Earlier in the week Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, searching for an analogy to describe what it was like to finally have all of her players back, healthy, likened it to a band reuniting.
The band’s back together, she said. Now it was time to play.
Call what happened Friday at Target Center a duet.
In the first game of the Western Conference semifinals, against a Los Angeles Sparks team that counter-punched all night, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus did enough to produce a 67-65 victory that sent the best-of-three series back to Los Angeles with the Lynx up 1-0.
“I died in the first two minutes,” said Augustus, who scored 17 points in her first game back after missing a month because of a sprained left foot. “But once I got into the groove of things, it felt normal. It felt great to be back there with my teammates, grinding it out.’’
Moore scored a game-high 33 points to go with Augustus’ 17. Together they scored 50 of Minnesota’s 67 points. And that includes scoring 31 of the team’s 34 second-half points. It was enough to survive a horrendous second quarter and a stretch in the fourth quarter when a 9-0 Sparks run trimmed a double-digit Lynx lead to one.
This one wasn’t over until Candace Parker’s fall-away, off-balance baseline jumper at the buzzer went long, forcing the announced crowd of 8,333 to both cheer and sigh with relief at the same time.
The Sparks got double-digit scoring from Parker (16 points), forward Nneka Ogwumike (14), Jantel Lavender and Kristi Toliver (12 each).
The Lynx? They got lots of points from Moore and Augustus and lots of defense from everyone else. Offensively, the Lynx were good in the first quarter, stagnant in the second, stunning in the third and did just enough down the stretch.
But it took some halftime communication after the Lynx were outscored 21-11 in the second quarter.
“This team has leaders that know how to respond,” said Moore, who had five rebounds and four steals. “Everybody, collectively, had a good focus going into the locker room. People speaking up.’’
And, apparently, people listening.
The Lynx were a different team in the third. Down four early in the quarter, Moore scored 15 points in a 19-4 run that put the Lynx up 11 on Moore’s three-pointer with 2:21 left.
With the Lynx up 10 early in the fourth, the Sparks scored nine in a row to pull within one midway through the quarter. Augustus scored four straight, but two Ogwumike baskets cut it to one, again, with 2 minutes left.
Then came the play of the game. Parker tried to get the ball into Ogwumike in the post, but Rebekkah Brunson — who had been switched onto Ogwumike moments before — tapped the ball to Moore, who went end-to-end to score with 1:24 left.
“I think that play summarized a lot of our decisionmaking on offense,” Ogwumike said after her team surrendered 23 points on 15 turnovers. “We were trying to force a few things.’’
Said Moore: “That was a big defensive stop for us. More than anything, that helped us seal the game.’’
Out of a timeout, Brunson got another steal, but the Lynx couldn’t take advantage of it. With 28.2 seconds left, Toliver made one of two free throws to make it a two-point game. Moore missed a three-pointer, giving the Sparks another chance with 3.3 seconds left. But Parker’s shot went long.
The Lynx improved to 17-2 all-time in home playoff games, 16-1 under Reeve.
Ultimately, getting 33 points from Moore isn’t a huge surprise. But Augustus getting 17 — 10 in the second half, six in the fourth — in her first game in a month?
“I can’t say enough about how much she wanted it tonight,” Reeve said. “She’s overcome a lot. To come out and be as good as she was? Playoff time is Seimone time.”