Over the past 10 days, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve kept shooting down speculation that the long break before starting the playoffs could somehow be bad for her team. The theory was that the Lynx might be rusty for Wednesday’s Game 1 of their WNBA semifinals, while Phoenix roared into Xcel Energy Center sharpened by its victories in the first two rounds.
So much for that idea. The Lynx blasted out of the gates with a 113-95 dismantling of their rival, beginning the defense of their league title with their most dominant offensive performance of the season. Reeve insisted that rest and practice could only help her veteran lineup, and her team proved her right by setting a league record for most points in a regulation playoff game.
In the unfamiliar setting of a St. Paul hockey arena, the Lynx shot a blistering 64 percent — a franchise playoff record — and led by as many as 25 points. Maya Moore finished with a game-high 31, and Lindsay Whalen pitched in with 19 points and seven assists.
The tight game everyone anticipated never materialized as the Mercury failed to slow the top-seeded Lynx. While a crowd announced at 9,013 waved its towels, Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello threw hers in, benching stars Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Penny Taylor for the fourth quarter of a lost cause.
“Even though they had 10 days off, they’re a well-oiled unit,” Brondello said of the Lynx, who are 5-0 against Phoenix in home playoff games. “Down by 20, it’s no use to beat a dead horse.”
Likewise, Moore said, it was folly to think the Lynx would lose any of their edge during the layoff. While the WNBA’s new playoff format put them in unfamiliar territory, an experienced, wise roster knew how to use that time to kick off the best-of-five series in grand style.
“We know who we are,” said Moore, who made 12 of 19 shots and added eight rebounds. “Sometimes when you’re young and a little more immature, you can overdo things or not really have your legs under you.
“But I think this group has just been playing so well. We’ve been preparing hard. We know who we are, and it showed out there.”
In a game that featured 11 Olympians, the Mercury kept it close for much of the first quarter before stalling. Taurasi scored 11 of her team-high 25 points in the first 10 minutes as Phoenix took a 19-17 lead.
The Lynx triggered their first run when Reeve inserted guards Anna Cruz, Renee Montgomery and Jia Perkins into the lineup midway through the quarter. Brondello said that group rattled the Mercury as the Lynx took off on a 12-3 spurt.
Early in the second quarter, the Lynx blasted off, scoring 14 consecutive points for a 39-25 lead. That stretch showed the Lynx at their best, with Whalen and Moore providing much of the theatrics. Whalen drove into the lane, dribbled behind her back, waited for Taurasi to fly past and made a layup. Whalen fed Natasha Howard a long pass for a fast-break layup, and Moore found Howard for another layup on a backdoor cut — just after Moore hit a jumper off an inbounds pass.
The Lynx’s lead would grow as large as 19 points in the first half. Though Phoenix also shot well — connecting at a 54 percent clip for the game — its defense didn’t give it a chance to catch up.
“In the first quarter, we had a pretty good rhythm,” Taurasi said. “Then in the second quarter, it just all went away. We didn’t limit anyone. They got what they wanted when they wanted it, and that’s just a lack of team defense.”
Brondello turned things over to her reserves in the fourth quarter and said they played with the kind of speed she wants in Friday’s Game 2. Reeve was delighted by the Lynx bench. Montgomery scored 11 points and Howard 10. Janel McCarville sat because of back spasms, but Reeve said she is hopeful McCarville will be ready for Game 2.