How many breaks can the Lynx get? First, they had the Olympic break, where four of their five starters brought home the gold. Now, after getting the one-seed in the playoffs, they had a 10 day wait for their first game after the regular season.
People questioned whether having that many players in Rio would cause issues, mostly relating to rest due to the age of the team. After dropping the first game back, Minnesota went 7-1 to close out the season. Clearly, that break wasn’t an issue.
People wondered how an extended layoff before their postseason started would affect the team, questioning if there would be any rust. The answer is no, as the Lynx crushed the Mercury, 113-95, in game one of the semifinals.
It was an electric show, featuring blistering offense and no defense at Xcel Energy Center. Phoenix shot 53.5 percent from the field, only to be topped by the nearly 64 percent by the Lynx. “They pretty much dominated us in every facet of the game today. I mean all the credit to them,” Diana Taurasi said afterwards.
You wouldn’t think that would have been the case after the first frame. Taurasi was hot, scoring 11 points with three shots coming from beyond the arc. It was a back and forth quarter, the Mercury leading by six at one point, and the Lynx leading by five until finally ending in a one point lead for the host. Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus only played about half the quarter.
Head coach Cheryl Reeve was asked what prompted her to go to the three guard lineup early in the game. “The starters were tired, there was zero credit for any kind of strategy. That’s the next group, we’ve been able to use those guys. I thought they were effective,” she said in the postgame press conference.
The bench was indeed effective. I was intrigued by a new mini lineup of death that ended up on the floor. Death by exhaustion. After Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson picked up three fouls in the first half and with Janel McCarville out due to back spasms, Reeve went small. The lineup featured the team’s speediest players in Anna Cruz, Renee Montgomery, Jia Perkins and Natasha Howard. Phoenix boasts a big team but they could not keep up with those four players. The fast break point battle was won 16-2. They were getting easy buckets left and right.
What is interesting is that this game was like many others this season. They basically had one big quarter, in terms of point differential, and that was the second. Moore scored 15 of her 31 points and grabbed five of her eight rebounds in that quarter. “Sometimes within the course of the game, it’s just a matter of when you get your break, when you can create a momentum shift or a run. Sometimes I’m involved with that as far as scoring and other times it’s [Sylvia Fowles] or other players,” Moore said modestly after the game.
That’s just like Maya, deflecting attention away from herself, but she was fantastic. With 4:53 left before the half, she euro-stepped between Brittney Griner and Sonja Petrovic and finished a finger-roll to take the lead to 16. Then, she capped off her quarter by hitting a three in transition right in a defender’s face with two minutes to go. This was after Montgomery, who is 5’7”, tipped and stole a pass intended for Griner, who is 6’8”, and then hit Maya on the outlet.
From there, the teams continued to not play defense but trading buckets was something Phoenix couldn’t afford. They were down 19 going into the fourth, and Taurasi and Griner didn’t play a single minute then. Throughout the game they seemed content with their terrible defense, making minimal adjustments and those two not playing showed the team had conceded game one.
Fowles ended with 16 points and 10 rebounds, even though she was in foul trouble early. Some may be concerned with that as she has struggled at times being disciplined but tonight it just seemed the refs didn’t want to let these teams play. There were a lot of calls that didn’t need to be made and you could see the frustration from both sides.
Whalen had 19 points and seven assists, her highlight being when she fooled four Phoenix defenders as she crossed-over and spun to the rim while making it look all too easy. Augustus had 10 points and seven assists. Brunson had a great all-around game with nine points, six rebounds and four assists. Moore was the MVP with 31 points, eight boards, two assists and two steals.
You know the Mercury will come back with a vengeance on Friday but I am not worried. In my playoff preview, I alluded to the fact that I didn’t really want to see them make it to the semifinals. After tonight, I think the Lynx have what it takes to reach the finals, and potentially get their fourth title in six years.
They play again at Xcel Energy Center at 7 PM.
BONUS FOWLES TRAIN COMING THROUGH: