After sweeping Phoenix to claim a place in the WNBA Finals, the Lynx kept their celebration relatively subdued. The players took great satisfaction in ending the series Sunday with an 82-67 victory in Game 3 — on the road, no less — but viewed it as another step toward defending their league title, not as an end in itself.
Coach Cheryl Reeve wasn’t surprised. Still, she wanted the Lynx to recognize the rare territory they already have entered. Their mastery over the talent-rich Mercury made them the first WNBA team to make the finals five times, with all five appearances coming in the past six years.
The sweep of the best-of-five semifinal earned the Lynx a six-day break before the finals begin Sunday at Target Center against Los Angeles or Chicago. They will spend it the same way they spent the 10 days between the regular-season finale and the semifinals: with three days of rest, followed by a series of highly focused practices. Though Reeve expects her players to stay locked in, she hopes they give themselves a little room to reflect on what they already have achieved.
“We talk about celebrating small successes,’’ said Reeve, whose team swept a playoff series for the fourth time. “But we said, ‘This is more than small. This is big.’ We want to make sure they understand the magnitude of it; it’s hard to do, and it’s a huge step.
“Even though they’ve been [in the finals] five out of six years, I always try to point out to them that that’s not normal. That’s kind of a big deal. But in the end, defending their title is where this team wants to be. That is where their sights are set.’’
Reeve’s voice was hoarse Monday, which she blamed on a lack of sleep. Sunday night, shortly after the victory in Phoenix, she began watching video of the Lynx’s regular-season games against Los Angeles and Chicago. The Sparks hold a 2-1 lead in that best-of-five semifinal, with Game 4 in Chicago on Tuesday.
The Lynx went 2-1 against each of those teams in the regular season. They ran the table on the Mercury, beating their rival all six times they faced each other this year. In the three playoff games, Reeve said, she loved her team’s offense, while the defense steadily improved.
In Game 3, the Lynx held Phoenix to 67 points — its second-lowest output this season and below the 77 points per game the Lynx allowed during the regular season. The Mercury’s starters, including Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, shot 35 percent for the game and made only four field goals in the second half.
“Defensively, we felt like we got better from the first game to the third game,’’ said Lynx guard Seimone Augustus, who had a team-high seven steals and 14 assists in the series. “It was just another day where we felt like we were playing great basketball on both ends of the floor.’’
Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said the Lynx’s chemistry, teamwork and depth made the difference in the series. Reeve said the 10-day break played a part, too. While she believes there is a similar talent level among each team’s top five players, the Lynx got a good rest before starting the semifinals.
They will get another respite this week, one more small reward earned in the pursuit of a larger one.
“That was a physically hard, tiring series,’’ Reeve said. “We accomplished what we wanted to do, and now we need some rest. Then we’ll see what the next series brings.’’