So often the narrative when it comes to the Minnesota Lynx is about their big three. Olympians, MVP candidates, the faces of the franchise.
Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus. And with reason. Moore came a few votes from the MVP this year. Whalen had a career year. Augustus has done more for this franchise than perhaps any other player.
But Friday, in Minnesota’s victory over Seattle in the first game of their best-of-three Western Conference semifinal series, the person who set the tone was power forward Rebekkah Brunson.
Brunson, who seems to be relegated to co-star status so often. Brunson, whose gritty play all season earned her an All Star berth. Brunson, whose off-the-charts intensity kept the Lynx in the lead in a first half in which the Lynx struggled to find a rhythm.
At 32 — by almost five months the oldest player on the team — Brunson had played in two WNBA Finals, winning once, before she joined the Lynx in 2010. She was on the defunct Sacramento team that beat Whalen’s Connecticut team in the 2005 finals.
Friday, playing in her 44th career WNBA playoff game, Brunson scored 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting. She had nine rebounds, four on offense. She also had four assists, tied for second on the team.
“She had a chill week,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said of Brunson’s preparation for the playoff opener. “She’s one of the older players who rested her body. She had three days off. … She was pretty locked in. She knew what needed to happen.’’
Brunson played well enough that the Lynx had a four-point halftime lead despite Moore’s 1-for-9 first half, despite Reeve having to sit center Janel McCarville with two fouls for much of the first half.
This is what makes the Lynx so difficult to play against. With the aforementioned trio of Olympians, the team can win when one, or even two, of them have an off night. Friday the Storm pressured the perimeter. So the Lynx, utilizing the high post, got six assists from Brunson and McCarville combined and another six from Moore.
But the tone was set by Brunson. All seven of her field goals were in the paint, and three of them resulted in three-point-play opportunities. In the first quarter, she had four points and two rebounds. In the second quarter, she had nine points and four rebounds, three on offense. In the decisive third quarter, she had all four of her assists — the total was a career playoff high — to go with two rebounds and two points.
“I just try and set the tone for my team and lead by example,” Brunson said. “I know the playoffs is a new series and a new season. You have to go out there and elevate your game to a new level. I just try to go out and set the tone immediately, and I know my team is going to follow.”
Now the venue changes. Sunday’s second game will be played not in KeyArena, the Storm’s usual home, but in the Tacoma Dome because of a scheduling conflict.
Brunson will be there to set an example. She has been doing the dirty work since joining the team. This regular season, Brunson was fifth in the league in rebounding and 15th in blocks. She tied her own franchise record with 12 double-doubles, giving her 41 as a Lynx.
“We don’t think they’ll go away,” Brunson said of the Storm. “They’ll fight to the end. But we’ve been in this position before. We know what it takes.”