Two of the most powerful teams in WNBA history took the floor at US Airways Center Friday to open the highly-anticipated best-of-three Western Conference Finals.
The defending champion Minnesota Lynx boasted league MVP Maya Moore and two other Olympians in their primes, but the Phoenix Mercury maintained a double-digit lead for the final three quarters to win, 85-71, and move within one victory from the Finals.
Game Two will be at 12:30 p.m. PT Sunday in Minneapolis and can be seen on ABC.
“We know we’re going to get a harder effort from the Lynx,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “They’re the champions, going back home. To win championships, you have play defense and you have to rebound, and we’ve been stressing that. We did a really good job of that tonight.”
Phoenix began the game with a 9-0 run over the first two minutes before Seimone Augustus scored two of her nine first quarter points. The Lynx would stage a comeback, with Janel McCarville cutting the lead to 12-10 with a 21-foot jump shot. After Brittney Griner was called with an offensive foul, Augustus knotted the score at 12-12, and the Mercury led 23-20 after the first quarter. It was at this point where a classic matchup between the two powerhouses seemed unavoidable, but Minnesota would never take the lead and would fall behind by as many as 25.
“We didn’t approach this game the way we should,” said Rebekkah Brunson, who scored 12 with eight rebounds for the Lynx. “We know we can play a lot better. We’ve faced a lot of adversity throughout this season, so this is nothing new.”
Averaging 24 points per game during the regular season, Moore would score her first basket with 3:16 left in the second after missing her first five attempts and be limited to nine points, and Augustus only scored three more for the rest of the game to finish with 12.
Lindsay Whalen scored five unanswered in the early fourth to chip the advantage to 12, and Brunson cut it to 10 from the line with a minute and a half left, but it was too late. Whalen notched 11 of her game-high 25 points in the final period.
“One of my jobs is to get in the paint and create,” Whalen said. “I got a couple jumpers to go, so I felt pretty good and wanted to keep attacking and keep going as much as possible.”
Griner led the Mercury with 23 points, while grabbing 11 rebounds, Diana Taurasi scored 17, and DeWanna Bonner added 16 points, while going 4-of-7 from long range. Penny Taylor almost pulled off the near triple-double, done once in playoff history by Sheryl Swoopes, with 16 points, a game-high 13 rebounds and seven assists.
“What I’ve been doing all season is fill the gaps,” Taylor said. “I do what I can to lift the team when we need to. Tonight, it was a lot of assists in the first half, and in the second, I tried to be more aggressive on the boards.”
The Eastern Conference Finals begin at 4 p.m. PT Saturday with Chicago at Indiana on NBATV.