Timberwolves 98, Bucks 89: Minnesota Lynx are WNBA Champs!
Last night the Wolves played their third preseason game in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and defeated the Bucks, who continue to look Christmas-y in those green and red road unis. A couple of notes about the game in bullet form because come on: preseason.
This makes Chris Johnson’s third straight DNP in the preseason, a time when coaches are usually trying out deep bench guys to see how they’re going to fit with the team. Camp invitees like Othyus Jeffers and A.J. Price are getting burn and Derrick Williams has seen extensive play (although he didn’t hit the floor last night, probably because of how much he played against CSKA and Toronto). But it appears Johnson can’t even get so much as a look, which says to me that the Wolves are probably going to buy out the guaranteed contract that David Kahn (sort of weirdly) gave him with little fanfare at the end of last season. Compared with the chance to carry another backcourt player like Jeffers into the season, Johnson’s $916,000 contract is small potatoes. I’ve always enjoyed Johnson’s game, but with Ronny Turiaf and Gorgui Dieng ahead of him on the depth chart, apparently, he’ll likely be gone by the regular season.
Speaking of Dieng, he showed off a lot of rim protection (4 blocks) and even some offensive savvy last night, dropping a nice pass down low to a cutting A.J. Price and scoring 6 points to go with 9 rebounds. He could end up being a great change of pace player off the bench if he can suddenly make the paint a less desirable destination for opposing teams.
Shabazz Muhammad continues to look solid, especially on the offensive boards where he grabbed 3 rebounds. His primary role when he gets minutes is likely to shoot and cut, but any bench player makes a better case for himself when he can do not only what he’s supposed to do but whatever’s necessary.
On the Bucks side, it was pretty cool that Nate Wolters, who went to South Dakota State, got to return to South Dakota as an NBA pro and get a warm reception from the crowd. Extra class points to Bucks coach Larry Drew for pulling Wolters with a few seconds left in the loss so he could get a nice ovation from the crowd.
But let’s get real: The genuine awesome last night happened in Atlanta (although weirdly not at Philips Arena, which is hosting Disney on Ice right now) where the Minnesota Lynx captured their second WNBA title in three years, defeating the Atlanta Dream 86-77 to sweep the series. After two resounding wins at the Target Center, the Lynx probably didn’t need a confidence boost, but just in case, the game was played at the Gwinnett Arena, where Maya Moore led Collins Hill High School to three consecutive state championships.
I got to go to a Lynx game against the Dream earlier this season and it was just a ton of fun. Lindsay Whalen is a joy to watch and Lynx assistant coach Jim Petersen told me afterwards that Whalen is one of the greatest point guards he’s ever been around, and this is a guy who’s played with Kenny Smith, Danny Ainge and Tim Hardaway, among others. And beyond Whalen the team is not only great, but fun to watch play together: Janel McCarville had a ridiculously ill between-the-legs pass to Rebekkah Brunson on the break and Maya Moore led the team with 23 points plus earned Finals MVP honors.
So listen: if you’re reading this, you’re likely a Wolves fan and so you value your suffering. It might not always feel like it, but you rely on it. I’m the same. I’ve always felt about sports fandom the way Jimmy Dugan felt about baseball: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it weren’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” Because of this, you may be reluctant to embrace such clear champs as the Lynx, who steamrolled their way undefeated through the playoffs. But I beg of you: give in. There are joys that come with loving a winner. We don’t get enough of it here in Minnesota, so revel in it.