When the 2015 WNBA Finals began, it looked to be the most evenly matched championship series the league had seen in quite some time…maybe ever. The Eastern Conference had beaten up on the West for most of the regular season, and the Indiana Fever were riding the emotional high of an improbable comeback against New York in their previous series. The Minnesota Lynx, meanwhile, were making their annual late postseason run, defeating the Phoenix Mercury 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals and looking to add yet another title to the franchise’s recent run of dominance.
Through 4 games, the series lived up to the hype. In fact, it was the most competitive series in WNBA history to that point: each of the games was decided by 6 points or less, and the cumulative point differential was just +3 in Indiana’s favor (298-295).
Then Game 5 happened. To put it bluntly, there were very few redeeming factors about what most expected to be an epic finale, the cherry on top of what had been a basketball fan’s dream. The two teams combined for 31 turnovers, Maya Moore was held to 5 points on 1-8 shooting, and, in an unremarkable flameout, the Fever shot just 36% as a team.
But let’s not talk about any of that. To harp on what was a disappointing end to the series would be disrespectful to the players who worked so hard to get to that point and who gave basketball fans one hell of a ride…and, of course, to the team that ended up winning it all, once again.
Because the 2015 WNBA Finals was full of compelling storylines, and that’s what it should be remembered for.
What will come to mind immediately, of course, is Maya Moore’s game-winning shot at the buzzer of Game 3. The series was tied at one game apiece heading into Indiana, and Moore had been a victim of foul trouble for the majority of the contest. The Fever were unable to pull away with her on the bench, however, and the rest was basketball history.
The soon-to-be iconic shot set the basketball world ablaze, as both fellow WNBA players and their NBA counterparts gave Moore her due. But what shouldn’t be lost in the narrative are the invaluable contributions of Moore’s teammates, without which the Fever would have won the game, and likely the series.
For instance, Indiana lead by three with a minute to go in Game 3 before Lynx midseason acquisition Renee Montgomery tied it up with a clutch, long jumper. The former 6th Woman of the Year had something of a career resurrection after being traded from Seattle to Minnesota, her outside shooting ability proving to be invaluable on a team without much 3-point shooting.
And for every outside shot Montgomery hit, fellow guard Anna Cruz put in at least twice as many solid possessions on defense. The Spaniard, who came over in a draft-day trade from New York, was asked to carry much of the load at point guard with incumbent All-Star Lindsay Whalen continuing to suffer from bursitis throughout the series. Cruz’s ability to drive and finish (as well as her tenacious ball-hawking on the other end of the floor) gave Cheryl Reeve plenty of reason to trust in her to take some of the ailing Whalen’s minutes and Cruz rewarded her coach’s faith by coming up big on the biggest of stages.
The Fever had their fair share of players step up, too. Though Tamika Catchings may be giving Father Time his toughest battle ever waged by a WNBA player, she can’t do it all on the offensive end anymore, and through the first four games, she didn’t have to. The perimeter trio of Briann January, Shenise Johnson, and Marissa Coleman were as steady as they had been all season, each of them scoring in double figures in every game of the series (except for Coleman netting just 3 in the deciding Game 5).
Each of them knew their roles coming into the series, and their execution of those roles kept Minnesota scrambling defensively: January, in particular, played some of the best basketball of her career on both ends of the floor, providing elite spot-up shooting and an aggressive mindset that exploited Minnesota’s perimeter defense time and time again.
Johnson, too, was key to Indiana’s success. She and Coleman continued their breakout seasons by continuing to do what made them successful: looking for the mismatch and using their size to exploit it. If such a mismatch didn’t exist, an open 3 was likely to be found; the versatility of these two skilled wing players will likely keep Indiana in contention long after Catchings finally retires.
What the series came down to, though, was the battle in the paint, and this was the only part of the series that was never really that close. Sylvia Fowles was utterly dominant for the Lynx, posting per-36 series averages of 17.7 points and 10.6 rebounds, while shooting nearly 70% from the field (yes, from the field). The Fever simply didn’t have an answer for Fowles on their roster, who made it her mission to ensure that her trade demand from the Sky didn’t result in anything less than a championship. Big Syl was rewarded for her efforts in the series by winning the Finals MVP trophy, joining Moore and Seimone Augustus as the Lynx players who have won that ultimate honor in recent years.
Three championships. Three different series MVPs. If that isn’t a basketball powerhouse, I don’t know what is.