Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve gave a measured response Friday when she was asked about a preseason poll of WNBA general managers that picked Phoenix to win the league title. “That’s a loud message,” she said, with no hint of annoyance. “And we got it loud and clear.”
Reeve knew her team could make a more emphatic retort Saturday when it opened the season against the Mercury at Target Center. The Lynx delivered with a 95-76 rout, making their own loud, clear voices heard on a night when they celebrated their 2015 WNBA title. Four starters finished in double figures, led by Maya Moore (27 points) and Seimone Augustus (21 points), while Renee Montgomery and Sylvia Fowles spearheaded a defense that allowed the Lynx to take control in the second quarter.
Phoenix hit its first eight shots, giving an announced crowd of 9,221 a bit of early concern. But the Lynx’s balanced, efficient offense kept them close early before fueling a lead that reached 24 points. The Lynx outrebounded the Mercury 40-24, rolled up 30 points off 21 Phoenix turnovers and frustrated stars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, who combined for only 11 points in the second half.
The Lynx said they really weren’t out to send any messages, though Moore offered one. Her close-knit, veteran team is serious about defending its WNBA championship, and it wasn’t going to waste any time getting started.
“We want to take advantage of the special group we have, and we want to make sure we show it every time we play,” said Moore, who made 10 of 18 shots and had a game-high 10 assists. “Playing in front of our fans on opening night, we had a lot of motivation, a lot of want-to.
“I’m glad it translated into execution and defensive focus. There are still ways we can improve. But I’m glad we were able to start off in our home opener doing the things we’ve been talking about.”
Reeve said she didn’t sleep much Friday night, knowing the sharp emotional pivot her team would have to make Saturday. Before the game — in a ceremony replete with smoke, lasers and fireworks — the Lynx received their championship rings, unfurled their third title banner, paid tribute to Prince and basked in the love of a crowd twirling white towels.
Phoenix then hit every shot it took over the first 5 minutes, 41 seconds. The Lynx offense, though, ensured the Mercury couldn’t expand its lead beyond five points. In the second quarter, the defense got to work, with Montgomery buckling down on Taurasi as the Lynx tried to change the rhythm and flow of the game.
Phoenix scored only 14 points in the quarter, and the Lynx took a 10-point halftime lead. Taurasi, who returned to the Mercury this season after taking a year off, led Phoenix with 18 points but made only three of 11 shots over the final three quarters. Fowles also limited Griner inside, holding her to 12 points and five rebounds.
“We wanted to get under Taurasi’s skin and make it difficult for her,” Augustus said. “[Montgomery] jump-started that for us. She brought the energy.”
Though starters Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson arrived only last week, the Lynx’s familiarity allowed them to pick up where they left off last fall. Moore delivered pinpoint passes for easy baskets, and she and Augustus outscored Phoenix 13-2 late in the third quarter to push the lead to 18 points. Whalen, looking refreshed, made six of seven shots, while Fowles had 14 rebounds to go with her 17 points.
After Moore led the postgame victory dance, she said she found added incentive from that poll — but that wasn’t the main thing on her mind.
“Our motivation is bigger than the outside world’s opinion,” she said. “At the end of the day, a poll isn’t going to win or lose a championship. We have to make sure we’re focused on what we can control. That’s what we tried to do.”