MVP meet MVP. Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles didn’t really need any real introduction to the WNBA regular season most valuable player when her team began their championship quest against the Los Angeles Sparks. That’s because she see her everyday. What she sees these days is that the best player all season in the WNBA has been the person she looks at in the mirror.
The Sparks probably wished Fowles hadn’t discovered that fact until after the WNBA Finals. As it was, Fowles, who had an inconsistent showing in last year’s WNBA Finals, put her Lynx teammates on her back and they rode the back of the dominant center all the way to their fourth WNBA title in seven years.
Fowles, who was fifth in the league in scoring and second in rebounding in earning the WNBA regular season MVP, elevated her play to another level in the postseason. Fowles put the bow on her WNBA Finals MVP effort with a 17-point, 20-rebound performance to lift Minnesota over the Sparks in Game 5 with a decisive 85-76 home win.
“If I didn’t do anything else, I just wanted to make it my business to make sure I just go out there and rebound, and that was my downfall last year,” Fowles said. “Like I said, I fell on the court, that haunted me for a long time after Game 5 last year. I just wanted to come in and I wanted to show my presence, and if that was rebounding, then rebounding it was.”
The 20 rebounds that Fowles grabbed in the decisive Game 5 is a new WNBA Finals record. But Game 5 was not the only contest that the 6-foot-6 Fowles pummeled the Sparks on the board. It was a series-long symphony of attacking the boards for Fowles. There wasn’t anything that anyone on the Sparks could do about it. Fowles just had her way inside the low post.
“Syl was the MVP,” said Minnesota teammate Seimone Augustus. “She was the MVP for the regular season so it’s only right that she finishes off the season the way she did with a monster effort in this game and being able to pull off the Finals MVP.”
Oh, yeah. She also had a chip on her shoulder that she was carrying around for an entire year. That thing about re-living what happened in Game 5 last year when the Sparks, thanks to a buzzer-beating shot by Nneka Ogwumike to lift Los Angeles to the WNBA title, has been a motivator for Fowles. It showed in her play during the regular season where she balled out to MVP standards.
In the playoffs, Fowles elevated her play, scoring 18.6 points a game and pulling down just over 13 boards per contest. That carried over into the WNBA Finals. In Game 1, Fowles posted 22 points and 13 rebounds. But that wasn’t enough as the Sparks, the beneficiary of another last-second, winning shot, edged the Lynx, 85-84. Fowles was just getting started.
In Game 2, Fowles went to work again and recorded a 13-point, 17-rebound night in Minnesota’s 70-68 win. After going just 15 (points) and 11 (rebounds) in Game 3, Fowles went on the attack in Game 4 in a game Minnesota needed to win or else they would have had the misfortune of watching the Sparks claim a second straight title at the Lynx’s expense. Scoring 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in Minnesota’s 80-69 win, Fowles made sure that didn’t happen on her watch.
With Ogwumike on the bench in the waning minutes of Game 5 after fouling out, Fowles took full control of the boards. Minnesota would then clinch a firm grip on their championship. Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve could not run out of enough superlatives to describe the role Fowles had in helping the Lynx to re-capture the title.
“You know, I just watched Game 5 from last year before this game, and I thought, Sylvia Fowles was awful,” Reeve said. “She was awful in Game 5, and all I thought was, my goodness gracious did we have some success in transforming her into such a dominant presence that put a pressure on their defense like nobody else could. We were relentless. We had some bad play calling early in the series where we would go through stretches with Syl not getting touches. Just ridiculous.”
That had to change, said Reeve.
“We vowed in Game 4, we said all you guys talked about was a small lineup,” Reeve said. “Game 3, I’d go with the small lineup. At the end of the day, we lose the game, and we say, you know what, we’ve got to be ourselves because ourselves was good enough to get us here, and if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down being ourselves, and that was — we were going to center this thing around Sylvia Fowles. Rebecca Brunson was going to do what she’s great at. Lindsay, Seimone, Maya, we’ll get them their touches; they’re going to play off of Syl. And we just made a concerted effort that we were not going to spend another three, four minutes, a quarter, a half, whatever it was, without featuring our MVP.”