Showing why they are the best team in the WNBA, the Minnesota Lynx put on a complete basketball clinic in dismantling the Phoenix Mercury tonight in the first game of the Western Conference Finals.
The story of the game was the Lynx defense from the start. They never let the Mercury get comfortable running their offense, holding them to 34% shooting on the night and forcing 19 turnovers. Their physical play in the paint limited Phoenix's easy opportunities especially in the first half, when the Mercury shot under 25% and managed only 22 points, six in the 2nd quarter.
"It was our defense, that's what fueled us," Coach Cheryl Reeve said after the game. "In the second, that was our best effort, being locked in together and trying to get it done."
By then, the game was all but decided as the Lynx led 45-22 at the break, with Maya Moore hitting a 26 footer at the end of the half to put a an exclamation point on 20 fantastic minutes of basketball by the home team.
While Phoenix was able to find a bit more of an offensive rhythm in the third quarter, they were never able to make a dent in the Lynx lead, as turnovers leading to transition points and Lynx execution in the half court kept them comfortably in front throughout. The lead ballooned to 31 at several points in the 4th quarter until both teams pulled their starters with over five minutes remaining.
Among the Mercury, only Brittney Griner had an effective offensive game, shooting 6-12 from the floor for 13 points, but the Lynx made it difficult for her to catch the ball in good spots. Stars Diana Taurasi and Candice Dupree were frustrated throughout, with Taurasi finishing with 15 points on 4-14 shooting and instigating a brief shoving match with Seimone Augustus early in the fourth quarter. Dupree, one game after scoring 22 in the clincher against L.A., was a complete non-factor, finishing with four points on 1-6 shooting.
The shoving was quickly resolved with a double-foul call and hugs and high-fives between the long-time opponents. Augustus said "As far as me and Diana and the technical, I always say she wanted some of my deliciousness."
The Lynx were, as usual, led offensively by their three perimeter stars, Lindsay Whalen who finished with 20 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, Maya Moore who had 20, 5, and 3 steals, and Seimone Augustus who scored 18 and added 5 boards.
Whalen was the spark plug early, as she was consistently able to get into the lane and finish around the rim in the first half, during which she scored 16 points. Her scoring opened up the game for the other Lynx stars, who came alive as the game went on. The 19 turnovers the Lynx forced helped them to a 20 to 2 advantage in fast break points and provided several easy opportunities which led to the Lynx shooting 53% from the field overall.
It was a complete performance by the Lynx who seem focused on reclaiming the WNBA championship. Phoenix, who have yet to beat the Lynx this year in six tries, must overcome the mental hurdle that Minnesota clearly represents. They get the chance in game two of the series, which will take place in Phoenix on Sunday afternoon at 4:00pm Central.