WNBA Playoffs: Lindsay Whalen returns as Lynx begin series against Mystics

ST. PAUL, MN - JULY 30: Lindsay Whalen
ST. PAUL, MN - JULY 30: Lindsay Whalen /

You can count Lindsay Whalen among the most illustrious players in Minnesota basketball history. From her days at the University of Minnesota to becoming a 3-time champion with the Lynx, she is one of the greatest players the state has produced. However, she hasn’t played a game since August 3 when she broke her pinky finger.

The good news is that Whalen is set to return Tuesday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Washington Mystics.

“I’ve been working hard for this day after I got hurt and since I had the surgery. Thinking back to the night I had surgery and how miserable you feel kind of coming down off of anesthetics and the pain pills and everything and thinking how far a person can come in about a month and a half or so,” Whalen said at Tuesday’s shootaround. “I feel good, just because I know I’ve worked hard to get myself into this situation to be here. There might have been some times during where you think, ‘Will I be able to do it?’ but the hard work has paid off and now I’m here.”

The veteran point guard has averaged eight points, 2.5 rebounds, and four assists per game this season. Despite playing reduced minutes this season, Whalen brings championship experience and is enjoying her best 3-point shooting season since 2015. The last time Whalen was this effective from beyond the arc with her number of 3-pointers per game was 2011 when she converted 40.5 percent of her attempts.

Whalen’s return comes at a crucial time. The Mystics are a talented unit that has won three of their last four games. The Lynx haven’t played since they faced the Mystics on September 3, whereas the Mystics last played on Sunday. Will the extra time off help the Lynx or the Mystics? For a veteran team, it could play to their advantage but there could also be rust to shake off.

“This is another challenge, but what championship road is easy? We’re just going to take what comes and just play the game,” Maya Moore said confidently. “We’re excited, we had some good practices. We’re going to get going tonight.”

The Mystics return to the playoffs after missing the postseason in 2016. The additions of former MVP Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver have given the team a five-win improvement from last season despite injuries to Delle Donne and a down year for Toliver. Should those two get going, the Lynx could have their work cut out for them.

While the Moore-Delle Donne matchup should be fun, another one to watch is down low.

Washington’s Emma Meeseman has played exceptionally, as always, posting 14.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game this season. Her return after missing the start of the season playing with the Belgian national team buoyed the Wizards while Delle Donne and Toliver dealt with their troubles.

On the other side, Lynx center Sylvia Fowles has been a monster. Fowles has averaged 18.9 points and 10.4 boards per game on 65.5 percent shooting. Fundamentally, she is one of the best post players in all of basketball. She posted 21 points and 15 rebounds on 8-for-10 shooting in the June 9 meeting between these two teams. Yet, Meeseman and Fowles both struggled in their September 3 matchup, shooting a combined 3-for-12 from the field and pulling down just 12 rebounds. Both players are better than that and it’s hard to imagine this trend continuing.

While the Lynx secured the number one overall seed, they could be facing a sleeping giant in the Mystics. Washington may be the sixth seed but they’re more talented than your average sixth seed. With their sights set on a fourth ring, the Lynx’s journey begins on Tuesday night.