This began as a game with playoff implications. Best in the West vs. Best in the East. One game, winner takes top seed in the WNBA in what might have been a preview of the league finals.
By the time it ended it was an MVP referendum.
Minnesota beat Chicago 79-66 at Target Center Saturday night. It gave the Lynx (26-8) the top playoff seed for the third consecutive season and 80 wins since the start of the 2011 season. The Sky, which entered the game having won nine of 10 games, finished 24-10.
It was a high-intensity battle between two very talented teams that included four legitimate MVP contenders.
Lindsay Whalen, capping off perhaps her best WNBA regular season ever, scored 23 points, had six assists and six rebounds and a dominant second quarter. Maya Moore scored 22 points with 11 rebounds and six assists, getting her team off to a great start. Together, they had more points at halftime (35) than the Sky (34).
The Sky’s dynamic duo of rookie forward Elena Delle Donne (14 points) and center Sylvia Fowles (17 points and 11 rebounds), both of whom scored 30-plus in Chicago’s overtime victory over Minnesota last month, were held in relative check by Rebekkah Brunson and Janel McCarville, respectively.
It was, as it has been all year for the Lynx, a team effort laden with star appeal.
The Lynx pounded the boards (44-26 edge in rebounds) while holding Chicago to 37.5 percent shooting.
“There were two things on our minds tonight,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “First, to get that best overall record, which nobody else has. Second, it was fan appreciation night.’’
When Reeve got here in 2010, Target Center was rarely full. Saturday the team was selling standing-room-only lower bowl seats. “I told them, they did that,” Reeve said. “They built this thing. I wanted them to bask in that.’’
After the work was done, of course.
“We’re one step closer to our goals we set at the beginning of the season,” Moore said. “We’re proud of what we’ve done. We’re definitely enjoying tonight.”
But that’s where it will end. “Now we have to focus up for Seattle,” Whalen said of the team’s Western Conference semifinal matchup, which begins Friday at Target Center.
“While our record says we’re the best, now we have to go out there and prove it,” Reeve said. “Everybody is 0-0.’’