Niesen: Don't mourn the end of Lynx's streak
MINNEAPOLIS – There's no way to call it exciting, no spinning it into a feel-good story. The Lynx lost. They did it on Sunday night in Seattle, 65-62, ending their 10-game winning streak to open 2012.
That's not the story we wanted to hear.
We wanted to hear about 15-0, then 20-0. We wanted to hear that they'd come back from their double-digit deficit (which they almost did). We wanted blowouts and close games, buzzer-beaters and near-perfect shooting.
Everything we wanted was possible, but it all hinged on so much. Too much.
It's not that streaks like the Lynx's are untenable, or even impossible. It's not that they take talent or will greater than what Cheryl Reeve and her team have, not in the least. It's not even about anything a team can plan for or avoid. Streaks this long are left to too many details, to too many things that must go right.
When the Lynx lost, they fell to 10-1 in 2012. That's still the best record in the league by two and a half games, and their streak was the longest to open a season in league history. Going back to last year's regular season, it was a 13-game winning streak, the third-longest such stretch in league history.
What ended in Seattle was significant, both for the precedent it set and the history it signifies. And yet the Lynx didn't seem to take stock in it.
As the wins piled up, the streak became more obvious. There was more need to ask about it, to put it in context, to draw conclusions from it. Yet Reeve and her players continued to downplay their achievements, genuinely and forcefully. They didn't want to be part of that narrative, the complex question of what such streaks mean and how much the past can guarantee the future.
Every WNBA team that's started a season with a six-game or longer winning streak has made the finals that season. The Lynx won 10, and once they entered that six-game threshold, repeating their championship seemed to become a dangerously popular topic. That the previous teams did what they did after their winning streaks is impressive, and it can't bode poorly for the Lynx's chances. That said, there are no guarantees.
Now that the streak is over, those predictive facts remain. They Lynx still hold their place in history, with a run that's better than several champions'. But now the narrative can change. It can move past the beginning of the season, with less of an emphasis on the consecutive and more on the wins themselves.
Streaks guarantee nothing. That was harder to say just a day ago, but now the pressure is off. The team's attitude is so much easier to understand here, on the other side.
Just look at the teams that have held the longest winning streaks in their respective sports. The Colts won 23 regular season game from Nov. 2, 2008 to December 27, 2009. They won no championship in that time frame, not even in the Super Bowl a month after the streak ended.
The New York Giants baseball team holds the longest MLB streak record, at 26 games, which they won between Sept. 7, 1916 and Sept. 30, 1916. There was no World Series for them that season, and they didn't win the Fall Classic until 1921.
In hockey, the Penguins won 17 straight games from March 9, 1993 to April 15, 1993. They lost in the conference quarterfinals, despite their 84-44 record.
However, in 1971, the Lakers started a 33-game streak on Nov. 5, which didn't end until Jan. 7, 1972. That same year, they won the NBA Championship. And in women's college basketball, Maya Moore's UConn team won 71 regular season games in a row from Feb. 9, 2008 to Dec. 30, 2010 on their way to championships in 2009 and 2010.
So the cynics say these streaks mean nothing. The cynics cite the Colts and Penguins. They dig back further into history and talk about the Giants. The optimists say no. They look at the Lakers and say that these streaks lead to championships. They point out that Maya Moore has turned undefeated streaks into championships – twice. Neither side seems unreasonable.
But what's truly reasonable lies between. The reasonable lies in seeing the shades of this, not just the black and white. Because really, a winning streak can't hurt. It's a handful of wins – 10 in the Lynx's case – a cushion between a team and the others chasing it. It might mean better playoff seeding, more favorable home court schedules. But it's all about timing. If done right, it instills confidence. If botched, the end of a streak could mean chaos, overconfidence crashing into disaster.
Cheryl Reeve knows all this. She must. So too must Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, all of them. Even if they've never lived a streak like this one, they've all seen how the game can ebb and flow. They know that a perennial loser can be a champion the next year, and the reversal of that cycle must always be in the back of their minds.
So don't mourn the end of the Lynx's streak. A 10-1 start is still impressive. It's a testament to everything these women have worked for in the past year, and we should celebrate it as we would if they'd lost, say, their fifth game but still arrived at today with the same record.
Several things went wrong on Sunday night, but really, no more than have gone wrong in other games when the team has blown double-digit leads or failed to break away. Those times, mistakes weren't fatal. Sunday, they were. It's no more complicated than that. These women are human, and they were never perfect. Just talented, hard-working, passionate, lucky.
And really, who wants to cheer for perfect? Talent, discipline, passion – that's all so much more interesting.
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