Blount: Lynx running their way to the top of the Twin Cities sports scene

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2012 - 12:07 PM

Defending champs show they can surprise, and maybe that they're better than last year.

It seemed reasonable, under the circumstances, to wonder whether the Lynx might be at a disadvantage in Thursday's Western Conference finals opener. They had just expended a massive amount of physical and emotional energy to defeat Seattle in a three-game semifinal series -- which ended in a high-drama finale Tuesday -- while Los Angeles had four days of rest after a first-round sweep.

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was quick to dismiss the idea. "The 'fatigue' word is for losers," she said Wednesday. "If fatigue is a factor, I'd be very disappointed."

Reeve has become used to her team rising to the occasion. Even so, what the Lynx did Thursday left her admiring her players all the more. After surviving the grinding style of the Seattle series, they reverted to their old, overpowering selves, demolishing Los Angeles 94-77 on short rest and with little time to prepare for a much different opponent at Target Center.

The Sparks came into the conference finals on a six-game winning streak, bringing a high-octane offense stacked with stars such as Candace Parker and the rejuvenated Kristi Toliver. The Lynx did not get a day off -- choosing to practice after the Seattle slugfest -- and weren't certain how much Lindsay Whalen would be able to use her left hand, injured in Tuesday's one-point victory.

As Reeve said Thursday, her team had a ready-made list of excuses. It chose to ignore all of them, demonstrating that even the most compelling team in the Twin Cities can continue to surprise.

"I was really impressed with our team," Reeve said. "We don't like to practice after a game. After a tough three-game series, we turned around and got in the gym [Wednesday], and the way they approached it was really, really good. They were really ready to play."

So ready that Parker and company were heartsick at their failure to keep the Lynx from doing nearly everything they wanted. Reeve had an agreement with Whalen that the guard would be honest about the extent of her injury. Whalen's heavily-wrapped wrist ached, but she put on a greatest-hits exhibition in the first half, including a slick move under the basket that ended with a reverse layup and a putback of a missed Candice Wiggins jumper at the buzzer.

Her teammates followed suit. Rebekkah Brunson finished with another double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) and scored eight points that helped the Lynx pull away in the second quarter. Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus shined, leaving Sparks forward DeLisha Milton-Jones complaining that her team "looked like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off." Taj McWilliams-Franklin tossed in some razzle-dazzle, flipping a pass over her shoulder to Moore for a three-pointer that capped a 14-2 run.

Reeve also went to her bench early and got great production from Amber Harris. If anyone should have been tired, it would be Harris, who missed the final four regular-season games because of mononucleosis and had played only three seconds in the Seattle series. She, too, was overflowing with energy, scoring nine points on 4-for-6 shooting in 12-plus minutes.

One thing lacking Thursday: a full house. The Lynx announced a crowd of 8,513, but the lower bowl ends were sparsely populated.

The team passed out white "Road to Repeat" towels before the game, hoping to create a whiteout to rival the snow in northwest Minnesota. The fans waved them with gusto, but there weren't enough for the full effect. Reeve may have touched on the reason: a perception the Lynx will coast to the finals, and everyone can wait to show up.

"We've been faced with this all season long," she said. "We are not so far superior that we should win every single game, that we should win by 20. We understand we created this. We created these expectations."

Thursday's blowout did nothing to support that, but it did underscore why people should not wait to jump on this bandwagon. What the game lacked in drama, it made up for in brilliant performances by the most dominant pro athletes in Minnesota.

Reeve added something that will only push expectations higher. "We aren't the Lynx of last year," she said. "I think we're better."

That's a sobering thought for Los Angeles. For everyone else, it should serve as a reminder not to waste a single opportunity to see the Lynx while you can.

Rachel Blount • rblount@startribune.com

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