Lindsay Whalen, back at The Barn, gets a fourth ring

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 4: Lindsay Whalen /

Lindsay Whalen is no stranger to magical moments at The Barn.

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In a way, things came full circle for one of the game’s all-time great point guards in 2017. She played her first game as a Gopher at The Barn (more formally known as Williams Arena) in 2002 because of an issue with a water pipe. A decade and a half later, she and the Minnesota Lynx clinched a fourth WNBA championship in that same building.

The Barn was packed with over 11,000 fans for the Hutchinson, MN native’s first go around, shattering the program’s attendance record at the time.

All these years later, Whalen played again in front of thousands at Williams Arena as more attendance numbers took a drastic turn in the right direction — WNBA postseason attendance hit its highest mark since 2010 and was up more than 10% over last season; the 2017 Finals also drew an average audience of 559,000 across ESPN platforms.

The path to the 2017 title wasn’t all easy for Whalen and the Lynx. The team did blow the doors off opponents en route to a 22-2 start, but injuries forced two starters to miss time. Forward Rebekkah Brunson tweaked an ankle and Whalen suffered a broken hand.

Whalen didn’t just clinch a WNBA championship on her former college home floor. She overcame nearly the same injury that left her senior year in question back in 2004. Back then, Whalen was dealing with a broken right hand. In 2017, she had broken her left.

Whalen bounced back to lead the program to its first Final Four in ’04. Thirteen years later, she returned for the start of the playoffs and the Lynx were able to take down the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks in five games.

Maya Moore summarized it best following Game 5. “Just when you think it can’t get any better, we create a new memory in the house that Weezy built.”

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 4: Lindsay Whalen /

The questions have been there. When will some of Minnesota’s vets fall off? Age didn’t stop the Lynx from advancing to the WNBA Finals for the sixth time in seven years.

Perhaps fans ought to simply be thankful that the chips have fallen as they have for the Sparks. Take one key player out of that mix (Chelsea Gray doesn’t rise to stardom so suddenly, Alana Beard is unable to prolong her career, etc.) and pundits may suddenly be screaming about the lack of parity in the WNBA.

Yet here we are, fresh off a Finals rematch between the league’s two best teams. The biggest narrative coming into the season and throughout it for the Lynx was the emphasis on getting Sylvia Fowles more involved. The Lynx succeeded in that endeavor — Fowles was crowned as the regular season and Finals MVP.

Fowles (and Brunson) got more shots up in these Finals than they did last year. Those 26 extra shot attempts shared between the team’s two starting bigs had to come from somewhere.

The 35-year-old point guard saw the biggest decrease in shot attempts, going from 45 down to 31. Whalen’s regular season minutes were cut from about 30 per game in 2015 to about 24 per game for the last two seasons. Cheryl Reeve has been upfront in talking about that downshift.

Tossing around that number of 31 attempts may generate unwarranted noise. But it was clear that Minnesota’s perimeter players would be sacrificing shots this season for Fowles to get more looks. Moore is generally cited as the core player that sacrificed the most. As the team’s floor general, Whalen too would be sacrificing shots while also leading the way for her team to carry out its offensive gameplan on a nightly basis.

That part can’t be quantified, and only Whalen could possibly know enough to speak on it. This much, however, was clear: Minnesota still needed Lindsay Whalen to come up with big buckets for them to win a championship.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 04: Head coach Cheryl Reeve and Lindsay Whalen
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 04: Head coach Cheryl Reeve and Lindsay Whalen /

She scored 14 points in Game 2 as the Lynx evened the series; she poured in 17 in Game 5. Playing at The Barn was certainly a nice bonus, but WNBA fans wouldn’t doubt Whalen’s willingness to step up in big moments. Most of that is rooted in the intangible things she deservedly is often lauded for — grit, determination, will to win, right place/right time, etc.

“At the end of the day, it’s players like Lindsay Whalen who has a will to win that’s second to none.” Cheryl Reeve said after Game 5. “Some of the plays, diving on the floor for a loose ball, that’s the stuff we talk about.”

“Everyone wants to talk about who scores, but it’s those plays in those moments that win a game for you,” Reeve said.

Even though the ensuing jump ball from Whalen’s dive was taken by the Sparks, the sequence ended with a Lynx score following a steal by Whalen.

That wasn’t the only play of that sort made by Whalen in Game 5. She also managed to poke the ball away from Odyssey Sims on a fastbreak. Minnesota got a stop after the jump ball and maintained its ten point lead.

This series was dominated by fast starts. Every possession, every play matters on the biggest stage. For whatever reason, though, these two teams were taking turns building early leads and playing from in front.

Whalen had a hand in that in Game 5, too.

Minnesota benefitted from that hot start and Whalen’s early triple. As the game wore on, the effort plays and rebounding proved to be the ultimate separator for the Lynx.

As mentioned, this Lynx team made a conscious effort to truly play through Sylvia Fowles. The league MVP dominated the series and Game 5 in particular on the glass. Despite some early struggles in the series, they also stayed true to that plan with their halfcourt offense. Things were going to flow through Fowles, which

Things were going to flow through Fowles, which meant she’d probably see double teams. Somebody on the Lynx was going to have to make a play, especially in that second half. No one is leaving Moore open as a strategy. Good luck doing so with Seimone Augustus either, who had been shooting the lights out coming into the series after burning Washington again and again in the semis.

The Sparks weren’t able to leave Brunson all alone 18 feet from the hoop either because Reeve and the Lynx adjusted to position her closer to the rim.

That left Whalen.

She cashed in on those two opportunities in the fourth quarter, sinking the layup and two free throws. Whalen went 8-for-8 at the line in Game 5 after attempting seven free throws in the four games prior.

Whalen also got her team two huge buckets on her own in late clock situations.

It may not always look perfect, but Minnesota is one of those teams that has the luxury of throwing it to someone who’s delivered in tough spots before.

Lindsay Whalen delivered for her team once again at The Barn with her shot making, her playmaking, her effort.

Perhaps it’s time we wait for her to bring up the topic of age again.

Even though things came full circle for Whalen, she showed no signs of slowing down on the game’s biggest stage as the Lynx won their fourth WNBA championship in the house that Weezy built.