DULUTH, Ga. -- It isn't often that a professional playoff team is so obviously better than their competition that even a novice can spot the difference. The NFL prides itself on parity and recent Super Bowls have come down to the last minute or even the last play. And while teams often get hot at the right time -- the Dodgers in the NL Divisional Series and the San Antonio Spurs late in the 2012 NBA season -- the margin among pros is usually razor thin. The Minnesota Lynx, the newly-crowned champions of the WNBA, didn't get that memo. With an 86-77 win over the Atlanta Dream at the Gwinnett Arena on Thursday, the Lynx swept all three of their WNBA playoff series, winning by an average of 15.4 points a game, and looking like they could have beaten an All-Star team from the rest of the league. Three of their playoff wins were by 25 or more points, and they led wire-to-wire from the opening tip of game one of the Finals.
So obvious was the Lynx domination that even the team they beat was left singing their praises."When you look at that roster they've got, they can get on fire," Dream coach Fred Williams. "When you have Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson crashing the boards and (Seimone) Augustus stepping for them big the way she did" His voice trailed off as he smiled and shook his head. "They've got some people who can bust a long run on you to use a football term."Even though they only shot 43.6 percent from the floor, the Dream played one of their better games of the playoffs on Thursday, slashing the lane and getting behind defenders. But Williams' squad could have played their best game of the year and lost. All five of the Lynx starters scored in double digits. Moore led the way with 23 followed by Brunson and point guard Lindsay Whalen who had 15 each.
They jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first five minutes, a margin they maintained through the first two games of the finals with relative ease, and even though Atlanta battled back, trimming the lead at various times, and getting to within three at halftime, Minnesota stretched the lead to 16 late in the third quarter and never looked close to losing after that. Each Dream run was met with a Lynx surge. In the end, Williams accepted the inevitable and saved fans the torture of watching one foul after another in the closing minute."They are talented, they've been there before and they got really hot," Williams said.
That combination proved to be too much for all the teams in the playoffs, not just the Dream.
"This team fought really hard," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "We need to give Rebecca Lobo a share of this trophy. She thought we were the third best team in the west -- not the league, the west. That was humbling and very motivating for us, so we played with a chip on our shoulder all season."
No chip was larger than the one Maya Moore carried. Playing Thursday nights championship game six miles from her childhood home and in an arena where she won many games for the local Collins Hill High School, the 24-year-old forward and Finals MVP wanted this one more than anyone.
"It means the world," she said of winning a title so close to home. "I have so many people around me who have helped me so much from middle school to high school, and I'm sure there are some Connecticut faithful here too. To be able to go out on the court and (win) with this awesome team -- when you think of all the things you want your team to be, this is it."In addition to the love and support of family, friends and teammates, Moore left Gwinnett Arena having added a second WNBA championship to a resume that already included two NCAA Championships, three highs school state championships, an Olympic gold medal and too many individual awards to list.
It was a tough week for Atlanta professional sports with the Braves losing the divisional series to the Dodgers, the Falcons falling to 1-4 and losing star receiver Julio Jones for the season and the Dream falling in three straight games that were never really close. But the region has a hometown champion in Moore that every local can be proud of.
"I never stop playing," she said. "We know it's not going to be perfect, but the sign of a mature championship team is how you get through those tough moments. We had several tough moments and we just had to keep playing through it. We just kept playing and when it counted we got the stops we needed."
Coach Reeve agreed with that assessment but had a much more succinct way to summing up this team. "We played great," she said. "We played great."