At first, Lindsay Whalen said all the right things. Early in the Lynx’s game Saturday at San Antonio, with the Stars exploding to an 18-point lead out of the gate, Whalen told her team to focus. She stressed that it was a long game, told the players to not stop playing.
When that didn’t work, Whalen took over.
There are a lot of positives to come out of the Lynx victory, which clinched the Western Conference semifinals and put the Lynx in the conference finals for the fourth straight season. There was Seimone Augustus’ 21 points, a near triple-double by Maya Moore.
And it set up perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the season. Phoenix’s victory at Los Angeles on Sunday put the Mercury and the Lynx in the conference finals, which will start Friday in Phoenix. “It’s a challenge we feel ready for,” Reeve said.
But back to Whalen, who put her play where her mouth was.
“We weren’t waking up,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. So Whalen started driving to the basket, scoring, getting fouled. Whalen scored 31 points, the best playoff total of her career, 27 in the final three quarters. Ultimately, the rest of the team caught that fever.
“It was, ‘Come on, follow me,’ ” Reeve said. “She was a train coming down the track. She asserted her will, and we needed it. If you could have been around her during the course of that game … the words she spoke, the way she spoke ’em, her actions. It was one of the best performances I’ve ever been around.”
That’s saying something. Reeve, in her fifth year as Lynx coach, has been in the league 14 years, been with 11 teams that made the playoffs, seven that reached the finals and four that won it all.
But that’s not the only reason Reeve is confident as the playoffs progress. On a team that has battled injuries, Reeve feels that her big three — Whalen, Moore and Augustus — are as healthy as they have been all season. Add to that continued strong defensive play from Rebekkah Brunson and Janel McCarville, and Reeve likes the position her team is in.
“That’s what I told the newer players on our team after the game,” Reeve said. “They’ve heard me talk about great leadership. I told them what they saw [Saturday] was leadership on full display. That was vintage, vintage Minnesota Lynx basketball, with the Big Three rolling.’’
At their best, the Lynx can beat you a number of ways, with a number of players. In Game 1 against San Antonio, Moore led the way in scoring, with Augustus getting hot late and Whalen three boards shy of a triple-double. Saturday, Whalen was the one who carried the scoring load, with Augustus joining in. Moore’s shot wasn’t falling as often as usual, so she picked up 10 assists to go with 16 points and eight rebounds.
And now the Lynx get the Mercury, which set a WNBA regular-season record with 29 victories. The Lynx lost three of four games to the Mercury during the regular season, but Augustus missed one of those games, Brunson two. Before the playoffs started Reeve said she thought the Lynx were the best team in the West.
“It’s two teams confident in what they do,” Reeve said. It has the makings of the best Western Conference playoff series in a long, long time.”