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Aging Lynx core proves it's still the WNBA's gold standard

Minnesota's coach Cheryl Reeve, center, is surrounded by the team after beating Los Angeles' in Game 5 of the WNBA finals matchup between the Minnesota Lynx and the LA Sparks at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Jean Pieri / St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — With a half-empty bottle of celebratory champagne at her right, Cheryl Reeve, sat at her postgame news conference Wednesday, Oct. 4, and contemplated what her top five players have meant as the Minnesota Lynx won four WNBA championships in seven years.

Reeve's trademark ferocity dissipated and she began to cry.

"I can't tell you how blessed I feel to just be around these guys every day," the Lynx head coach said. "Most importantly about this group, we let each other be ourselves, and there is so much to be said for that. I'm not easy to be around. ... (But) we're in it for life, this group."

Reeve's comments followed Wednesday's Game 5 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks at Williams Arena, which secured Minnesota's fourth championship in a seven-year run that cements the Lynx as one of the best teams in the WNBA's 20-year history.

Their four titles match the now-defunct Houston Comets for most in league history and were earned mostly with the same starting lineup. Only Sylvia Fowles, the regular-season and finals MVP who joined after a midseason trade in 2015, wasn't around for the first two titles in 2011 and 2013.

Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson were part of all four, forming a core that rivals the Comets' trio of Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson as the league's best.

But the Lynx's fourth championship didn't just put them in conversation with the Comets. For another year, they proved that even with four starters 31 or older, they're still better than the Sparks, who seemed poised to become the league's next great team after they beat the Lynx for the 2016 title.

"We're deeper than the first five (players), but our identity is those five," Reeve said. "And so I know that everyone wanted to do all that they could to put this team in position to do what they did, because the group is just so special. They're so special. I just can't even impart to you how special this group is."

Can they do it again? The Lynx were already the league's oldest team with an average age of 30.22. Next season, Brunson and Whalen will be 36, while Augustus will be 34. Fowles turns 32 Friday and Moore will be 29 next June.

The WNBA doesn't disclose terms of contracts, but Whalen, Augustus and Fowles all signed multi-year deals within the past 13 months. Moore signed a multi-year deal in 2015.

"I think every time you do this, it gets a little bit more special because it gets a little harder," Whalen said. "And it gets a little more meaningful because you know it's not easy, you know it's not something that we try to take for granted."

A year ago, it was questioned whether the Lynx would reach a fourth title with this core after they lost to the Sparks, a younger team built around 31-year-old Candace Parker and 27-year-old Nneka Ogwumike. Yet this Lynx team hardly lost a step this season, boasting the best record in the regular-season before celebrating a championship with a parade Thursday.

"You just don't understand," Reeve said. "I mean, I know that we have developed these expectations. I get it. And when you get the No. 1 seed, everybody just says, 'Hey, you're the No. 1 team, you should win.' And I just can't explain to you in words what it's like to be those guys and to have to walk that walk every single day of greatness, of expectations every single day.

"Now, they wouldn't have it any other way, but it's just incredibly draining, and every night we play, we get a team's best effort — like every night throughout the regular season. This isn't a case where we're surprising people. And so it takes a toll on you. I just give them so much credit for their fortitude."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.