Mercury defense drops Lynx

Brittney Griner had 23 points and 11 rebounds and Penny Taylor added 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists as the Phoenix Mercury built up a 25-point lead and held off a late ralley to beat the Minnesota Lynx 85-71 in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

The Mercury's Penny Taylor drives past Minnesota's Seimone Augustus.

Ross D. Franklin / AP

PHOENIX -- Now that the Phoenix Mercury administered an impressive beat-down on a truly outstanding opponent, it's time to review just how great they were.

Right?

Well, no. Considering the stakes and the opponent, now is a fine time to nitpick … a little.

OK, so Friday's 85-71 thumping of the defending champion Minnesota Lynx in Game 1 of the WNBA's Western Conference finals included a 25-point, third-quarter lead. It also provided sufficient balance for all five starters to score in double digits and have glorious moments. Penny Taylor, for example, stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points (10 at the free-throw line), 13 rebounds and seven dimes.

The Mercury also should be commended for choking off the Lynx offense (they made a measly 39.7 percent of their shots from the field) and limiting Maya Moore to nine points.

And they had 14 more rebounds than Minnesota.

"To win championships," Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said, "you have to play defense and rebound."

Done and done.

But even though the Lynx looked slouchy at times, don't be duped into thinking Sunday's Game 2 in this best-of-three showdown is anything close to a formality.

"Minnesota in Minnesota are very tough to beat," Brondello reminded us when Game 1 was officially kaput. "We have to come out with the same mindset. We have to focus on what we do."

And what they did with 10,376 "X-Factor" witnesses was roll out a clinic on help defense during the second and third quarters.

"I thought, defensively, we were just a team unit," Brondello said. "They were so locked in."

In the process, Moore -- the MVP and league's top scorer -- was locked down.

Tracked by DeWanna Bonner -- with help from, well, everyone -- the Lynx superstar made three of only nine shots and shot just two free throws. Her biggest numbers were fouls (five) and turnovers (four).

"DeWanna Bonner … she's a great defender," Brondello said. "She probably doesn't get that recognition as much as she should, but she is."

We know we're going to get a harder effort from the Lynx. They're the champions.

-Mercury coach Sandy Brondello

Lynx coach Sheryl Reeve didn't think her superstar helped herself in an effort to create separation from Bonner or the avalanche of help defenders.

"Early in the game, I thought that Maya didn't have an understanding of what was available," Reeve said. "I thought that Phoenix's team defense was really good, so when Maya had openings, they closed quickly and her recognition of what happened next was not very good."

Anyway, now that the home team has its fourth victory in five meetings with the Lynx, it might seem prudent to anticipate a short series.

But Phoenix (29-5 in the regular season, 3-0 in the playoffs) has a couple of things to clean up.

For starters, the ball was sticking on too many second-half Mercury possessions. This lack of timely movement resulted in only 36.7-percent shooting in the last two quarters and helped deliver eight of their 15 turnovers.

The crusty Phoenix defense that limited Minnesota to a combined 27 points over the second and third quarters allowed the Lynx to make half of their fourth-quarter attempts and score 24 points.

The leader of a Minnesota revival that closed the deficit to 10 was point guard Lindsay Whalen, who knocked in 11 of her game-high 25 points in that period.

With marching orders to go under ball screens against Whalen, Mercury defenders Diana Taurasi and Erin Phillips frequently were picked off by their own teammate assigned to guard the screener. Instead of pushing up into the screener and clearing a path underneath, the screen defenders' in-the-way positioning helped Whalen build a head of steam in her effort to turn the corner.

Phoenix also could have exploited its greatest advantage a bit more. That advantage, by the way, is center Brittney Griner, who dropped 23 points, snagged 11 rebounds and blocked three shots.

But even though Griner did take 14 shots (she made nine), Minnesota quickly abandoned its game-opening tactic of sending a second defender her way as soon as an entry pass was airborne. An early 3 from Bonner out of this double team inspired mostly solo coverage of the 6-foot-8 Griner from 6-2 (and ground-bound) Janel McCarville.

Griner had five shots in the opening quarter, but only six the entire second half.

Phoenix also could use some typical marksmanship from Taurasi, who missed 10 of 15 shots from the field and committed a third of the Mercury's turnovers.

While we're nitpicking a 14-point win over a deadly foe, Taurasi isn't exactly unaware of what awaits in Minnesota.

"That was probably the best stretch we've had on both sides of the ball this year in a game where we have to play at that level to beat them," she said of the Lynx, "because that's how good they are. A 20-point lead really doesn't mean anything. They have some of the best players in the world. They can make a lead disappear pretty quick."

And in a best-of-three, a one-game lead is no reason to take anything for granted.

Based on Brondello's commitment to details, expect the Mercury to be prepared.

"We know we're going to get a harder effort from the Lynx," she said. "They're the champions. They're going back home there, but we have to bring the same kind of effort and even more."

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