Lynx players looked like a loose bunch 7 ½ hours before their playoff opener Wednesday. They concluded their morning workout with a shooting contest from half court, laughing and oohing after each miss.
Naturally, Maya Moore won the competition by being the first player to make from that distance. Does she ever lose at anything?
“We’re just confident,” Moore said of the relaxed mood. “We know who we are. When you don’t know who you are, you might be a little anxious.”
The Lynx reminded everyone who they are by returning from a 10-day hiatus to overwhelm the Phoenix Mercury 113-95 in Game 1 of the WNBA semifinals.
It’s only one game, one win, but the Lynx looks primed to make another championship run.
Playing across town in their temporary home, Xcel Energy Center, the Lynx showed no signs of rust. No signs of nerves as defending champions. No signs of anything other than being locked in and focused on finishing a task.
“They pretty much dominated us in every facet of the game,” Mercury star Diana Taurasi said.
The Lynx can conquer opponents a variety of ways. They’re deep in talent, especially at guard. They have one of the best players in the world in Moore. Their frontcourt is tough, physical.
And their championship pedigree makes them supremely confident.
“I think focus is the biggest thing when it comes to sustaining greatness,” Moore said. “You have to be able to block out all the things that can distract you and focus on the things that matter.”
The Lynx scored 91 points in three quarters by making 63 percent of their shots. Felt like 90 percent with how easy they made it look.
The Mercury didn’t exactly put on a clinic on defensive execution.
Moore was the headliner with 31 points, but the Lynx will be difficult to handle if Lindsay Whalen can repeat her performance by similar degree: 19 points, seven assists, one turnover.
She was vintage Whalen in attacking and collapsing the defense.
“It’s a little bit of a mind-set and a little bit feel of the game,” Whalen said.
The Lynx ooze confidence because they’ve been in this position so many times. Pressure doesn’t feel stifling when it becomes routine.
The team’s core group has lugged a target for five years, knowing every season carries a championship-or-bust purpose.
The Lynx view that not as a burden but as a reward for their hard work and sacrifice, something to be cherished. They don’t hide from lofty expectations or pretend they don’t exist.
“That’s why we all still want to play as veterans,” Whalen said. “You want to play in these situations.”
The WNBA made a smart, strategic move in expanding its playoff semifinals from three to five games under a new format. A longer series allows story lines to develop and shifts in momentum. A five-game series also improves the odds that the better team will emerge.
A best-of-five series just feels more legitimate than three games.
“To have this in the semis is really cool for coaches, players, fans,” Whalen said.
Game 1 was a rout, but nobody should be surprised if the series goes the distance. The Mercury has too much talent with Taurasi and 6-8 Brittney Griner to think it won’t offer pushback.
“I don’t care if it’s a five-game series,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said, “as long as we get to three before they get to three.”
The teams know each other well. They met in the semifinals the previous three seasons, as well. The two rosters combined feature 11 Olympians and a few transcendent players.
“You’re looking at some of the best talent in women’s basketball,” Whalen said.
The Lynx welcomed the long break because their roster is filled with veterans who have played lots of basketball over the years. Rust wasn’t a factor because champions understand how to reset once the regular season ends.
Nothing seems to faze this group.
“No excuses,” Moore said. “What team wants it more and what team executes better?”
Those two questions were answered in Game 1. Decisively.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org