At one point during Thursday’s game between the top two teams in the WNBA, Mercury guard Diana Taurasi extended her hand to Lynx center Janel McCarville for help after getting knocked to the floor. McCarville snubbed her, and the two laughed about it as they jogged to the other end of the court.
Not quite the infamous Seimone Augustus-Taurasi kiss from last season’s conference finals, but still an accurate snapshot of the much-hyped escalating rivalry between the Lynx and Phoenix Mercury.
In front of a Target Center sellout crowd of 9,513, the Lynx beat Phoenix 75-67, stopping their 16-game winning streak and cutting their hold on the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference to just 1½ games.
McCarville said her show of sass was just a sign of how competitive these teams have become in the past few seasons.
“When we get between the lines, I don’t think a lot of people like each other, on most teams, for that matter,” she said. “But definitely with Phoenix, the way this season’s gone, how it’s coming down to the wire now.”
And while there was no kissing tonight with stoic guard Lindsay Whalen defending Taurasi, the game was still plenty physical. The referees doled out technical fouls to Augustus, Taurasi and Mercury coach Sandy Brondello.
If the crowd had been on the court, it may have been warned, too. The hometown fans screamed for calls and non-calls, so much so that Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve stomached a headache trying to yell over the noise to her players.
Though to be fair, she was doing quite a lot of shouting at the officials as well.
“It was just a lot of crying out, you know, it seemed like everybody wanted something,” Lynx guard Tan White said. “But it was like, at some point, let’s fight through all of these. … We just didn’t feed into it. We stayed poised.”
White was a big part of her team’s first turnaround in a game of momentum shifts. She subbed in with about four minutes left in the first quarter, hitting a three-pointer to help the Lynx go on an 11-0 run after starting 0-for-7 from the field.
The Lynx, ahead 21-10, took the biggest lead of the game, 13 points, at the start of the second, but a series of calls against them let Phoenix creep back within three and then one by the end of the third quarter.
But back-to-back three-pointers and a steal from 6-8 Mercury center Brittney Griner by Lynx forward Maya Moore pushed the Lynx into a substantial lead they maintained until the buzzer.
Reeve said that was the style of play her team had aspired to all season.
“That’s Lynx basketball,” Reeve said. “That was, I thought, the first time all year that we played that way, with that grit, that determination, that if we don’t score, they don’t score.”
Moore scored a game-high 20 points, followed by Augustus with 19 and Griner with 18. Both Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson, who missed two earlier losses to Phoenix after knee surgery, and Mercury forward Candice Dupree had double-doubles, Brunson with 10 points and 12 rebounds while Dupree had one more rebound.
Brondello said the atmosphere and performance level felt like playoff basketball.
And Augustus agreed: “It’s better for the league to have great matchups like this. I feel like the Bulls and the Lakers.”