9:00 PM ET, September 22, 2011
Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury are in the Western Conference finals for a third straight season. Rookie of the year Maya Moore and the Minnesota Lynx are coming off their first playoff series win.While their experience levels differ, both clubs are confident heading into Game 1 of the best-of-three series on Thursday night in Minnesota.The Lynx advanced to their first conference finals after eliminating San Antonio in three games in the opening round this week.After dropping Game 2, the league's No. 1 overall seed defeated the Silver Stars 85-67 on Tuesday to wrap up the series. Seimone Augustus scored 22 points while Moore added 14 and six rebounds."I'm extremely happy that we were tested in the first round because you want to have an attitude of urgency throughout the playoffs," said Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who scored 16 points. "I think this put us back on our heels, the first two games, and now we can be prepared for the level that each team is going to play with against us."Augustus heads into the conference finals on a tear. She averaged 21.7 points in the first round, up from the 16.2 per game she scored during the regular season."She's been an absolute stud," coach Cheryl Reeve said. "She has this look about her that just makes me feel so good knowing that she's on my side.Despite the Lynx's confidence in Augustus, they will need more weapons to compete with Taurasi, the league's leading scorer at 21.6 points per game.Moore averaged 13.3 points in the series, but she shot 38.5 percent in the first two games. She was closer to her regular-season average (43.9) on Tuesday, going 5 for 12.The bigger concern may be defending Taurasi, who averaged 23.2 points during the season series against Minnesota and leads a veteran squad into her third straight conference finals and fourth in five years.The Mercury were swept by Seattle last year after winning the WNBA title in 2009.However, Taurasi is coming off an uneven series against the Storm during which she averaged 18.7 points on 36 percent shooting. In Game 3's 77-75 win Monday, she had 19 points before fouling out with 6:38 to go.However, Candice Dupree came up big again. After scoring 29 points in Game 2, she finished with 20 on Monday, including a putback with 1.9 seconds left to complete a comeback from an 18-point deficit in the first half."I'm extremely proud to be a part of it," Dupree said. "We've got to keep pushing from here."While the Mercury have been here before, there may be concerns about fatigue. Phoenix averaged a league-best 89.0 points during the regular season, but was held to 76.7 points in the playoff series."We'll enjoy this tonight," coach Corey Gaines said. "After that, back to work."Minnesota won three of five regular-season meetings against Phoenix, splitting two games in Minneapolis. It was a high-scoring series, with the Lynx averaging 95.4 points and the Mercury 91.6.