Loss in WNBA Finals serving as Lynx’s motivation

Cheryl Reeve vowed she would not watch it. Living it was tough enough. But with Lynx training camp nearing, with the team converging on the Twin Cities to start over again, Reeve sat down and watched the tape of Game 5 of the 2016 WNBA Finals.

“It was the first time I watched it since we played it,” said Reeve, the Lynx coach. “I thought, perhaps, there was something I could learn from it. It was good to do. It was a little bit of closure.”

The ending is familiar to Lynx fans.

Minnesota and the Los Angeles Sparks were going down to the wire, the Lynx up a point as the clocked ticked down. Ultimately Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike hit a shot that propelled L.A. to the title while denying the Lynx their fourth championship in six years.

Reeve is all about not dwelling in the past. Her team circled around her Sunday at the team’s first training camp practice, she preached 2017 as a new season, a new journey.

That’s all fine. But if the Lynx started a new story Sunday, the past is providing the motivation.

“It seems like there was a little more talk about it in our first circle-up,” Reeve said. “In that I think we find it really important that it’s not just kind of saying we were disappointed. I think one of our captains said it best. How we come out and play is going to speak volumes to how we felt about not being able to accomplish putting the championship next to the 2016 season.”

There were 14 players at Sunday’s opening practice for the Lynx. Veteran Rebekkah Brunson and top backup Natasha Howard are fulfilling overseas obligations. Brunson will get here this week, while Howard might be away longer.

Sunday’s attendees included Shao Ting, a 6-0 forward who is captain of the Chinese national team and a teammate of Lynx center Sylvia Fowles during the season in China.

This is a veteran, familiar group that will be looking to continue a pattern of winning the title every other year since 2011. The five starters are back, as are top backups Howard, Renee Montgomery and Jia Perkins. Free-agent signee Plenette Pierson — who won titles in Detroit when Reeve was an assistant coach there — is a key addition, giving Reeve a nine-deep roster. That means, likely, that there are two jobs up for grabs, with post players Chantel Osahor and Temi Fagbenli and guard Alexis Jones expected to battle for those two spots.

It is a team that expects to be back competing for a title this fall. Coming up shot short a year ago is the perfect motivation.

“It’s something I don’t think you’ll ever be able to forget,” said Maya Moore, who, for the first time as a professional, did not play overseas over the winter. “It just gives that fire, and that hunger, that chip on the shoulder to fight to get there again. Nothing like life hitting you in the face to make you live life even harder and fuller next year.”

Reeve echoed that thought, saying the pain of that loss would stick when her if she lived to 90.

The Lynx have traditionally been pretty effective with a chip on their shoulders. They rebounded from a loss in the 2012 finals to win in 2013. In 2014 they lost in the Western Conference finals to Phoenix but rebounded to beat Indiana in the finals in 2015.

And now, that game against the Sparks is what will push them.

“That’s the last taste we had in our mouth,” Moore said. “It’s a natural motivator. It should be a part of our experience to grow from it. … It’s so hard. We were so close. So let’s do it, let’s get back there.’’

JEFF WHEELER • jwheeler@startribune.com
The Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike, right, made the basket over Sylvia Fowles that denied the Lynx another championship.



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