PHOENIX – The defending WNBA champs must find some answers in a hurry if they want to prevent a changing of the guard in the Western Conference.
The Lynx came out sluggish, league MVP Maya Moore struggled mightily and the Phoenix Mercury dominated Game 1 in the best-of-three conference finals 85-71 Friday night at US Airways Center.
“This is the playoffs,” Moore said. “There’s not really a lot of surprises when you don’t play with the intensity you need to — especially on the road. There’s nothing that they did that was super new. It was just a matter of them executing their offense. We have to be more aggressive.”
Brittney Griner had 23 points and 11 rebounds, and Penny Taylor had 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Mercury, which won for the fourth time in five meetings with the Lynx this year.
Moore, who averaged 23.9 points during the regular season, was limited to nine and didn’t score until the 3:16 mark of the second quarter when she cashed in an offensive rebound.
By then the Mercury was imposing its will on both ends en route to a 42-31 halftime cushion.
Game 2 is set for Sunday afternoon at Target Center. Game 3, if necessary, will be back in Phoenix on Tuesday night.
“We just stayed on [Moore],” Griner said. “We know Maya is a great player. She’s going to get her buckets. All you can do is just try to frustrate them, stay on them, don’t let them get any easy cuts, don’t let them get any easy looks. [DeWanna Bonner] and everybody did a great job of guarding her.”
Phoenix went on a 14-0 run midway through the third quarter as the margin quickly ballooned to 63-39, at which point the Mercury simply was toying with the Lynx before a raucous home crowd.
Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen got hot from the perimeter in the fourth quarter and then scored an uncontested layup off a steal to trim the lead to 75-64, but that was the first and only surge Minnesota made. Phoenix answered with the next four points.
Whalen finished with 25 points to pace three Lynx in double figures, although it was hardly enough to offset Minnesota’s 39.7 percent shooting and 15 turnovers that led to 24 Phoenix points. The Mercury had all five starters in double figures, shot 44.6 percent and won the rebounding battle 45-31.
The Lynx, which entered the season with a 14-game winning streak over the Mercury, never had lost a conference finals game before Friday and swept Phoenix on this stage en route to their 2011 and 2013 WNBA titles.
Phoenix has little regard for those stats after improving its league-best record to 32-5 (3-0 in playoffs) and making a giant statement in a matchup of the league’s top two teams. The Mercury hasn’t lost two in a row all season and hasn’t lost at home since May 23.
“We’re not ever going to say we can’t beat a team twice in a row,” Augustus said. “Why not? We have no choice but to beat them twice in a row if we want to advance to the finals.”
Moore attempted only eight shots and missed her first four. She was 1-for-6 through the three quarters and picked up her fifth foul in the final quarter, adding to her visible frustration.
Griner scored twice in the opening moments and Phoenix bolted to a 9-0 lead before the Lynx could get their bearings. Augustus (12 points) rallied the Lynx, and Rebakkah Brunson (12 points) converted a pair of putbacks that helped Minnesota knot the score at 12.
Diana Taurasi (17 points) bounced back from two first-quarter fouls to give the Mercury a 40-29 lead late in the second quarter, and Phoenix never was seriously challenged.