Fowles Dominates Game 5, Takes Home WNBA Finals MVP

MINNEAPOLIS – Ask Sylvia Fowles if in mid-July she thought she would be standing at halfcourt of the Target Center with blue and white confetti all around her by mid-October, the answer would’ve been: probably not.

Ask Fowles if she thought she’d be hoisting two separate trophies within a five-minute span that same night? Get out of here. But if that were but a dream for Fowles at the time, now it’s a reality.

MORE: Finals Central | Video: Finals MVP Trophy Presentation | Video: Sylvia Fowles Postgame
Fowles won the WNBA Finals MVP award just a year removed from playing with the Chicago Sky in the Finals and going home winless. Now, she goes home a WNBA champion.

The three-time All-Star averaged 15.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game throughout the Finals. Her 6-foot-6 presence was a major difference in the series. Her dominance in the post and on the glass caused the Indiana frontcourt fits.
When the Fever doubled Fowles, she found an open teammate. When they sent one player at her, she was able to shoot over the top of whoever had the daunting task of guarding her.

On the other end of the floor, Fowles looked like a former Defensive Player of the Year. She roamed the paint and didn’t allow Indiana to get anything easy at the rim. In Indiana’s Game 4 win, by and large the low point of Fowles’ series, the Fever took advantage of her absence due to foul trouble.

The Fever were crisp offensively and got the looks they wanted both inside and out. But when Fowles was on the floor, nothing came easy for Indiana.
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“Sylvia, obviously, was big in this series,” head coach Cheryl Reeve said. “When she was in foul trouble, it was a problem for us. Game 1 and 2 here, she was really good, scored 20. Game 3, she was really good, but it was more distributing the basketball, and we were able to play off of her. It was one of our better offensive games because we shared the ball and we didn’t force things. Game 4, we virtually played without her. And then obviously stepped up in a big, big way [tonight].”

Fowles’ journey to WNBA Finals MVP was anything but a smooth ride. Fowles began the season with the Chicago Sky. Well, sort of. Fowles sat out the first half of the season after requesting a trade and Chicago, yet the Sky were initially unable to find a suitable trade partner to fit the request.

Minnesota was long thought to be a perfect fit for Fowles. The Lynx lacked a true back-to-the-basket frontcourt player, and on a team that had been plagued by a fluctuating rotation, the Lynx knew it had to make a move if the right opportunity presented itself.

Just a day after Maya Moore won the All-Star Game MVP, the Lynx and Sky finally broke through on trade talks. Fowles was headed to Minnesota in a three-team deal.

“Actually, I gave up after like the third attempt,” Fowles said of the trade talks. “I can recall my last time I was in California for the 4th of July, and I thought that the deal was going to go through, and I ended up booking the flight to go home, and nothing happened. At that point, I pretty much just gave up all hope and said that I wasn’t going to play this summer. But after All Star, we got that call, the happiest day of my life.”

Early on there were understandable struggles. With a core as battle-tested as the one Reeve utilized, it was always going to take some time to integrate Fowles into the mix.
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Slowly but surely, it began to take shape. The Lynx endured a woeful stretch in August but still were able to claim the top spot in the Western Conference. And from there? They didn’t even think about looking back.

Wednesday’s win was even sweeter for Fowles given that she shared the court with longtime friend and collegiate teammate in Seimone Augustus. The two LSU graduates fought to win an NCAA title at Louisiana State University, but they could never quite get over the hump.

“It feels good doing it with everybody,” Fowles said. “So happy Seimone just so happened to be a part of it, but I’m just excited to do it with all these girls.”

When asked to put her Wednesday’s win into perspective – both the WNBA Finals MVP award and the WNBA championship – Fowles offered an answer that was true to who she is as a player.

She didn’t bite at the opportunity to take credit. No, in typical Sylvia Fowles fashion, the center credited her teammates for getting her open looks and fighting until the very end.

“We knew it was going to be hard,” Fowles said, “and we also knew at some point we were going to have the upper hand. But it just was all about staying together as a team whether we were up or we were down.”

Fantasy Rankings: Top 5 Rookies

The 2015-16 NBA season is right around the corner, which means it’s time to start preparing for your Yahoo! NBA Fantasy draft!

Use our Fantasy Toolkit to find out which players are the best at each position and outsmart your competition. Make sure to check back to NBA.com/Fantasythroughout the month as we reveal positional rankings, feature articles and more.

Top 5 Rookies

5. Stanley Johnson

Overall rank: 130
The No. 8 pick continues to impress in Detroit as he leads all rookies in points so far in the preseason at 17.3 per game (including a 26-point night against Indiana). He’s getting to the rim at a high rate and showing focus on defense under coach Stan Van Gundy. He will likely win the Pistons’ starting small forward role and should see plenty of opportunity to produce. He’s a sneaky candidate for best fantasy rookie and Rookie of the Year (and 19.4 percent of his fellow rookies think he’ll win the award).

4. D’Angelo Russell

NBA Rooks: D’Angelo Russell

Here’s a look at D’Angelo Russell, the number two overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, as he gets ready for the Lakers’ season.

Overall rank: 104
The No. 2 pick will be the starting point guard for the Lakers and should see plenty of opportunity to produce. His value will be tied to assists, which he’s collecting at a rate of 4.3 per game in just 16 minutes a night so far in the preseason. His scoring will be hit-or-miss (like it is for all rookies) and his 3-point ball doesn’t look to be a threat yet. But Russell should be able to collect at least six-plus assists per night as the Lakers’ primary ball handler.

