Sunday, midday, the Lynx players were in the locker room for a film session. Coach Cheryl Reeve walked in clutching the 2013 WNBA championship trophy.
She walked over and had Janel McCarville pull on the trophy. Reeve let go, easily. “We can do that,” she said. Then Monica Wright gave it a tug. Reeve held on a little longer, let go. “We can do that,” she said. Then she went to Rebekkah Brunson. Only this time, Reeve took hold with two hands and tore it away.
“It’s ours,” she said. “And we’re not letting it out of here.’’
And then Reeve put the trophy on the floor in the middle of the room and walked out.
Despite a slow start in which nothing would fall, the Lynx grabbled hold and held fast, rallying for an 82-77 victory over the Phoenix Mercury that tied their best-of-three Western Conference finals series at a game each. The final game is Tuesday night in Phoenix.
In front of 10,513 fans at Target Center, the Lynx fell behind by 13 points, then spent the final 30 minutes fighting back. With 23.3 seconds left in a tie game, Seimone Augustus came off a McCarville pick, took a pass from Lindsay Whalen, hit a 15-footer, and was fouled. Her three-point play gave the Lynx the lead for good.
It was the decisive play on a day when the Lynx’s Big Three of Augustus, Whalen and Maya Moore — players who have been here for both title runs — came up big in an emotionally taught, nationally televised game.
“Well, it was do or die,” Augustus said, pointing to the trophy, which still sat in the middle of the locker room after the game. “If you don’t do it, you don’t get another one of those. You don’t get a chance to defend your championship.’’
So Sunday, they did it. Moore, held to nine points in the series opener, scored 32 points with nine rebounds. Of those, 13 came in the fourth quarter, nine on three three-pointers in a 13-0 run that gave the Lynx a 69-65 lead with 5:57 left. Augustus scored 23 points, nine in the fourth quarter.
And Whalen. When the Lynx were struggling, unable to score, she had 12 of her 17 points in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter she dished out four assists.
The Big Three were the only three Lynx players to score in the first half.
“We all took our turns,” said Whalen, whose leadership, according to Reeve, is at an all-time high. “I was there in the first half. Maya was there throughout. And Seimone closed it out.’’
Or, as Reeve said: “It’s about players making plays, stars being stars.’’
There were players doing that on both sides. Diana Taurasi scored 23 points for Phoenix, Candice Dupree had 18 and Brittney Griner 14 points and three blocks.
Down 13 after a quarter, the Lynx cut that to eight at halftime and to six starting the fourth. But then Mercury guard Erin Phillips opened the fourth with a three-pointer, pushing the lead to nine.
And then, hold on: Over the next 3:45 the Lynx held the Mercury to 0-for-6 shooting and forced a turnover in a 13-point run started and ended with Moore three-pointers. “She made a lot of shots tonight,” Taurasi said. “When she does that, she is pretty impossible to guard. Today was her day.”
The teams went back and fourth, with three lead changes and four ties until, out of a timeout, Augustus scored, was fouled and hit the free throw. The Lynx never trailed again.
And so back to Phoenix for Game 3.
“It’s a battle of wills and who’s going to execute better,” Moore said.
And, maybe, who holds on the tightest.