Brittney Griner would have had to dunk about five times to become the story of the game Thursday night at Target Center. She might have had to dunk about a dozen times to win the game.
Faced with a 6-8 rookie known for dunking and collegiate greatness, the Lynx played with such pace and skill that there was no need for the marketing of opposing stars.
Maya Moore scored on finger-rolls over centers. In the third quarter, Lindsay Whalen flipped a behind-the-back pass to Moore, who whipped a pass to Amber Harris for a tap-in layup. Janel McCarville scored the first points of her Lynx career with a reverse layup.
The Lynx scored 60 points in a half consisting of two 10-minute quarters. That’s three points a minute. Traditionally, that has been accomplished mostly by men with large Afros and a red, white and blue basketball.
The Lynx also tied a franchise record with 30 assists, on 36 baskets, and tied a franchise low with six turnovers. Traditionally, that kind of ratio isn’t accomplished at any level of the game.
“The coaches drill that mentality into us, but that’s also who we are,” Moore said. “It is a joy to play with so many players who are not only great finishers, but great passers. Everybody wants to get an assist, or the assist to the assist. It is rare. Nobody cares who scores.”
The Lynx reserves missed a few shots down the stretch to keep their team from reaching 100 points, so the final was Minnesota 99, Phoenix 79, even though the Lynx led by as many as 35.
What’s funny about the excitement over Griner’s dunks is that in men’s basketball, the dunk is often a cliché. Even the NBA All-Star dunk competition has become a joke filled with pedestrian efforts by pedestrian players.
Passing is the best part of the game, the most creative and important team-building exercise in pro sports. What the Lynx have is a combination of internationally-renowned players who are eager to share the ball. That is an ideal far more often than it is a reality.
“That’s one thing we talk about with our team, that we don’t feel like we should ever have to take a contested shot,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. “We’re a team that when we cut hard and screen for each other and keep the ball moving from side to side, eventually we’re going to get a good shot.
“The only time you take a contested shot is if it’s 4, 3, 2, 1 on the shot clock. Otherwise, if you make one more pass, you get a wide-open shot.”
While Phoenix tried to drive the paint, or pass into the paint, the Lynx ran a free-flowing offense that created space for their three Olympians — Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Moore. The Lynx didn’t turn the ball over in the first quarter. They scored 60 points in the first half with Whalen taking only one shot.
“A lot of times we weren’t necessarily calling a play or an action,” Whalen said. “We were just flowing up and sharing the ball and making the extra play.”
“We were hard to play against tonight,” Reeve said.
Griner had two chances to dunk. Once she flew in on a fast break and the ball caromed off the back of the rim. Another time, she found a lane to the hoop, and McCarville essentially fouled her with her face. McCarville spent some time on the hardwood, then left the game, but Griner didn’t get her dunk.
“I wanted that bad enough to sacrifice my body for it,” McCarville said. “We talked about the fact that it wasn’t a big deal if she dunked. We knew it was a possibility. Obviously she can dunk at will. But it could have been a momentum changer for them. We were rolling, so I didn’t want that to happen.
“I’ve got a broke lip, but I’m good.”
Some things, you just can’t pass to your teammates.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org.