Reusse: This night, Brunson is star on team full of them

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2011 - 11:45 AM

The Lynx forward led her team with 26 points, led everyone with 11 rebounds, and was the strongest influence in the victory.

There never have been two easier choices in basketball (men's or women's) for No. 1 overall selections than the Lynx have faced in the past five years. They took LSU's Seimone Augustus in 2006 and UConn's Maya Moore last April.

There was a less-publicized bonus for finishing poorly in 2009. The Sacramento Monarchs went out of business, and the Lynx had the second choice based on a lowly finish.

They were able to select Rebekkah Brunson, a rugged 6-2 forward who had been in the league since 2004.

The teaming of Moore with a healthy Augustus made the Lynx the WNBA's most talented team this season. They had the league's best record at 27-7, then went 4-1 in getting through two rounds of the Western Conference playoffs.

That brought the WNBA Finals to Target Center for the first time. It was also the first time a championship series in pro basketball was played in Minneapolis since the Lakers and Elgin Baylor were swept in four games by Boston in 1959.

The Lynx and Atlanta played Game 1 on Sunday night. The ticket-buying public had been properly robust for the upper-deck curtains to be removed from all but one end of the arena.

Later, the crowd was announced at 15,258, and that seemed closer in actual bodies to any attendance claims you hear from pro and Big Ten teams located in the Twin Cities.

The Dream made the finals by upsetting Indiana in a Game 3 in Indianapolis. It took control of that game in the second half and didn't give the favorites a chance for a comeback.

On Sunday, Atlanta came out flying and in the process gave way too much time to the favored Lynx to get their legs.

"I felt like Atlanta was playing great,'' Lynx guard Candice Wiggins said. ''They came out and gave us a bloody nose. When a team does that to you, and you're only down by three at halftime ... that makes you feel good about your chances.''

The Dream delivered the bloody nose by coming out tough against Augustus and Moore. Augustus had one basket and Moore was scoreless in the first quarter. It's a good thing the Lynx were able to swipe Brunson in that dispersal draft a couple of years ago, or they could have been in much more trouble than a 18-14 deficit.

Brunson had six points and two rebounds in the quarter. She played that way from start to finish. Brunson led her team with 26 points, led everyone with 11 rebounds, and was the strongest influence in the victory.

Asked if she anticipated a need to take charge on this night, Brunson shook her head: "I took what was there for me. They tried to make it tough on Seimone and Maya from the start. That gave me some chances.''

Brunson said the game plan was clear cut for the Lynx: "We wanted to stop them defensively. We didn't do it in the first half, but we stuck with our plan.''

Atlanta led 29-17 midway through the second quarter, and then had to settle for a 39-36 halftime lead. The Lynx came out intent on cranking up the defense in the second half. Atlanta's star -- Angel McCoughtry -- didn't let that happen.

There were 49 points scored in the 10 minutes of the third period. The Lynx had the advantage, 26-23, with McCoughtry getting 19 of those points.

"Man, is she tough,'' Lindsay Whalen said later.

McCoughtry ran out of firepower in the fourth quarter. The Lynx scored the first 13 points. It took 6:17 for Atlanta to get on the board. The lead was 75-64 by then and the Lynx were on the way to defending home court again Wednesday night.

Brunson was asked if Atlanta, more than any team in the WNBA, pushes the fast break with as much enthusiasm as the Lynx.

"We had to deal with Phoenix,'' she said. "They like to run. We were prepared to play at that pace tonight.''

Brunson also was asked when was the last time she had played in front of 15,000 people.

"It has been a while,'' she said. "That was great.''

Considering a good time was had by all, Brunson might get a chance to play before a couple thousand more than that in Game 2 on Wednesday.

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

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