June 26, 2024 

Chemistry and culture propel Lynx to Commissioner’s Cup title

Napheesa Collier: 'We're here'

There’s no shortage of reasons behind the Minnesota Lynx’s journey from where they were to where they are now. A couple short months ago the Lynx were a preseason afterthought in the minds of many preseason power rankers and armchair general managers across the WNBA stratosphere. Today, they’re the owners of the league’s Commissioner’s Cup and the cool half of a million dollars that comes with it.

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Co-captain Napheesa Collier earned Commissioner’s Cup MVP honors, and the fun may just be getting started as the Lynx hold the best record in the Western Conference at 13-3. They also have a message for anyone who may still be clinging to any premature notions of mediocrity from this past April. 

“You’ve got to talk about us now,” head coach Cheryl Reeve said at Tuesday night’s postgame presser, the crisp Commissioner’s Cup championship hat perched on her head impossible to ignore.

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Can do, coach, and there are oh so many places to start. 

Naturally, Napheesa Collier playing like an MVP candidate once again has been a big part of Minnesota putting the rest of the league on blast. So too has been the all-star caliber play from Kayla McBride — though credit for Minnesota’s early successes in 2024 can be distributed much wider than to just their talented pair of co-captains. 

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert named Collier the Commissioner’s Cup Final MVP moments after the final buzzer. She listed her exploits in the game, her 21 points and six rebounds, before presenting her with the trophy. 

A beaming Collier accepted the trophy from the commissioner, then turned towards her teammate Bridget Carleton and said, “I think Bridget deserves this.”  

Carleton played arguably her best WNBA game ever on Tuesday night and is playing the best basketball of her WNBA career. Across her last six games, including the Commissioner’s Cup Final, she’s shot 21-of-34 from beyond the arc and is averaging 13.3 points per game during that span. 

There was nothing more than genuine respect intended by Collier mentioning the MVP merits of her longest-tenured Lynx teammate, but there was something symbolic in it. A gesture that reflected the chemistry and the bond this team has built during its time together, but also of the depth and dynamism of which they play together. 

“It means a lot,” Collier told reporters after the game. “It’s a testament to where we’re at this season. This is the best group. I mean, the way that we’re gelling. Our personalities just mesh so well, the chemistry. Any night anyone can have 20. Bridget had an outstanding game. Ceci [Zandalasini] had an outstanding game. We had so many people show up tonight. It’s so fun. It’s impossible to guard when you have so many offensive threats. The way that we play on defense is so fun. We really hang our hats on that.”

Zandalasini added a crucial WNBA career-high 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting off the bench — her finest game in nearly 50 career games in a Lynx uniform, adding her name to the list of “super subs” who have defined what it means to be clutch on various occasions this season. Minnesota’s starting lineup has been tremendous, but spectacular bench performances have helped secure a number of the Western Conference-best 13 regular season wins and Tuesday night’s Cup Final was no different. 

Lynx players Ceci Zandalasini and Bridget Carleton celebrate and smile together
Minnesota Lynx forwards Cecilia Zandalasini (9) and Bridget Carleton (6) celebrate during a timeout in the fourth quarter against the New York Liberty in the Commissioner’s Cup Championship game at UBS Arena. (Photo Credit: Wendell Cruz | USA TODAY Sports)

“Everybody had their moments,” Reeve said. “Courtney Williams, I thought was terrific being a playmaker. We know Phee was MVP, or I’m sorry, M-V-Phee. And BC, she throws daggers. She was throwing daggers tonight.”

Carleton finished with a team-high 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 6-of-8 shooting from three. It marked her highest scoring tally since the bubble and continues the aforementioned heater she’s been on this season, which originated in her phenomenal play overseas this winter. 

“Every game is important, but obviously there was a lot on the line tonight,” Carleton said in the postgame press conference. “I have so much trust in my teammates and my teammates have so much trust in me. They found me in good places, especially in the first half and I got hot, so then I was confident in the second half to shoot my shot. That’s the way I’ve been playing all season. We share the ball really well, so I know when the ball comes to me I’m going to be ready to knock it down when I’m open.” 

In a season of pleasant surprises, Carleton’s seamless transition to the starting lineup after forward Diamond Miller’s early-season injury has been essential. A seamless transition that couldn’t have taken place without the belief in her shooting stroke from her head coach, and the trust that’s been built and expanded on with teammates new and old. 

