Perhaps because the emotions would become too strong, the Lynx tried hard to avoid the bigger picture and instead focused on the game Tuesday.
All necessary, of course. Wednesday night at Target Center the Lynx will play the Indiana Fever in Game 5 of the best-of-five WNBA Finals, the ultimate game in a series between two talented, determined teams that are separated by a mere three points after 160 minutes.
So the focus needs to be playing in the moment rather than leaving a legacy.
But try as they might to focus on one game, the bigger picture is there.
Wednesday the Lynx have a chance to win a third title in five seasons, an accomplishment that would land themselves alongside the early Houston teams in the conversation about the WNBA’s most impressive dynasty.
More importantly, perhaps, it is a chance for a key core of the group to do it together. Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus will start Wednesday night, four veterans who have been there since the charge to the 2011 title.
“So there is a little bit more emotion, but no more pressure,” Augustus said. “We always talk about the journey. We don’t know how long we’re going to play. But we’re going to enjoy this time together. The fact that we’ve made it this far, and that we can close out at home, win a trophy here? That means a lot to me, Whay, Maya, Rebekkah.”
It won’t be easy. The Lynx, 3-0 all-time in closeout games at home, will be facing a Tamika Catchings-led team that is 5-0 in elimination games this season, one that advanced to the finals by beating New York on the road in the Eastern Conference deciding game. A Fever team that won rather convincingly Sunday in Game 4. One that will be going for a second title in four years and trying to win another for Catchings, who has announced she will retire after next season.
“This whole series has been about punching and punching back,” Brunson said. “We don’t expect anything different this time.”
And if the Lynx can finish it? Because of their history, maybe they’d appreciate it more.
“I hope so,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I really hope so. Because nothing is guaranteed. We’ve made the climb with this group. We know we’re at the top, with this group, going through it for years, being together. We have an opportunity.”
‘Done making adjustments’
There are a few coaches and players on both sides who have previously experienced a Game 5. Reeve was an assistant in Detroit for two of them, a win over Sacramento and a loss to Phoenix. Brunson was on that Sacramento team. Both Catchings and Briann January were on the 2009 Fever that lost in five games to Phoenix.
They all said a version of this: After four games it becomes less about strategy and adjustments and more about emotion — both how much of it you bring, and how you control it.
“The mood has been set,” Catchings said. “The stage has been set for a great game.”
Detroit, down 2-1, went to Sacramento in 2006 for Game 4. Before the game Sacramento ownership started talking about potential celebration plans. During the game, Reeve recalled, some confetti put in the rafters for a potential celebration fell.
“It was a motivator,” Reeve said. The Shock won that game, then carried that emotion home and closed it out with a game whose intensity reminds Reeve of this year’s entire series.
“Everyone is done making adjustments and watching video,” Reeve said. “So it comes down to playing your identity. … Two teams have played each other for 160 minutes. Things are being taken away. So it’s, ‘What do you do next?’ That’s where players making plays comes in.”
To Brunson, the closest thing to a Game 5 is Game 1.
“In a series like this, there is usually one team with its back against the wall. But in Game 1 and Game 5? It’s equal. Both teams have equal stakes.”
And enviable camaraderie.
“By being in this position speaks to how much we care about each other,” Moore said. “This is all about how we respond to Game 4. We come out in Game 5 even better.”
In 2012, before the Fever beat the Lynx in four games for the title, Catchings handed out notebooks to her teammates and asked them to keep a journal. She thought the team would benefit from writing down observations at the time and have a memory to keep with them for years.
She did the same thing this year.
“After those two losses, there were a few swear words,” January admitted. “But you write the ups and downs, the positives, the things you have to improve on. You have that and it’s there, forever, for you.”
Now it’s just a matter of how that journal will end.
Either way emotions will run deep.
“This is the last time this team will be together, exactly, as it is right now,” Catchings said of the Fever.
The Lynx? “We’ve done this for so long, together,” Whalen said. “You want to take advantage of this chance. Enjoy this, enjoy the moment, enjoy the time.’’