The Minnesota Lynx swept the Atlanta Dream Thursday night to clinch their second WNBA championship in three years, led by several dominant performances from 31-year-old, eight-months pregnant Rebekkah Brunson.
Brunson, a 6-foot, 2-inch tall, 215-pound power forward who recently entered her third trimester, averaged 26 points and 14 rebounds in the series and was by all accounts the Lynx’s biggest threat on both ends of the floor.
“Rebekkah was really the difference-maker, there’s no question about that,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve, adding that Brunson’s low-post game has drastically improved since putting on 40 pounds over the past few months. “She did it all—blocking shots, snagging rebounds, and absolutely dominating in the paint. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player just blow through the lane like that. No one could guard her.”
“When she threw her weight around down low, she was unstoppable,” Reeve continued. “Rebekkah was boxing out every other player on the court to get rebounds, and to do that against a team as good as the Dream was really something special.”
According to Reeve, Brunson’s commanding presence in the key and 37-centimeter baby bump set the tone for Minnesota’s success against Atlanta. In addition to converting a host of contested layups, Brunson frequently set picks on the perimeter, leading to a number of wide-open three-pointers for her teammates. The 10-year WNBA veteran whose due date is Nov. 8 also drew nine charges over the course of three games while on defense.
Furthermore, many analysts said the highlight of the entire series came when Brunson knifed through three Dream defenders during a fierce drive to the basket, which the eight-months pregnant forward finished with an acrobatic teardrop layup.
“You want to leave it all out there during the Finals, and Rebekkah did that,” said Lynx forward Maya Moore, adding that Brunson has been incredibly diligent about taking her prenatal vitamins before and after every game. “They tried to get physical and knock her down whenever she drove to the basket, but she’s so big that she just shrugged off the hits like they were nothing. And when she dove for that loose ball in the third quarter, it just lifted the whole team.”
“She was just on a different level,” added Moore. “No one saw this coming at the beginning of the season when she was still suffering from morning sickness every day.”
Brunson did have several obstacles to overcome throughout the series, having to leave Game 1 for a full quarter due to abdominal cramping. Team sources said Brunson was also repeatedly forced to sub out of play in order to run to the locker room and change after lactating through her jersey.
At one point during Game 2, Brunson reportedly thought she had gone into preterm labor, but reentered the game several minutes later after realizing she had only experienced a Braxton Hicks contraction. She was then rested at the end of the decisive 88-63 victory and watched the final few minutes while lying on her side next to the bench with a large pillow between her legs.
Brunson’s regular mood swings, however, were said to work heavily in Minnesota’s favor, with the 31-year-old often bursting into tears on defense and angrily ripping the ball out of a Dream player’s hands for an all-time Finals record 67 steals.
“I have to hand it to Rebekkah—she was phenomenal, and we couldn’t figure out a way to contain her on either side of the ball,” said Dream coach Fred Williams, adding that Brunson was “simply too much” for Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry, who is currently only in her second trimester. “Rebekkah showed amazing tenacity and heart out there. Even when she got those random food cravings and had to take a timeout to get a few hot dogs from a vendor in the stands, she got right back on the court and stepped up when her team needed her.”
“Honestly, I haven’t seen a performance like that since the 2002 Finals, when Lisa Leslie put up 17 points and 7 rebounds during her 14th hour of labor,” added Williams.
Following the victory, Brunson went on to collect the WNBA Finals MVP, becoming just the fifth pregnant player in league history to win the honor.