Reaching the postseason has become a common occurrence for the Minnesota Lynx, and the 2021 WNBA season has been no exception. Minnesota clinched a spot in the playoffs following a 74-66 win over the New York Liberty on Aug. 31, marking the 11th straight season and 13th overall in franchise history where the Lynx have earned a spot in the postseason. That 11-year streak is the longest active streak in the WNBA and is the second-longest such run in league history (Indiana Fever, 2005-16).
“We did take a moment to acknowledge it. It’s important not to take anything for granted; making the playoffs in this league 11 straight years,” said Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve, who is the only head coach to reach the WNBA Playoffs in 11 straight seasons with the same franchise.
“It’s a necessary first step to our goal. We have more games to play, and we want to put ourselves in a position where we want to be right there to take advantage of it if anything happens above us. We have to win to be able to do that.”
Although reaching the playoffs has become second nature and expected for the Lynx, who have claimed four WNBA titles during that 11-year streak, it’s still impressive. Yet even though this season marks another appearance to add to the running list, you get the feeling that this year is a bit different.
Why This Year Feels Different
In past years, there have been clear frontrunners atop the eight-team playoff field that many viewed would at the very least reach the WNBA Finals with the hopes of taking home a league title by the end of the best-of-five championship series. The Lynx were one of those teams during Minnesota’s dynasty run a few years ago.
However, this year there doesn’t appear to be an all-out clear favorite that has separated itself from the rest of the league. In the top half of the WNBA standings, the Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces, Seattle Storm, Lynx, Phoenix Mercury, and Chicago Sky have all shown flashes of dominance at various points in the regular season. The cluster atop the standings and how close each of those teams are to each other in terms of their record with a few games left in the regular season directly reflects that.
That transparency alone leaves the door open for any team that reaches the playoffs beginning Sept. 23, including Minnesota, and should make for an even more entertaining postseason than we’ve seen in years past.
The current playoff format obviously still benefits the teams who finish higher in the standings than others, including the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds receiving a double-bye to advance to the best-of-five semifinals with homecourt advantage and the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds earning a bye in the first round to reach the single-elimination second round with homecourt advantage.
With all of that said, and regardless of the seed Minnesota ends up with at the end of the regular season, you get the feeling that this year and the playoff hopes for the Lynx feels a bit different than it has in the past few years, and basically since Minnesota last reached and won the WNBA Finals in 2017.
Since the Lynx won their fourth league championship in 2017, they have been a playoff team but were never viewed as the same title favorites as they once were. The 2018 and 2019 postseasons ended for Minnesota in the first round, with the 2020 playoffs coming to a close in the semifinals. In each of those seasons, the Lynx weren’t viewed as a team that could make a deep run in the postseason.
After an offseason of some key free-agent acquisitions to bolster and retool the roster, the Lynx quickly turning things around this season following a slow start to become one of the top teams in the WNBA while putting up some impressive performances against some of the league’s best. Now, Minnesota could be ready to return to the level of seriously contending for a championship once again. And a higher seed, which the Lynx will try to fight for over the last week or so of the regular season, could certainly help in that quest.
“The season’s not over, and our seeding has not been decided. We’re business as usual,” Reeve said. “The team in the locker room is not thinking about making the playoffs 11 straight years; they’re only thinking about this one.”
Regardless of what seed it gets, Minnesota is making another return to the playoffs in 2021, something we’ve seen annually since 2011. And as impressive as that streak is, it feels a bit different for the Lynx as they prepare to begin their run in the playoffs at the end of the month.