Greetings from U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix.
We’re about a half-hour away from tip-off here in the decisive game in this best-of-three WNBA Western Conference finals.
I watched the Lynx go through their normal pre-game warmups. And while the ritual was the same, these players know how hard it will be to beat the Mercury on their home court in an elimination game.
Before the series began I picked the Mercury in three games. But, as the game nears, I must say I won’t be surprised if the Lynx win.
Here, in my opinion, are three things that have to happen for Minnesota to advance:
--Rebounding. The Lynx held their own in this department in Game 2, and look what happened.
--Free throws. The more aggressive team will get to the line more.
--The Lynx need an x-factor. Maybe it could be Monica Wright, who has yet to play her best this series. Maybe Rebekkah Brunson. She has rebounded well, but maybe she’ll breakout scoring-wise tonight. If the Lynx can get a significant contribution from the bench it could make the difference tonight.
That was about as exciting as a playoff game can be.
A number of folks from the WNBA were at Target Center for Sunday’s game. It was a pretty big day for the league. They paraded Little League World Series star Mo’ne Davis around before the game, had her sit with league president Laurel Richie during the game.
And then, on national broadcast television, the Lynx and the Mercury went out and gave the 10,513 fans a taught, well-played game.
Here are some observations from the game and the series, which wraps up Tuesday night in Phoenix Tuesday night:
--You talk about a Big Three. This was memorable stuff. Maya Moore, held to nine points Friday, scored 32, 13 in the fourth quarter. Seimone Augustus scored nine of her 23 points in the fourth quarter. And Lindsay Whalen, that hard-nosed leader, scored 12 of her 17 in the second quarter, willing her team back into a game they trailed by 13 after the first quarter.
--Much has been made of the Lynx bench, or the lack of it. It was a problem again Sunday, with Lynx reserves scoring just four points.
Having said that, I thought rookie Damiris Dantas played some quality minutes. She didn’t seem awed by the situation. And Monica Wright played some very good defense. Having said that, the Lynx need way more from Tan White and Devereaux Peters.
--I find it interesting how the Phoenix react when things aren’t going well. Both Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner were called for technicals for arguing about calls. To be fair, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve got one, too. It was a pretty intense game.
--Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson scored only four points. But she played some nice defense and had 10 rebounds. Still, she needs to hit those open mid-range shots.
--Jane Meadville was limited to 21-plus minutes due to early foul trouble. She struggled defensively and committed three turnovers. She needs to play better Tuesday.
That’s about it for now. Have a great rest of your holiday weekend.
By her own admission, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, her staff and the players probably let what happened Friday in Phoenix gnaw on them right up until late Saturday night.
But enough is enough.
“You wake up on game day and it’s a new day,” Reeve said.
She also hopes it’s a new game. The Lynx were beaten in nearly all facets of the game in Friday’s series opener in Phoenix. Now the Lynx are in the strange position of needing to win to extend this best-of-three series.
What will it take?
Two main things, according to Reeve: Offense and rebounding.
While defensive problems were also obvious, Reeve feels it was a lack of offensive efficiency that set up the Mercury for many, many points. And poor rebounding only complicated the problem.
“[Phoenix guard} Penny Taylor was hungrier for the ball than the one matched up with,” Reeve said, referring to Seimone Augustus. “Their starters had 12 offensive rebounds. Four of them were for Brittney Griner, despite our saying that was a focal point, that we weren’t going to give her offensive boards. We didn’t get it done. That, in our minds, is one of the single biggest factors in this series.”
Meanwhile, the Mo’ne Davis circus was in town. The girl from the Philadelphia area who took the Little League World Series by storm was flown, with her family, by the WNBA for this game. Davis, who has said she wants to play basketball at Connecticut and then in the WNBA, sported a UConn shirt early, then a Lynx shirt. She met with various players and coaches in a media mob that made its way across the Target Center court, at one point to the chagrin of the Lynx, who were trying to warm up.’’
