Lynx, with or without Taj, on the brink

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2011 - 11:45 AM

The team's starting center is hurting, which might mean more minutes for Jess Adair.

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Taj McWilliams-Franklin, top, was injured in a collision with Monica Wright on Wednesday night.

ATLANTA - The Lynx are on the cusp of making franchise history.

If they beat Atlanta in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on Friday, they will be league champions. They already hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. A title would truly be a lofty accomplishment, considering the Lynx never won a playoff series their first 12 seasons.

One concern, though, is the status of their veteran center.

Taj McWilliams-Franklin collided with teammate Monica Wright in the third quarter of the Lynx's 101-95 victory over Atlanta on Wednesday at Target Center. McWilliams-Franklin left the game about a minute later because of a sprained right knee and never returned.

The Lynx say she will be a game-time decision.

McWilliams-Franklin, despite being the league's oldest player (she'll be 41 on Oct 20), has been a steady presence in the middle. She has started 40 of 41 games, and the one time she wasn't in the starting lineup in Tulsa -- after getting kicked in one of her Achilles' tendons in warmups -- she played 29 minutes.

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, one of McWilliams-Franklin's biggest boosters, obviously hopes she can play. But Reeve also has a young, improving backup post player.

That's 6-4 Jess Adair, 2 inches taller than McWilliams-Franklin. Adair scored 13 points and blocked three shots on Wednesday in 18 minutes. She is listed as a second-year player, which is more fiction than reality. She was on the Lynx roster less than a week last year and played in only the final game of the season.

Adair was an emergency late-season signing when center Nicky Anosike needed knee surgery. She made a good impression in her one game, was invited to training camp and made the team as the 11th player of 11.

"I'd be honored to play for Taj," said Adair, who has moved up to the first post player off the bench. "It would be exciting, and I am ready for it."

The "honor" comment needs a little explaining. Assistant coach Jim Petersen calls McWilliams-Franklin the glue that holds the Lynx together. She has played in 55 WNBA playoff games -- two short of the league record -- and is the WNBA's second career leading rebounder.

McWilliams-Franklin also keeps proving she can still play. She is averaging 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in seven playoff games.

To Adair, the playoffs have been an eye-opener. "People step up and take over games," Adair said. "We have to defend harder."

Angel McCoughtry of the Dream has especially stood out, with games of 33 and 38 points. She often slashes to the basket, forcing post players to help stop her.

"I know Taj wants to play; it will depend how sore her knee is," Adair said.

Whenever Adair does get in the game, she will have to battle 6-5 Erika de Souza of the Dream. De Souza had eight points and 10 rebounds in Game 2 after missing Game 1 because she was playing with Brazil's national team.

"She's a wonderful addition," Adair said. "She changes the inside game for them."

Adair has shown the same ability in glimpses.

"She plays so hard and plays with so much energy," Reeve said near the end of the regular season. "Teammates love playing with her."

Over the final 13 regular-season games, Adair averaged 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds. Not bad for a player who, after graduating from George Washington, was cut by Phoenix in 2009 and by the Lynx in 2010 in training camp.

"This is a dream come true," Adair said. "I couldn't be on a better team at a better time."

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