Seimone Augustus has seen the transformation so often she has a name for it. It’s called “activating Weezy mode,” and it happens when Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen grits her teeth, digs in and uses her singular blend of fearlessness and skill to put her stamp on a game.
When Augustus saw it in a scrimmage last week — courtesy of a practice player who got under Whalen’s skin — she knew her teammate was going to pose a major problem for Phoenix in the WNBA semifinals. Coach Cheryl Reeve noticed it, too, and could barely wait to see what Whalen had in store Wednesday night in Game 1. “Driving over to the game, I thought, ‘If she plays like she’s been playing at practice, she’s going to have a lot of fun,’ ” Reeve said. “And she did.”
Weezy mode — borrowed from the nickname of hip-hop star Lil Wayne, a favorite of Whalen and Augustus — powered Whalen to 19 points and seven assists as the Lynx pummeled Phoenix to begin the semifinals. Thursday, the former Gophers star returned to her usual low-key self as her team prepared for Friday’s Game 2.
Six Lynx players scored in double digits in the 113-95 thumping, setting a WNBA record for most points in a regulation playoff game and a franchise playoff record for shooting accuracy (64 percent). Reeve urged her team to play with speed and aggression, and Whalen provided the model.
During a 14-0 Lynx run in the second quarter, she blew through the lane for a reverse layup; made another driving layup after dribbling behind her back and waiting for the defense to clear; and sent a pass to Natasha Howard for a layup off a fast break. Even the Mercury’s Diana Taurasi — one of the world’s greatest players, and a frequent victim of Whalen on Wednesday — shook her head in wonder.
“I want to act surprised,” said Taurasi, who scored 25 points in 24 minutes in Game 1. “And I want to act like, ‘How does she do that?’ But I’m not. She has the ability to do things no one else in the world can do, especially when she’s engaged like that.
“She made some pretty unbelievable plays going down the lane. She’s just one of the best players in the world. [Wednesday], she had a lot of those plays where she was just better than us.”
Reeve was not altogether satisfied with the game, in which the Lynx outrebounded Phoenix 38-20 and set a franchise playoff record with 30 assists. She said it looked like the Lynx “didn’t do an ounce” of work on defense during their 10-day break before the semifinals, a deficiency she addressed in a film session Thursday. The Mercury shot 54 percent and scored 44 points in the paint.
Whalen nitpicked a bit, too. She said the Lynx offense occasionally went stagnant, and she cautioned that her team will have to turn everything up a notch in Game 2 against an opponent eager to heal its wounded pride. The Mercury had won four consecutive games before Wednesday’s loss but is 0-4 against the Lynx, its main rival, this season.
Even with Weezy mode dialed up to 11 on Wednesday, Whalen counted herself among those who have more to give. She said the Lynx’s sharpness, and her own, flowed from a team that doesn’t put a ceiling on its abilities.
“We have a lot of players who are really focused and really determined to get better,” she said. “Even though we know it’s the end of the season, we’re still trying to keep improving. The team had that mind-set every day going into practice.
“We know it’s a long series, but Game 1 was important. It was a good start for us.’’
Taurasi promised the Mercury would tighten up its team defense for Game 2, a complicated task given the Lynx’s depth. Though Phoenix played sound defense in the first two rounds of the playoffs — and on Wednesday saw the same plays the Lynx ran in the regular season — it was frequently outhustled and exploited in the opener of this series.
“Obviously, you want to stop Maya [Moore], and you want to limit Seimone and [Sylvia Fowles],” Taurasi said. “And then, oh, wait. You have Lindsay Whalen running it down your throat. There are a lot of things we have to prioritize.”
And if Whalen gets into Weezy mode again, it will be that much tougher.
“It’s playoff time, and you can tell [Whalen] is aggressive,” Augustus said. “It gives us a lot of confidence once we see Weezy’s activated.
“She gives it all she has in the time she’s on the court, which makes us want to give a little bit more to help her out. We go as she goes. And she knows that.”