“I think the biggest thing first of all is Cheryl, the staff, [general manager] Clare [Duwelius], [they] bring in really good people to this franchise,” Carleton said. “That’s always been the case. I think another thing is everyone knows who they are as people and as players. When you put a group of people who are confident in themselves, confident in who they are, and put them together in a room of good people, it goes really well. I think that’s what you’re seeing this year off the court and it’s translating to on the court.”

Minnesota has now played 17 competitive basketball games in 2024 and 14 of them have ended with flags emphatically planted in the ground by a pugnacious Lynx team, whose play on the court insists any road to the WNBA Finals will need to go through them. If anyone entered Tuesday night with questions about how the Lynx could fare in a difficult environment on the road against a title contender in a first-class matchup, Cheryl Reeve’s team left none of them unanswered en route to arguably the biggest win the franchise has seen since the 2017 Finals.

“What does it mean to [the team]? You know, we won a championship,” Reeve said. “Phee’s been with the Lynx since 2019. Post-dynasty era and she has dealt with so much marginalization, if you will, of our team. We don’t really care what you think, except for right now. Where we get to say to you, ‘you’ve got to talk about us.’ Now you’ve got to say, we just beat a super team. You know how hard that is to do? Because you guys love your super teams, man. You love your super teams. That’s all you want to talk about your super teams, right? Well, we just beat a super team. Let’s talk about it.”

California here you come ☀️

Can’t decide what to do this sunny season? How about an all-expenses paid weekend trip for two to LA to watch both the LA Sparks and Angel City FC next month? Problem solved.

Complete with sweet swag from our friends at Birdies, take in some WNBA action in premium seats when the LA Sparks host the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces on July 5th. 

  • Then catch Angel City vs. the reigning NWSL champs, Gotham FC, on July 6th in style before the Olympic break. In addition to two premium tickets which include warm up field passes, the winners will also walk away with jerseys.

Be part of the women’s sports movement and enter to win today.

The Lynx did win their first Commissioner’s Cup championship in the four-year history of the event. A new trophy to be added to an already crowded trophy case in downtown Minneapolis and an achievement that has been a harbinger for playing in the WNBA Finals in each of the last two seasons. Yet it’s difficult to talk about the Lynx in full bloom on Tuesday night without shedding light on the chemistry that’s been budding since day one of training camp. 

“Our team is amazing from the top down,” guard Natisha Hiedeman said after the Lynx’s recent 90-78 victory over Dallas. “I really can’t explain this team chemistry that we have. It’s honestly crazy. Everybody’s really rooting for each other. Everybody cares. There’s no selfish players on our team. On any given night it can be anybody’s night. I’ve been a part of a lot of great teams, but this is something [else]. I’ve never been a part of anything like this my whole life.”

Alanna Smith shared the podium with Hiedeman that night and echoed the sentiments from her fellow 2024 Lynx newcomer on the culture that existed in Minnesota before this past offseason and has been built upon by the current outfit of Lynx Basketball.

“Props to Napheesa, K-Mac, Bridge, those guys that have been here awhile, they set the tone,” Smith said. “I remember in like our first preseason game, I was sitting on the bench and we’ve known each other [for] like three weeks, and T [Hiedeman] goes ‘I love you guys,’ and the season hadn’t even started yet! So she’s right, the culture was set from the jump.”

Hiedeman went on to add; “The culture was set when we got here,” she said. “This is a winning organization. The culture was set.” She added with a laugh, “We’ve just spiced it up a little bit, you know what I’m saying, but the culture is great here.”

A winning organization that just added another jewel to its crown and secured the coveted Commissioner’s Cup bag for its players. A lot of season is yet to be played, but if one can glean anything from the near halfway point of the story of the 2024 WNBA season, it’s that the Lynx intend to be part of the narrative until the final chapter. 

“This just shows all the hard work we’ve put in,” Collier said. “And there’s a lot more to come.”

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Written by Terry Horstman

Terry Horstman is a Minneapolis-based writer and covers the Minnesota Lynx beat for The Next. He previously wrote about the Minnesota Timberwolves for A Wolf Among Wolves, and his other basketball writing has been published by Flagrant Magazine, HeadFake Hoops, Taco Bell Quarterly, and others. He's the creative nonfiction editor for the sports-themed literary magazine, the Under Review.

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