MINNEAPOLIS — It didn’t take long for the tears to start rolling down Sylvia Fowles’ cheeks, as unstoppable as the Minnesota Lynx center is in the post.
The WNBA MVP trophy sat just a few feet away, a coronation long expected and finally realized. Fowles was the runaway winner in voting results announced on Thursday, finishing with 35 of 40 first-place votes from a media panel.
“I said I wasn’t going to tear up, but it’s just a proud moment,” Fowles said in a ceremony held two hours before the Lynx faced the Washington Mystics in Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals. “All your hard work over the last 10 years has finally paid off.”
There was never any doubt this season. Fowles dominated in the paint on both ends of the court from the very first night for the Lynx, who had a league-best 27-7 record during the regular season. New York’s Tina Charles finished second in the voting and received three first-place votes. Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker was third.
Fowles averaged 18.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in her 10th season. Her play was so overpowering that the Lynx have gradually morphed their offense from a perimeter-oriented system that features Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus to a post-centric set where Fowles is the top priority.
Her athleticism and strength have long made her one of the most efficient players in the league and a three-time defensive player of the year. And after the Lynx missed a chance to repeat as champions last season with a loss to the Sparks in the finals, coach Cheryl Reeve vowed to feature Fowles more going forward.
“This team, in order to continue to be successful at a high level, we needed to turn our attention inside,” Reeve said. “And it would take the pressure off of our perimeter players who have carried us since 2011. Early in the season, it exceeded my expectations as to how fast she was able to apply it.”
Fowles averaged 11.4 field goal attempts — her highest number since 2011 — and shot 65.5 percent from the field, leading the WNBA in shooting percentage for the fifth time in her career. It was the culmination of a three-year process for her after she forced her way out of Chicago and joined Minnesota in 2015.
“Me and coach Reeve had conversations about me being in the (conversation) for the MVP race,” Fowles said. “She pretty much just re-processed my whole thinking of what I can really do for this program. So it started with coach Reeve and she’s the one who pushed me to this point.”
During a 4-5 stretch after point guard Lindsay Whalen went down with a broken hand, Fowles struggled to find her rhythm. Opposing teams threw double and sometimes triple-teams at her to try to negate Minnesota’s biggest advantage. That eventually opened the door for Moore and Augustus to get going, which is exactly what happened in their victory over the Mystics in Game 1 on Tuesday night.
“I’m hard on myself and I tend to get in my way at times,” Fowles said. “Coach Reeve was one of the first ones to say, ‘look, everybody messes up. It’s the bounce back and how you process things.’ … I think that was the biggest turnaround from last season and coming back into this season.”