Lynx win franchise's first playoff series
MINNEAPOLIS -- Long before Tuesday night, when the Minnesota Lynx finished off the San Antonio Silver Stars 85-67 in the deciding Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve sat in a nearly empty Target Center after a practice, ruminating about what it takes for teams to win in the WNBA playoffs.
A coach in the league since 2001 and an assistant on two of the Detroit Shock's three championship teams, Reeve has seen more than enough postseasons to foretell how a typical series might play out.
"Everybody will tell you, you want to play your best basketball when the playoffs start," she said. "In this league I think that's hard, because of the wear and tear. Most players when you get to the playoffs are tired, and so I don't think you see the best basketball from most of the teams. It's just survive and advance however you can, whether it's pretty or ugly."
Tuesday night, pretty won out. The Lynx open the best-of-three Western Conference finals against Phoenix on Thursday night at the Target Center.
On a night when MVP candidate Lindsay Whalen did not make her first basket until 7:25 remained and scored only four points, the Lynx won the first playoff series in franchise history by shooting 50.8 percent from the field, passing the ball crisply and spreading the offensive load around, which didn't happen in the first two games of the series.
They won with another sterling effort from leading scorer Seimone Augustus, who used screens and her own creativity to fashion 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting. Augustus, in her first postseason after six years in the league, got a hug from Whalen and a standing ovation from the crowd of 8,734 when she came out with 53.3 seconds to play.
"Seimone has been an absolute stud, the way she responded," Reeve said. "She has this look about her that makes me feel so good inside, knowing she's on my side."
The Lynx won with grit from post players Rebekkah Brunson (15 points, 9 rebounds) and Taj McWilliams-Franklin (16 points, 3 rebounds), who hadn't done much offensively in the series. The league's best rebounding team again dominated the glass, outrebounding the Silver Stars, 36-21.
Ruth Riley laid out the 41-year-old McWilliams-Franklin with an elbow to the chin in the third quarter, a flagrant foul, but McWilliams-Franklin refused to leave the court. She walked it off -- "My brain might be a little frazzled, but my teeth are great," she said -- and hit both foul shots. Augustus followed with a jumper for a four-point swing and a 52-40 lead.
"Our radio guy tweeted that the post players in two games had like 26 points and 28 percent [shooting], and it kind of hurt our feelings that they put that out there on us," McWilliams-Franklin said with a smile. "The team needs us. Seimone can't hit every shot. Maya [Moore] can't hit every shot. Lindsay can't score 20 points every game. At some point it has to be on us as professionals and veterans to do things about it. It worked tonight."
San Antonio jumped out to a 10-2 lead, but then Minnesota made 17 of 22 field goals to take command, including scoring 17 consecutive points in the second quarter. That left the Silver Stars 15 points down and playing from behind the rest of the way.
Although San Antonio's Sophia Young made her first seven shots and scored 17 points, the Lynx contained Becky Hammon (15 points on 5-for-14 shooting) and Danielle Adams (nine points).
"The thing that made us successful in the beginning was a great group effort," Brunson said. "We knew we had to get back to that."
Over the last two months, losses brought out the best in the Lynx the next time out. Minnesota lost consecutive games only once in the regular season, against playoff-bound Seattle and Indiana in late June, and then responded with strong efforts after each defeat.
An exhausting 112-105 loss to Phoenix on July 13 led to a 10-point victory at Indiana two nights later, the start of a club-record nine-game winning streak.
"They were extremely committed," Reeve said. "That's what it takes to close out a team in Game 3 of the playoffs. I was extremely impressed with how they did it."