PHOENIX – Minnesota’s own “Big Three” kissed Phoenix goodbye.
The Lynx’s triple threat of Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and defense closed out the Mercury in the Western Conference finals, winning 72-65 Sunday before an announced crowd of 8,020 at US Airways Center.
A couple days after the Augustus-Diana Taurasi cheek smooch during Game 1 drew national attention, Minnesota’s play turned the talk back to basketball, specifically its quest to win a second championship in three years.
The Lynx are headed to the WNBA Finals for a third consecutive season — a feat most recently matched by Detroit from 2006-2008 and by Houston teams early in the league’s existence.
The Atlanta Dream knocked out Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals earlier Sunday. Game 1 of the best-of-five series will be Sunday at Target Center. Minnesota split its two regular-season matchups against Atlanta, winning 94-72 on July 9 and losing 88-75 on Aug. 20.
The clinching victory left the Lynx 4-0 this postseason. It came despite a 1-for-12 shooting day from Lindsay Whalen (she did have four rebounds and seven assists). The Lynx also missed 12 free throws and were outrebounded 43-35.
“I would have said we would get blown out,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, an assistant on those Detroit teams in the mid-to-late-2000s, said in response to the poor offensive numbers.
But Phoenix shot 38 percent from the floor, including 2-for-21 from behind the arc. The Lynx withstood a high-energy first quarter by the Mercury, took a 38-35 lead at halftime, stretched it to 53-45 after three quarters, and a jump shot by Augustus gave the Lynx a 68-56 lead with 3 minutes, 14 seconds left in the game.
“It has a lot to do with the makeup and personalities of this team,” Augustus said of the team’s third consecutive finals berth. “A lot of us have sacrificed a lot — I had to become a defensive player. Those factors kind of make it a blessing. It’s not easy at all, especially with all the new players coming in [to the league], new coaches. Every year it’s tougher.”
Led by Taurasi, the Mercury pulled within 69-65 on a putback by Candice Dupree with 37 seconds left in regulation, but Whalen hit a free throw, Taurasi missed a driving layup in traffic, and Augustus hit a free throw to bring the lead back to 71-65.
And when Janel McCarville screamed with excitement inside the Lynx huddle about being a conference champion for the first time in her WNBA career, even veterans who’ve been to the finals a few times couldn’t help but enjoy themselves.
“I thought they played awfully well, and, honestly, in my assessment — for whatever that means — I feel like they’re the best team in the WNBA” Mercury interim coach Russ Pennell said.
Moore and Augustus were a combined 20-for-33 shooting, and McCarville (five rebounds, five assists) and Rebekkah Brunson (14 rebounds) were key factors in negating the Mercury post players for a second consecutive game.
Taurasi scored 21 points but needed 21 shots to get there.
“Each year is its own journey,” Moore said. “... We have some new faces that haven’t had the experience that our leaders have. Some of us middle-aged players, three, four, five years, it’s really exciting to feel that energy from some of them who haven’t been at this stage yet. It’s refreshing. It’s fun for all of us.”