For Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen, what happened Friday night against Tulsa has become almost expected, the norm.
When the Shock hit the Lynx hard, Whalen took over, running, driving, scoring. But what the 9,020 fans that packed Target Center for the Lynx opener saw out of Rebekkah Brunson?
Let’s just say it’s been a while.
In an 83-75 victory over the Shock, Brunson and Whalen wouldn’t let the Lynx lose on a night when Maya Moore battled foul trouble and Seimone Augustus battled a shot that sometimes simply wouldn’t fall.
“That’s the beauty of having veterans,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Just stay the course, stay committed.”
Whalen? She put up 26 points, six assists and one very well-timed block. With the score tied at 66 late in the game, it was Whalen who scored seven consecutive points as Minnesota took over the game for good.
Brunson? She had 14 points and 18 rebounds, getting more formidable as the game went on; in the crucial fourth quarter she personally outrebounded the Shock 7-2.
None of this is new. Whalen has been showing a well-honed sense of timing for years. But Brunson, the anchor of the Lynx post players, missed all but the final 11 regular-season games last year after undergoing surgery to repair a knee condition that had been getting worse for years. Even when she returned she wasn’t 100 percent, needing another procedure after the season ended, then a winter of rehab.
“It makes everything fun,” she said of not having to play in pain. “You can actually enjoy what you’re doing. It’s not a grind. You’re not just trying to get through it, you’re enjoying every minute of it. … It’s been awhile.”
The youthful, athletic Shock came out strong, building a 16-point lead late in the first quarter before Moore (23 points) scored nine straight during a 13-0 run that got the Lynx back in the game in the second quarter.
Still, it was a struggle. The Tulsa backcourt of Odyssey Sims (17 points) and Skylar Diggins (15) is lightning-quick, and veteran forward Plenette Pierson scored 10 of her 18 points as the Shock built that lead.
But the Lynx never wavered. Not when fouls started mounting on Moore and when Augustus (16 points, 7-for-22 shooting) started missing. But it was Whalen and Brunson who ultimately got it done.
Sensing her team was struggling to find a rhythm, Whalen had been trying to push things too hard. Reeve told her to slow things down, let the game come to her as she put Whalen back into the game midway through the fourth.
And boom: Whalen scored off a Brunson pass, breaking a 66-66 tie. Moments later she broke a 68-68 tie with a drive and a three-point play that put the Lynx up for good. She hit two free throws, then hit a driving Brunson. At the other end she blocked Pierson’s shot, scoring on the fast break and putting the Lynx up seven.
Brunson got better as the game went on, with 12 second-half rebounds.
“It was so much fun playing with her again,” Whalen said of Brunson. “It’s great to have her from the start, and feeling great. Unbelievable.”
Diggins scored five in a row, including a three-pointer that made it 77-75 Lynx with 1:27 left. But, out of a timeout, Augustus scored in the lane, then Whalen hit two more free throws to seal the deal.
“The first thing I told the team was, that’s the Lynx way,” Reeve said of the win. “But it’s also the Brunson way. That’s what she does.”