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Taj McWilliams-Franklin drove to the basket against Storm star point guard Sue Bird in the first quarter Friday night at Target Center.

Kyndell Harkness, Dml - Star Tribune

Reusse: About that first half: We expect more from our champions

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE
  • Star Tribune
  • September 29, 2012 - 1:24 AM

Have we been spoiled by the Lynx success already?

A year ago, the local WNBA team cruised through the playoffs with a 7-1 record and claimed a first title for what had been largely a pitiful franchise. This was followed by a 27-7 regular season that established the Lynx as substantial favorites to go back-to-back in 2012.

The attendance was impressive for many of the 17 home games this summer. Yet, on Friday night, the Lynx opened defense of the title with a 78-70 victory over Seattle and the announced sellout of 9,213 was more like 6,000 in actual bodies.

The Lynx spent the first half feeding off the crowd -- meaning, they also were feeble.

Those first 20 minutes had nothing in common with the intensity and quality of play featured by the Lynx for the six-game winning streak at the end of their title run. Maybe they had too much respect for their elders, who made up most of the Seattle lineup.

Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the Lynx starting center, was the oldest player on the court at 42, although not by her usual margin. Seattle's lineup included Sue Bird, soon to be 32 and in her 10th WNBA season, and Lauren Jackson, 31 and in her 11th season, and Katie Smith, 38 and in her 13th season.

Yes, that's the same Katie Smith who was often the only star on overmatched teams in the Lynx's early years.

The Lynx had advantages in quickness and talent all over the court, yet they allowed Seattle to turn the first half into a slog fest. The score was 33-27 for the Lynx at halftime, and that was no full indication of how hard the display of basketball was to watch.

The Lynx and Storm combined for two baskets in the first five minutes of the second quarter. It was 21-19 with five minutes left in the half. The Lynx's first burst of the evening pushed it to 33-23 with 2:50 left, and they decided to wait right there and let the Storm crawl back within six.

And "crawl'' was the operative word for both squads in the first half.

Coach Cheryl Reeve was not pleased with her defending champs as they headed for the locker room. That probably wasn't an issue, because the defending champs couldn't have been pleased with themselves.

Famously, back in 1999, an assistant coach said after the team's first-ever exhibition game: "We just didn't play Lynx basketball."

Lynx basketball was not attractive to watch for a decade. They had one playoff victory from the summer of 1999 through 2010. And then they were able to use the first overall draft choice in 2011 on Maya Moore, and put her with Lindsay Whalen and a healthy Seimone Augustus, and "Lynx basketball" was no longer a term to be ridiculed.

Not until the first half on Friday, anyway.

You have to stumble and bumble as the most talented team in the league to take away a six-point lead against an opponent that lays bricks at 29.4 percent for a half.

The Lynx finally gave a hint of their class in the third quarter, making eight of 12 shots from the field, and 10 of 13 free throws, and getting control of their offensive game. The Storm hung around in the fourth quarter but never seemed like a serious threat to take a 1-0 lead in this best-of-three quarterfinal series.

Reeve said the hardest playoff game to win is the first, lauded her defense and said she was happy with the performance of her team.

"How happy were you at halftime?" she was asked.

Reeve managed a smile and said: "Not as happy, I don't think. I was always happy with our defense. We have to clean up our offense."

The Lynx did some of that in the second half. They shot 50 percent from the field, 18-for-23 from the line, and got 33 of their 45 points from the Big Three of Augustus, Moore and Whalen.

There's not much doubt the Lynx will close out this series -- probably Sunday night in Seattle -- but it would be nice if they made the action more appealing by not repeating that mud-ugly first half.

We're spoiled. We expect more from our champs.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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