It was not, the Lynx insisted all week, a rematch. This wasn’t 2012. There were some new faces. And three seasons, in basketball years, can be a lifetime.
But the more things change …
With Briann January leading the way, with Tamika Catchings leading the defense, with characteristic grit and physical play, the Indiana Fever came into Target Center on Sunday and took Game 1 of the WNBA Finals 75-69.
It didn’t seem so much a rematch of 2012 as a redux. Three years ago the Fever used that opening win to take the series three games to one.
“We didn’t play well enough to win,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “To be honest with you, we have to play way better to have a shot at winning this championship.’’
January had 19 points and six assists. She was one of four starters and five players in double figures. Marissa Coleman had 16, five in the final quarter. Catchings, who scored 12, said this was the best she’d ever seen January play.
The Lynx got a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds from Maya Moore. Center Sylvia Fowles had 21 points and 11 rebounds. But the two also combined for 11 turnovers. The rest of the Lynx lineup made only seven shots. The Lynx also missed eight of 23 free throws.
The Fever shot only 36 percent but made up for it with 22 second-chance points and by hitting all 16 free throws.
Perhaps most telling was the play of the game’s guards. The Fever’s trio of January, Shenise Johnson and Shavonte Zellous scored 39 points. The trio of Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Anna Cruz scored 18.
After the game, Reeve was frank. She needs more from Augustus and Whalen.
“Lindsay and Seimone have to help us more offensively,” she said. “They didn’t get the job done, either one of them.’’
Augustus scored nine points on 3-for-11 shooting. Seven came in the fourth quarter. She had five points and two assists in a 9-2 run that gave the Lynx their only second-half lead at 62-61 with 4:27 left. Whalen took only three shots, making one; late in the game, with the Lynx playing more pick-and-roll and looking for a three-pointer, Whalen was on the bench.
“Seimone is a shot-maker,” Reeve continued. “This is the WNBA Finals. When one of the best shot-makers in the history of the WNBA gets an opportunity, she has to make shots. She knows that. … Lindsay hasn’t found a way to help this team offensively in a long time. She has to get back to letting the game come to her. When she’s open, shoot it. When she gets drives, drive with a vengeance.’’
In the end it was the little things that hurt the Lynx. Four of the Fever’s five three-pointers came after offensive rebounds, including Coleman’s with 3:57 left, which gave the Fever the lead back for good. After taking a one-point lead, the Lynx were outscored 14-7.
The Lynx got to within three four times, the last with 1:12 left after January got called for her sixth foul and a technical. Moore made two of three free throws to pull the Lynx within 72-69.
But at the other end Zellous drove for an uncontested layup. Catchings’ three-point play with 7.8 seconds left — which came after yet another Lynx turnover — sealed the deal.
“Just little things that we let slip away,” Moore said.
And now much rides on Tuesday’s game. Whalen and Augustus know they need to give more, saying so in a quiet locker room.
“That’s expected,” Augustus said. “We’re a part of a [group], me, [Rebekkah] Brunson, Maya, Whalen, that has been together the last five years. So, of course, she expects a lot more.’’