Minnesota ready to move on from heartbreaking WNBA Finals loss

All Access: 2017 Lynx training camp (1:24)

Get a sneak peek from the Minnesota Lynx practice facility as they prepare to tip off the 2017 WNBA season. (1:24)

It was a "party" that Minneapolis' most famous fictional resident, Mary Richards, could have related to: definitely not the best of times.

The parties thrown by the title character on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" were always bombs, a comic thread throughout the series. For the Minnesota Lynx, though, this one wasn't funny. Or fun.

But coach Cheryl Reeve and her players knew it mattered to spend some time together in the hours after their season ended in October with a crushing loss to Los Angeles in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals.

"You just have to experience that pain," Reeve said of how bad everyone with the Lynx felt following the 77-76 defeat on their home court that kept Minnesota from repeating as WNBA champions. "There's nothing anyone could say to make it better. But it's important to gather as a group, and to have family and friends around."

So that's what they did. The Lynx already had reserved the second floor of a restaurant near Target Center, anticipating that they would be celebrating a championship. It didn't work that way, but they didn't cancel the gathering. It just took on a very different feel, becoming more about commiseration, comfort and support.

Bittersweet? You bet, but that's sports -- and life. There was a Prince cover band on hand to play, which kind of made it even sadder. In 2015, the superstar musician had invited the Lynx to his Paisley Park complex to celebrate after they beat Indiana in Game 5 of the Finals that year and won their third championship.

Prince died in April 2016, a loss mourned all over the globe and felt deeply by the Lynx. Prince's outreach meant a great deal to them. It was impossible not to reflect on 2015's joyful memories with some melancholy a year later.

"We'd had such a great time then. Who knew that would be the last time we'd see him?" Reeve said. "So that was hard for everybody."

All that said, Reeve wryly notes that no one else was feeling sorry for the Lynx not getting another title.

"I find that everybody roots against us," she said, chuckling a bit. "We always say that everybody thinks it's great for someone else to win. And we don't think that's great."

We revisit all this not to force Reeve, the Lynx or their fans to keep wallowing in last season's disappointment. But before the 2017 season opens Saturday, it is worth looking back one more time -- in this case, from Minnesota's perspective -- on that highly competitive WNBA Finals and Game 5, in particular. Both teams were so good, it really was about little things here and there that added up.

After Game 5, Reeve was livid about a missed shot-clock violation by Los Angeles late in the game, but also gave the Sparks credit for winning the title. Normally, she watches film almost as quickly as she can after games. But this time, with the season over and the ending being so painful, she put it off.

"You relive it in your mind, but I could not watch the game," Reeve said. "I didn't until a few days before the start of training camp. I said to myself, 'Look, you might learn something to help this year's team. So suck it up and go watch it.'

"I learned a strategic thing ... something I'd been hitting on in practice, but it was very much reinforced. Probably in the whole series, but in particular in that game."

Reeve preferred not to say exactly what that was; no point giving the competitors any inside information.

Still, she praised the Sparks and Nneka Ogwumike, who got an offensive rebound, had her shot blocked by Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, but then immediately shot again when the ball came back to her. That one went in for the winning basket with 3.1 seconds left.

"Nneka did a very Nneka-like thing, which was be persistent on the glass," Reeve said. "She didn't quit playing when Syl blocked the first one. It's one of those things where you go, 'It was meant to be.'

"Sometimes you can do almost everything right and still not win. Some things went their way at key moments. And we've experienced that, too, when we've won our championships. It's not that you don't put yourself in that position with hard work and effort. We did that, and they did that. But some things just go your way, or they don't."

Mind you, this is Reeve talking more than six months after the fact. She can be more philosophic about it now. In the moment, she tried to do that, too.

"I wanted to make sure we had perspective; the players felt so terrible," Reeve said. "I always want them to know how much we support them and appreciate what they give us."

Which is monumental. Minnesota has been a legitimate title contender for the past six years, making the WNBA Finals five times and winning three championships (2011, '13, '15). And the Lynx, who open play Sunday against Chicago, start this season right at the top again.

They've become the standard-bearer for the league. How many franchises in any pro sport can stay at that level for so many consecutive seasons? It doesn't happen very often.

"There's a lot of talk about our time together and the window closing. You feel like it was a missed opportunity, for sure. We have a fire that burns in all of us anyway, but [the Finals loss] kind of gives you more of that."

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve on losing in Game 5 of the 2016 WNBA Finals

But the Lynx have done it with a core four who've been together for that whole stretch: Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. Fowles joined the Lynx via trade midway through 2015, and fit in well with the culture of excellence.

Is there a clock ticking in the background for the Lynx? Yes, and they know that, but they don't dwell on it. Brunson turned 35 in December, Whalen did so this week. Augustus turned 33 in April. Fowles is 31, and Moore will be 28 in June.

"I know how bad the group wanted it last year," Reeve said. "There's a lot of talk about our time together and the window closing. You feel like it was a missed opportunity, for sure. We have a fire that burns in all of us anyway, but [the Finals loss] kind of gives you more of that. I don't want to really talk about it, though. I want to see it in our play."

They'll be on a different home court: the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, as Target Center is going through renovations. And they won't have longtime assistant Jim Petersen, who resigned to spend more time with his family.

The way 2016 ended has lingered for a while. That was unavoidable. But for Reeve and the Lynx, the page has turned. There are more chapters ahead.

"For six years running, this has not been easy to do," she said. "I tell the players, 'You make it look easy, so the expectations are high all the time.' We make sure they understand what they're doing right to prepare themselves for success. Let's just keep doing it."