Lynx must get off to hot start in do-or-die Game 3 against Mercury

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 2, 2014 - 3:48 PM

The defending champs can’t afford to trail early in the decisive game.

There probably won’t be any surprises.

There won’t be any trick plays or exotic defensive schemes. The Lynx and the Phoenix Mercury have played each other six times this season, twice in the playoffs.

So the deciding game in the WNBA’s best-of-three Western Conference finals, which tips off at 9 p.m. Tuesday in Phoenix, comes down to this:

“I think it’s what you have inside,” Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson said after the Lynx had rallied to win Game 2 on Sunday at Target Center. “It’s how much you’re willing to put on the line, what you’re willing to do, how much of your body you’re willing to sacrifice. It is not about X’s and O’s any more. ‘’

Having said all that, getting past the Mercury, on Phoenix’s home court, will not be easy. The Lynx are looking to reach the league finals for a fourth consecutive season. But the defending WNBA champions will have to play better than they did Sunday for that to happen.

There is a reason for such a feeling of calm in the Phoenix locker room after the game. The Mercury won a league-record 29 games during the regular season, going 16-1 at home. It has won two more home games so far in the playoffs.

“I think, for about 35 minutes, we were pretty good today,” Mercury star Diana Taurasi said after Sunday’s game. “We’ll just do what we do every single game, same mindset. Everybody is find in the locker room. No one was crying. I think we’ll be ready.’’

Will the Lynx? Here are some keys to what has to happen for the Lynx to win Tuesday:

• Start fast. This has not been a strength in the playoffs. The Lynx fell behind by 18 on the road in San Antonio and were down 22-9 after a quarter Sunday. In both cases Lindsay Whalen carried the team back.

But it’s harder on the road in Phoenix, which is what the Lynx found out in a Game 1 loss. A stronger start is critical.

“It would be nice,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “We’ve [had slow starts] in both first quarters in this series, but we’ve hung in there. We’ll see.’’

• More depth. At this point in the season a team isn’t going to change. Having said that, the Lynx need more from someone, anyone, not named Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore.

Sunday they were the only three players to score for the Lynx in the first half. Overall, those three scored 72 of Minnesota’s 82 points. Brunson has played good defense and has rebounded well. But she needs to hit the open midrange shot. Center Janel McCarville has her hands full with Phoenix center Brittney Griner, but she needs to hit the open shot, too. Those two were a combined 2-for-8 Sunday and the bench was 1-for-8.

“Often times these games are won by X factors,” Reeve said. “Hopefully our bench can come back, maybe get us over the hump.’’

• Having said that, the Lynx stars have to be just that. Moore bounced back from a nine-point effort in Game 1 to score 32 points. Augustus bounced back with a 23-point game.

They both need to duplicate that effort and Whalen — the most consistent Lynx player in the playoffs — has to stay at a high level.

And it likely will take even more. Sunday the Lynx held their own on the boards, limited their turnovers and scored 22 points off 15 Phoenix turnovers. It will be harder to do all that on the road in front of what promises to be a rabid crowd.

“Everything is on the table,” Augustus said. “It’s just a will to win, who wants it more.’’

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