Lindsay Whalen’s first foray to the basket cut through the paint and down memory lane. In what could have been her last game at Williams Arena, the former Gopher spun in a turn-back-the-clock reverse layup, waking the echoes, filling the rafters with nostalgic noise.
Whalen scored five of the Lynx’s first seven points Tuesday night and wound up leading a team filled with star scorers with 14 points as the Lynx beat the Los Angeles Sparks 70-68 to even the WNBA Finals at a game apiece.
This should have been a night to celebrate, but after she dribbled out the final seconds Whalen wearily flipped the ball to an official and accepted a mobbing by her teammates as if she wanted nothing more than a soft couch and a hard sleep.
She finished with those 14 points, three assists and three rebounds, but couldn’t help remember a turnover on the next-to-last possession, when teammate Seimone Augustus seemed to trip as the ball arrived, giving Los Angeles one last chance.
“At that point I was just thankful that we won and it was over,” she said. “Because it’s been so back and forth. I didn’t want to have a turnover on that last possession, as a point guard. And, honestly, I was like, ‘Hey, we got this one, on to Game 3. I know how tooth-and-nail this series is. And I was pretty tired at that point.”
You could see that in Whalen’s face in the fourth quarter, and even as she sat on a podium inside Williams Arena after the game. When Maya Moore answered questions, Whalen rubbed her forehead, thinking and recovering.
“I am thankful,” she said, “to have tomorrow off.”
There is an inherent contradiction in horror movies and big games. You crave the exquisite agony of suspense, but can only take so much.
“Everybody on the court is such a threat on both teams,” Whalen said. “You’ve got two great coaches, a lot of great players countering each other, and adjustments are being made. This is what it’s all about, really. This is why we’re all still here playing, is to play in these moments in these games.”
Whalen all but apologized for having said that before. She shouldn’t. The Lynx have given Minnesota seven years of drama and class. What might sound cliche does so only because it is a repetitive truth.
“It’s been a fun run that we’ve been on over the years,” Whalen said. “Six Finals in seven years. These two teams are bringing it every night. There have been some tense moments, but that’s what the Finals are all about. The best women’s basketball is being played right here, now.”
Whalen and coach Cheryl Reeve speak at midcourt as warmups wind down before every game. Whalen scored just five points in Game 1, so she and Reeve talked at practice, and again later Monday night, and again Tuesday morning before their ritual final conversation Tuesday night.
“Lindsay setting the tone, that’s what Lindsay does,” Reeve said. “If you’re around her, you would have guessed she was going to come out that way and help lead this team at a level of aggression that was necessary.”
Whalen made the Barn roar the way she used to. The points would come slowly after her first outburst, but she would make one last big shot in her old home.
Minnesota led 66-60 midway through the fourth. Moore took the ball on the left wing and drove, drawing Whalen’s defender. Whalen received the pass, squared herself and swished a long two-pointer.
So it’s off to L.A., where a split will bring the series back to Williams, and a sweep will end Whalen’s competitive time on the raised court.
“This is what the point guard has to do, when the team needs a little extra,” Whalen said. “Be there to give a little extra punch.”
At the end, the point guard didn’t seem to have the energy to make a fist. Her trip down memory lane left her craving rest, and the next big game.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • email@example.com