A lot had happened since the Lynx last played the Phoenix Mercury back in July.
Phoenix had a new coach, declared a fondness for defense, then upset Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs.
But in this case, the more things change the more they stay the same.
In an electric Target Center on Thursday, in front of an announced crowd of 9,013, in the opening game of the best-of-three Western Conference finals, the Lynx did what they seemingly always do against Phoenix.
The Lynx (29-8) took a 1-0 lead in the series with a 85-62 destruction of a Mercury team they hadn’t seen in two months, a victory spearheaded by an absurdly dominant 21-6 second quarter that gave them a 23-point halftime lead. The Lynx scored the first six points of the quarter and the final nine while holding Phoenix to season lows for a quarter and a half. It was a defensive-driven statement of purpose that sent Phoenix (21-17) back home for Sunday’s Game 2 grasping at straws.
“We have to get them to believe that Minnesota is beatable,” Phoenix coach Russ Pennell said.
The Lynx, at least in the first half, were near perfection.
“It was fun,” said Seimone Augustus, whose scoring (18 points) and defense on Phoenix star Diana Taurasi led the way — and led to a fourth-quarter tete-a-tete between the two. “It was one of the first times me, [Lindsay] Whalen and Maya [Moore] were all grooving at the same time. It was pick your poison.”
It was the Lynx's 13th consecutive victory over Phoenix, a two-plus year stretch that includes a 2-0 sweep of the Mercury in the 2011 conference finals and a 6-0 record this season. Minnesota also improved to 12-2 all-time in home playoff games.
And just about everybody contributed.
Whalen scored 10 of her 20 points in the first quarter. Moore scored 20, including a dagger-like three-pointer out of a scrum at the halftime buzzer.
Augustus scored from start to finish while combining with Monica Wright to play shutdown defense on Taurasi, a key matchup going into the series. Taurasi scored 15 points but needed 14 shots to do it.
Whalen, Moore and Augustus combined to score 58 points on 25-for-42 shooting with 16 rebounds and 10 assists. And then throw in some tough post defense from Rebekkah Brunson and Janel McCarville. The Mercury shot 34.3 percent.
“They kicked our [butts] in every aspect of the game,” Taurasi said.
Early in the fourth quarter, the game decided, Phoenix’s frustration was rising and Taurasi and Augustus got into a bit of a shoving match. They were called for a double foul, but the confrontation ended amicably with Taurasi planting a kiss on Augustus’ cheek.
“Two Olympians, two great players going nose to nose,” Pennell said.
Said Augustus, smiling: “That tango dance we had? She just wanted some of my deliciousness.”
Perhaps. But in a battle of wills, the Lynx responded. Up 26 points at the time, Moore got a three-point play, then Augustus had a steal, feeding Whalen for a layup to push the lead to 31, the biggest of the night.
“Just 31?” Taurasi asked. “That’s it? When another team plays like that, and you play terrible, we should have been down 50.”
The Lynx scored 24 points off 19 Phoenix turnovers, bested the Mercury in the paint and on the fast break — a 20-2 runaway. So now Phoenix has to figure out a way to erase the memory of six losses to the Lynx this season by an average margin of 17.2 points.
And the Lynx just need to keep it going.
“I thought we were really hard to play against,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “We played off our defense. We were pretty motivated.”