3. Emmanuel Mudiay

NBA Rooks: Emmanuel Mudiay

After being selected 7th overall by the Denver Nuggets in the 2015 NBA Draft, Emmanuel Mudiay works hard during Las Vegas Summer League and is excited for the season ahead.

Overall rank: 98
Mudiay is the future in Denver and will be treated as such this season as he takes over the starting point guard role. There will be rough patches for the 19-year-old. But the talent is definitely there and regular-season averages of 13-plus points, six-plus assists and one-plus steals seem possible for the explosive rookie. Field goal percentage will likely be an issue (33.9 percent so far in the preseason).

2. Jahlil Okafor

Overall rank: 75
The No. 3 pick hasn’t seen much action in the preseason so far, but that will change once the regular season comes around. He will be the starting power forward next to Nerlens Noel in the Philadelphia frontcourt and should have plenty of opportunity to produce as the Sixers’ primary option on offense. Many believe he’s the most NBA-ready of all the 2015 rookies. But be wary of his free throw shooting (39.1 percent in Summer League; 51 percent at Duke).

1. Karl-Anthony Towns

NBA Rooks: Karl-Anthony Towns

Real Training Camp Week premieres on NBA TV and NBA.com on September 29th with a live, all-access look at the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Overall rank: 74
Through three preseason games, the No. 1 pick is averaging 12.7 points on 53.8 percent shooting, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks in just 24.7 minutes per game. These minutes will definitely see a rise during the regular season and Towns should be a high-level defensive stat contributor all season. Potential for points and assists should come later in the year as he gets more comfortable with the NBA pace. It doesn’t hurt that he has Kevin Garnettteaching him along the way.

Kings hope to shake soap opera rep, take step forward

Rarely does a bad team — in the lottery for years, likely to be picked by most to be there again — generate so much attention. The problem is, the notoriety of the last few months has mostly been unwanted, a soap-opera kind of spotlight. The Kings need stability more than ever.

ICYMI

Free-agent addition Rajon Rondo is the latest new point guard, though at least this time, unlike other installments of the annual change over, no one is calling him the point guard of the future. It’s about the present, maybe two years. … Another veteran, Marco Belinelli, was signed for 3-point shooting, an area of concern for years. … Nik Stauskas was traded to the 76ers in a salary dump a year after being drafted in the lottery.

THREE POINTS

1. Willie Cauley-Stein wasn’t drafted as a possible replacement for DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings spent the No. 6 on WCS in part because he fits with Cousins, a big man who can defend inside and potentially be a difference maker without taking shots from Boogie and while helping to keep Cousins out of foul trouble.

2. Ben McLemore is going in a very good direction. He went from shooting 37.6 percent overall as a rookie to 43.7 last season and from 32 percent on 3-pointers to 35.8, all while continuing to develop on defense.

3. Cauley-Stein may not be the only new big-name power forward. Rudy Gaycould play a lot there while starting at small forward, as usual, and Gay might even close games at power forward. George Karl likes the possibilities.

MAN ON THE SPOT

The Kings have gone though coaches, general managers and rosters with no change of course. They have a bad image around the league as a center of instability and bad chemistry. That makes owner Vivek Ranadive the man on the spot.

Respected Odom has special place among NBA family

Tuesday night, as the wrenching news from Nevada started to trickle out and a layer of darkness descended on the NBA, Luke Walton received several texts in Oakland as he was preparing to coach the Warriors against the Nuggets in a 7:40 tip.

Lamar Odom, a former Lakers teammate, was found unresponsive at a brothel in Pahrump, had been taken to a hospital about 60 miles away in Las Vegas and was fighting for his life.

Golden State and Denver played. They finished just after 10 p.m. Walton did not check his phone for updates. He got to the interview room for the typical postgame press conference, part of the task of interim coach while Steve Kerr recovers from two offseason back surgeries, at about 10:15. He still had not checked his phone.

Walton, fearing the worst, was afraid to know the latest.

It’s different like that with Lamar Odom. A lot of names conjure respect among ex-teammates, a lot of faces bring back a flood of smiles and good memories, but Odom has a particularly special place in the NBA, even now. He last played in 2013, but the relatively short timeline since retiring, recent enough that many peers are still playing, means nothing. Two years, 20 years — Odom will always be remembered as one of the quality people of a locker room.

It may be strange to say for someone whose life included so many of the personal demons that apparently continued to rule his life in Pahrump and whose public reputation would become shaped when he married Khloe Kardashian and the nonsense factory swallowed up part of his life in the name of TV ratings. It may be contradictory to be known as such an uplifting teammate when his own life was marked by tragedy — the loss of a 7-month-old son, the loss of a 24-year-old cousin, his own mother passing when Lamar was 12 — until Odom put it this way to Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times in 2011: “Death always seems to be around me.”

It’s true, though. In 14 star-crossed NBA seasons with the Clippers, Heat, Lakers and Mavericks, and especially the seven years and two championships with the Lakers, Odom was usually a bright light of positive emotions and maturity. And, yes, stability. He was the guy you wanted to have around.

“A lot of people don’t know that Lamar Odom probably is the most popular player in our locker room,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said at the presentation as Odom was named Sixth Man of the Year for 2010-11. “And that’s not because of the way he plays basketball. That’s because of who he is.”

“Lamar is a brother to me,” Walton said in that postgame media session in Oakland, trying to grasp the situation. “I absolutely love that man.”

There would be a lot of similar sentiments around the league Tuesday night as the grim developments circulated and then throughout Wednesday amid speculation but no word from the hospital or officials on his condition. Odom the person. That’s what jumped to mind when former coaches and teammates talked about him, not the versatile offensive threat who could handle the ball at 6-foot-10, score and rebound the ball at a decent rate for a small forward.