points.
In a community that has suffered through so much sports heartache over the last two decades, the Lynx have cemented themselves as a welcome respite. The record crowd that turned out for Game 5 got to watch a star-studded team that has become the league’s gold standard finish off one of the most impressive five-year runs in WNBA history.
Four finals appearances. A championship every other season starting in 2011. And on Wednesday night, a little revenge that was three years in the making.
The Fever stunned the heavily favored Lynx in 2012, beating them at home in Game 1 and finishing them off back home in Indiana to dethrone the champions. The Lynx came back to win it in 2013 before losing to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals last year.
The march to their third championship was harder than ever, with stars Lindsay Whalen and Augustus missing big chunks of time with injuries and a style-altering trade that brought Fowles to the post midseason.
Reeve said the struggles made her veteran core appreciate this run more than any other, and they partied like it.
“It was a piece of cake,” Reeve deadpanned before getting choked up. “I’m just so proud.”