Working backward, it goes like this:
The Fever will play the season’s ultimate game because they get to the foul line. They do that because of their attacking style of play, which was the primary change first-year coach Stephanie White brought to the team. The adjustment process to that system was one of the primary reasons for their 3-6 record back in June, when nobody was even thinking they might be playing for a WNBA championship this season.
And now look. Their 75-69 victory over Minnesota at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday sends them into a winner-take-all confrontation in Minneapolis on Wednesday, when they meet for the WNBA championship.
Their formula for winning isn’t complicated, nor is it rare. It’s practically universal in basketball, in fact. They win when they get to the foul line more often than their opponent.
Sunday, they attempted 29 foul shots and hit 25. Minnesota attempted nine and hit six. Those extra 19 points from the line more than made up for the fact the Lynx had more field goals, more steals, as many rebounds and fewer turnovers.
Nobody from Minnesota’s locker room was heard blaming the officials for the free throw differential.
“Generally, when you’re the more aggressive team, you’re going to end up going to the foul line,” said Maya Moore, who led the Lynx with 20 points, but needed 20 field goal attempts to get them. “They were very determined to be on the attack to the inside.
“Their game plan was to get to the paint, get to the free throw line, and ours was to stop that. So they did that better than we did in these 40 minutes.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Fever 75, Lynx 69 (Game 4) »
The winner of all four games of this series has attempted more free throws than its opponent. The Fever attempted more foul shots than Chicago and New York in the closeout games of the first two rounds as well. The Fever also are 5-0 in elimination games in these playoffs, and had more attempts in four of those games. They took just one fewer free throw than New York in the lone exception, the Game 2 win over New York.
So it’s no wonder White challenged her team to get to the line for more than 20 attempts before Sunday’s game.
“We wanted to be aggressive,” White said. “We wanted to be aggressive going north-south. (In Friday’s loss in Game 4), we were too much east-west. So we really challenged Bri to be in attack mode.
Bri would be Briann January, who hit 11-of-12 foul shots on Sunday. She hit 7-of-8 attempts in the fourth quarter and 5-of-6 in the final 50 seconds, when the Lynx were forced to foul to stop the clock.
She relied on her martial arts training to summon the poise to shut out the noise.
“It allows you to refocus and find some clarity in a hostile environment and be able to execute,” she said.
Her routine is to wipe the bottom of her shoes, take a deep breath, exhale, check the position of her knees, look at the rim and shoot.
“Muscle memory,” she said. “You don’t want to take any chances up there. You want it to be money every time.”
The challenge becomes tougher in Minneapolis, where the Lynx built the best homecourt record in the WNBA during the regular season (13-4). The Fever will have the same plan of attack on Wednesday, but in a more hostile environment where it will be more difficult to maintain aggression and get favorable whistles.
“Without a doubt,” January said. “But that shouldn’t make us shy away from getting to the rim. We just want to go in there strong. Our focus going to the rim shouldn’t be to get a foul, it should be to finish. And if we get (to the foul line), that’s icing on the cake.”
And, perhaps, a championship.