The Minnesota Lynx have won their second WNBA basketball championship with a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Dream. And the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis was packed last night for a free viewing of the third match in the best-of-five WNBA championship series. The all-ages crowd was tense throughout the game as the hometown team worked to hold, then widen and eventually secure its lead over the Atlanta Dream.
The final score was 86-77.
Cleo Rank and two of her friends from Minneapolis' South High basketball team were sitting toward the back. The highschoolers stood with everyone else as a Lynx win finally looked like a sure thing.
"It was a really exciting to see and great turn out -- it's really fun to see all these people who come to support women's basketball," she said.
The Lynx's popularity skyrocketed in 2011, when they were in the finals for the first time -- also playing against the Atlanta Dream. Minnesota swept that series in three games.
Last year the Lynx went to the finals again but lost in four games to the Indiana Fever. Some said the players were just played out. Two months before, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen helped the U.S. win an Olympic gold medal.
Still, the fans kept coming. This season the Lynx had their biggest attendance for a single game in franchise history in late July, when 16,404 watched the Lynx win over Phoenix at Target Center.
Going in to this year's series, Lynx guard Seimone Augustus told lynxbasketball.com the rematch with Atlanta would be emotional.
"We have a feeling of trying to get back what we feel like we rightfully own or deserve. And they have a feeling of not again," she said.
The Lynx's chemistry was slightly different from 2011. Team veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin retired. There were four new players, including Janel McCarville, who used to play with Whalen for the University of Minnesota.
Maya Moore said she, Augustus and Whalen were ready for another championship.
"I think we're a little more -- just aware of what it's going to take, how it feels, how it feels to win, how it feels to lose," she said.
The Lynx won the first two games of the championship in Minneapolis. When the series moved to Georgia, the Dream didn't have quite the usual home team advantage. Their own Philips Arena is being used for a production of Disney on Ice. So the game was held at the Gwinnett Center, north of Atlanta. That's where Maya Moore, as a teenager, won three consecutive high school basketball state titles. Last night she scored 23 points and was named most valuable player of the series. But after the game Moore insisted she didn't do anything alone.
"The most valuable players are standing right behind me. I just can't take this myself. The way this team has battled all year together has been unbelievable," she said.
Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve said the key to her team's success was their attitude.
"There was a lot of people that didn't believe we were still one of the top teams of the league. That was really good for us. It was really humbling and we played with a chip on our shoulder most of the season. And we played great. We played great," Reeve said.
The Lynx arrive back in the Twin Cities Friday afternoon and celebrate their new championship win with their second parade down Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis on Monday.