Appreciating the old pros in the WNBA Finals

Jeff Wheeler/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Having to wait four days to complete what’s been one of the best WNBA Finals series in years is confounding, if not maddening.

After Sunday’s riveting 85–79 victory by the Minnesota Lynx over the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 4, you peruse the schedule and see the finale is . . . Thursday?

Minnesota’s Maya Moore—who logged 31 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocked shots in one of her best playoff games to add to an already-glittering catalog of WNBA postseason magnificence—has to wait four days to play again?

Candace Parker, who was disappointing in a title-clinching game for Los Angeles, has to wait four days to try to win her first WNBA championships?

Fans turning in to watch with some of the highest viewership numbers in years, and against both the NFL and baseball playoff games, have to wait four days? Especially in the wake of an uncalled backcourt violation that critically aided the Lynx?

Well, this is a finals schedule with television in mind, so that explains the delay as the WNBA Finals goes to the maximum five games for the second consecutive season.

Will anyone remember Game 4 at the Staples Center, with Kobe Bryant and Sparks co-owner Magic Johnson in the house, anticipating a championship at the same time the latter’s other team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, was winning at Wrigley Field with the masterful Clayton Kershaw on the mound?

What Moore did in a highlight-reel fourth quarter—knocking down two 3-point baskets and converting two free throws—will be impossible to forget.

Then you recall another sequence in that final period, and you stop your grousing. Game 5 can wait while you savor an overlooked possession that embodied so much about what these WNBA Finals have been about.

You admire the down-to-the-bones grit and tenacity of two 34-year-olds, friendly rivals who’ve been going at it since their college days.

When Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen drove the lane and muscled up a basket against Alana Beard of the Sparks, it was another vital play for the Lynx. It kept the momentum going for the defending champions, who are vying for their fourth title in six years and kept L.A. at bay.

Beard had rubbed Whalen out of Game 3 as Los Angeles took a 2–1 lead in the series. It was Beard, the defensive stopper whose 3-pointer at the buzzer won Game 1 for the Sparks, who was looking like a potential finals MVP.

But Whalen, whose Minnesota Golden Gophers upset Beard and the favored Duke Blue Devils to reach the 2004 NCAA Women’s Final Four, reached down deep into her old basketball soul and pushed her body to a place that’s getting harder to reach as she ages.

That one-on-one battle continues to marvel with the best of some spectacular playmaking from many players on both teams during an intense closing stretch.

Having to wait four days to play again may be a welcome respite for Whalen, who was admittedly worn down last season, and who skipped playing overseas last winter. After helping the U.S. win another Olympic gold medal, she’s on the cusp of another professional title in her home state, and before what’s expected to be a sellout crowd at the Target Center on Thursday.

For Beard, who’s struggled with injuries during her long professional career, a few days to recover might also be just what she needs to regain the critical role she’s played for the Sparks.

This WNBA Finals figures to come down to the vigor and fire of players at, or reaching their prime—Moore, Parker and L.A.’s energetic league MVP, Nneka Ogwumike, along with young Sparks guard Chelsea Gray, who came up big in Game 4.

However, contemplating what the old pros still have left to offer makes Game 5 worth waiting for after all.

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