The Lynx beat Phoenix 81-69 on Wednesday afternoon at Target Center, making their record against the Western Conference rival 5-0 this season.
But as far as Mercury coach Corey Gaines was concerned, this game could be summed up rather simply.
“No. 1 team, and we’re down three bazookas,” he said. “We will be back.”
Phoenix star Diana Taurasi, averaging a WNBA-high 22.4 points per game, was serving a one-game suspension for accumulating too many technical fouls (seven) this season. Brittney Griner, the 6-8 center who was the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, sat out because of a sprained left knee. Phoenix reserve Penny Taylor, a three-time All-Star recovering from a knee injury, was given the day off to rest.
The Lynx saw their opportunity to get ahead early and ran with it, using a 28-4 advantage in fast-break points to help distance themselves from the struggling Mercury and to extend their winning streak to a league-best seven games.
Fast breaks by the Lynx throughout the game drew loud cheers from an announced crowd of 16,404, a franchise record. Many of them were youngsters on camp day.
“It’s always fun to get out and run,” said Lynx forward Maya Moore, who had 10 points and five assists. “We’ve got great motors on this team, great finishers as well. It’s really tough to stop us when our wheels are going in transition.”
The Lynx (14-3) took a 23-13 lead in the first quarter as Seimone Augustus scored half of her 16 points while the Mercury was limited offensively by five turnovers.
In the second quarter, the Lynx eased up. Even without its best scorer, the Mercury (9-9) outscored the Lynx 21-18 and went into halftime on a 9-2 run.
“We kind of let them dictate the action and we wanted to be the ones dictating the game for the most part,” said Lindsay Whalen, who led the Lynx with 18 points and seven assists. “And we didn’t get that done. You could kind of tell everyone was ready to get back out there.”
Augustus didn’t waste any time giving the momentum back to the Lynx in the second half. She scored six points in under three minutes to help fuel an 8-0 run, which put the Lynx ahead 49-34. They held a double-digit lead the rest of the game.
With 25 seconds left in third quarter, Moore intercepted a bad Mercury pass, quickly throwing it to Whalen ahead of her, who then passed it right back to Moore for a layup.
This was the last Lynx game before the All-Star break, which marks the halfway point of the season. Four Lynx players will be in Connecticut on Saturday in the WNBA All-Star Game. Moore and Augustus were chosen by fan voting to start for the Western Conference team, Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson were selected as reserves.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, who will coach the West, admitted her team didn’t play a perfect game against the Mercury. The Lynx, who lead the WNBA in rebounding, lost that battle 36-31, and the Mercury also shot slightly better, 46.4 to 45.6 percent.
But it was hard for Reeve to find too much fault with her team, which goes into the break with the best record in the league — a franchise record 14 wins through 17 games — at least a 1½-game lead in the conference race and an 8-0 record at home.
“The consistency that this team plays with is something I think people take for granted,” Reeve said. “I think it’s really hard to do. You just expect it from these players.”
The pressure of so much potential might eventually be felt but, after Wednesday’s victory and a break looming for most of them, the Lynx appeared carefree.
After all, those high expectations for the two-time defending Western Conference champions have been there all season. And the Lynx have met them.