Here was an interesting exchange: As Davis was being interviewed by local media, Maya Moore came over to say hello and sign Davis’ T-shirt. Davis was quick to respond, giving Moore an autographed copy of her Sports Illustrated cover.
Kids do grow up quickly.
That’s about all for now. Have a great rest of your holiday weekend.
It’s not Earth-shattering news due to her place as a backup on the Lynx, and the fact that she missed the first round of the playoffs. But the Lynx are looking at playing their Western Conference finals series against Phoenix without rookie forward/center Damiris Dantas.
Dantas was in Brazil tending to a family matter during the first round of the playoffs. She returned Sunday and was at Lynx practice Tuesday. But the family matter has come up again. Dantas was not at practice Wednesday. It was unclear whether she would return to Brazil. But there is a possibility she might not play in this series.
That said, there is still a slew of All-Stars and former No. 1-overall draft picks in the two team’s starting lineups, which promises to make this a very entertaining series.
Still Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve went out of her way to encourage fans to come to Target Center for Sunday’s 2:30 p.m. game. The Lynx are doing everything they can to pump up interest in the game, which comes in the middle of Labor Day weekend with the Minnesota State Fair still going on.
“We need their help,” Reeve said of the fans. “We need them to make Target Center what it’s been all season for us, pushing the 12,000, 15,000 mark gives us a distinct advantage. So if you’re in the Twin Cities area on Sunday at 2:30, we need you at Target Center.”
A couple other nuggets from today’s workout:
--Other than Dantas, everyone else appears in good health for this series. That includes Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson, two players whose matchups in this series will be huge.
--Reeve said she and her staff learned a lot about Phoenix in the final two regular season games between the two teams. “We learned when we’re healthy we’re a better team,” she cracked.
--Seimone Augustus was asked about the incident between her and Diana Taurasi. Taurasi, frustrated, gave Augustus a shove. Augustus didn’t give any ground and the two went face-to-face for a moment before Taurasi gave Augustus a kiss. “That’s something where, if I had to take it for the team, I would,” Augustus joked. “It was either throw a punch or get a kiss.”
That’s about all for now. Have a good rest of your day.
After taking a couple days off, the Lynx got back to practice today. Much of the work was done in half-court sets, working on plays and on defenses. Coach Cheryl Reeve didn’t do a lot of full-court running. The Lynx will do more of that on Wednesday before cutting back a little in Thursday’s practice.
Perhaps the most interesting thing Reeve said to start a few days’ worth of speculation about the upcoming Western Conference finals against Phoenix was how good a position she felt her team was in.
“It’s a cohesive group,” she said. “I think the chemistry has really grown. Having Rebekkah [Brunson] back and Seimone [Augustus] back in the fold for the last few games. You guys all worried about the way we finished the season. But we knew we were making some progress.’’
The way they finished was losing three straight games before winning their final regular season game. And while the Lynx swept San Antonio in the first round, they had to survive a very poor first quarter in the second game to do it.
Still, Reeve feels good about this team. She reiterated her line from last week about nothing having yet been proven in the West, and how the Lynx goal of being the best in the conference was still there for the taking. “We know we have to go and take it,” she said. “Nobody will give us anything.’’
Here are some nuggets from today’s practice:
--Rookie forward/center Damiris Dantas is back with the team after missing the San Antonio series while tending to a family matter in her native Brazil. Dantas returned to the Twin Cities Sunday. She stayed well after practice today to get in some extra work.
--Today Augustus said the Phoenix-Minnesota matchup was, in her opinion, the “biggest matchup since I’ve been in the league, that people have all been expecting.’’
More and more Augustus looks to be feeling good after being hampered by knee pain for much of the season.
--Rebekkah Brunson continues to feel better and better, too. And her defense is crucial to the upcoming season.
That’s about it for now. I’ll get back to you after tomorrow’s workout.