Whalen rallies Lynx to win in her final regular-season game
MINNEAPOLIS—Pregame instructions were specific on the night Lindsay Whalen was honored by the Minnesota Lynx.
"She's going to start, she's going to play as much as she wants to play," coach Cheryl Reeve said an hour before tip-off. "Kind of a no-brainer, don't ya think?"
It was the least the Lynx could do for the heart and soul of the team playing her final regular-season game of a 15-year WNBA career, the past nine with her home-state team.
"I want her to have fun," Reeve said. "Having fun for her means having success on the court and her team playing well. That's what'll be fun for Lindsay. Not playing 30 minutes gassed and the game doesn't go as well."
Ultimately, Whalen's possible last game at Target Center ended with 10 points, six assists, five rebounds and a team-high four steals as she keyed a rally that pushed Minnesota past Washington 88-83 on Sunday, Aug. 19.
There were flashes of the longtime greatness shown by the Hutchinson, Minn., native, Golden Gophers great and current University of Minnesota coach.
With the third quarter winding down, Whalen backed down a defender, cut to the left side, stopped briefly, switched hands on the dribble, spun left and drove the lane, where three bigger opponents converged. Bounced around a bit, Whalen drew a foul and made both free throws.
A 3-pointer by Whalen put Minnesota up 70-69 early in the fourth, putting most of the 13,013—interesting considering Whalen wears No. 13—on their feet, arms raised up. It was part of a 13-0 Lynx run capped by Whalen floating a pass just over the defender to Fowles for an easy basket.
"You can't stand her when she's on the other team. She's brutal to go against," Mystics star Elena Delle Donne, smiling, told her team's web site. "She's such a fierce competitor."
Lynx center Sylvia Fowles scored 26 points and added 14 rebounds for her 11th 20-plus point, 10-plus rebound performance of the season. She established a league record with 404 rebounds in a season.
But Sunday was about Whalen.
The state's greatest women's basketball player ever announced last week her retirement effective at the end of the season. Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed Sunday "Lindsay Whalen Day."
"She's a perfect example of one of the nicest people in the world off the court, as soon as you cross the line she's ready to get after it and do anything to win," Washington's Kristi Toliver told the site.
Introduced last to a loud roar, Whalen knocked down her first jumper early, then missed another a couple of minutes later before sitting down. A classic crossover and pull-up jumper added two more early in the second quarter.
Pulled with 1:09 to go, she and Reeve embraced in a lengthy hug.
It's not the individual stats that matter most to Whalen, who finished her career first in all-time wins (323), third in assists (2,348) and fifth-in all-time games played (482). She most cherishes the four titles brought to her home state.
Bringing home a fifth will be a tougher grind than the Lynx (18-16) are accustomed. They start with a familiar foe.
Locked into seventh place in the league standings after Friday's loss in Connecticut, the Lynx will open the playoffs at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, with a single-elimination game at No. 6 Los Angeles. The Sparks (19-15) won three of four against Minnesota this year. The teams have played epic five-game WNBA Finals the past two years.
A win in SoCal would mean a cross-country flight to another single-elimination game against either No. 3 Washington, which had won eight straight before Sunday, or No. 4 Connecticut. The league semifinals and finals are best-of-five series.