Every Lynx starter scored in double figures, with a high of 23 from No. 23 – Finals MVP Maya Moore – as the 86-77 victory completed a perfect 7-0 playoff run Thursday at Gwinnett Arena in Duluth, Ga.
“I never stopped playing,” Moore said. “I always tried to move on to the next play. We know it’s not going to be perfect, but the sign of a mature championship team is how to get through those tough moments, and that’s what we did. They were hitting up characteristic jumpers with a hand in their face, and we just had to keep playing through it.”
After failing to repeat its 2011 championship with a loss to Indiana in the 2012 Finals, the Lynx won 15 of 16 to end the season and joined Seattle from 2010 as teams to go unblemished under the current three-round playoff format.
“Each journey is different, and this one was really special,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “The first one of the climb, there’s no doubt, that was fun, and then we came up short last year. There was a lot of people who didn’t believe we were still one of the best teams in the league….it was great motivation for us.”
Minnesota limited Angel McCoughtry, the WNBA’s leading scorer, to 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting and six turnovers, as the Dream fell to 0-9 in Finals games between three series in the past four seasons.
“I felt that we fought really hard,” Dream coach Fred Williams said. “For our young ladies to be hobbled and crippled and beat down a little bit and get back up and try to compete for another game, I thought they all tried to make that happen in this game today.”
As expected, the Lynx opened on a 10-2 run, with Janel McCarville going three-for-three in the paint. The double digit lead was broken with a six-point run, initiated with four from Erika de Souza. Moore drained what one would think was a spirit-crushing three, but Alex Bentley answered right back, chipping the lead to 22-17. Minnesota was at a 25-17 advantage after the first quarter.
Early in the second, Bentley found Aneika Henry to cut it to four. The Dream stayed in it down eight, as Tiffany Hayes knocked down a three, and on the next Atlanta possession, McCoughtry copied with one of her own, to close in on the Lynx, 34-32. It remained steady for the rest of the first half, and Bentley sent the Dream to recess down 40-37 with a traditional three-point play.
Minnesota put its foot on the pedal in the third, although Hayes had three three-point plays to prevent midnight coming for Cinderella a little longer. The rookie Bentley remained impressive and finished with 18 points, was 3-of-5 from long range, and tied Lindsay Whalen for the game-high of six assists.
Ten minutes and a 10-point advantage were all that separated the Lynx from the trophy. Another Hayes three brought the Dream into single digits once again, 68-61, and one from Bentley chipped it to 80-73 with two minutes remaining. Whalen controlled the clock, and the celebration began on the green-and-blue sideline.
Rebekkah Brunson pulled in her second-straight double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, 10 coming on the defensive glass, and passed former teammate Taj McWilliams-Franklin as the Finals’ all-time rebounding queen with 129.
Whalen finished with 15 points, 2011 Finals MVP Seimone Augustus scored 14, and McCarville scored 10, as the former Golden Gopher won her first career championship.
Hayes led the Dream with 20 points and was 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, and de Souza had 12 points and nine rebounds.
From the line, the Lynx shot 84 percent, compared to 58 percent for Atlanta, but when it came to long range – much to thank to Bentley and Hayes – the Dream owned a 53 percent to 28 percent advantage. Moore’s two from downtown were the first for Minnesota since Game One, as it went 0-for-1 in Game Two.