MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Lynx are hard enough to defend on most nights. When all three of their Olympians are clicking, they’re close to unstoppable.
Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore scored 20 points apiece and Seimone Augustus added 18 to lead the Minnesota Lynx to an 85-62 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday night.
Diana Taurasi scored 15 and Brittney Griner had 13 points and six rebounds for the Mercury, who face a must-win situation in Game 2 in Phoenix on Sunday.
Taurasi, who won a gold medal in London with Augustus, Whalen and Moore, knows all too well how explosive Minnesota’s Big 3 can be. On Thursday, they combined to hit 25 of 42 shots from the field as the Lynx dominated the Mercury in every phase of the game.
“Usually, teams have one guard or two guards who can go off,” Taurasi said. “I’ve played on teams that have three guards who can go off. Those teams are hard to stop.”
Both teams started out cold, but Minnesota recovered quickly and turned the first half into a mismatch. After hitting just one of their first six field goal attempts, the Lynx made 16 of their next 23 shots, while Phoenix was just 9 for 37 (24.3 percent) for the half.
Whalen, a first-team all-WNBA pick, scored just 13 points in Minnesota’s two-game sweep of Seattle in the conference semifinals. The changed Thursday when she hit her first five shots and finished the first half 7 for 10 for 14 points, one of three Lynx in double figures before halftime. She finished the game with six rebounds and five assists – team highs in both categories.
“I thought she had a little more bounce in her step, and any time Lindsay struggles in a series you can bet she’s going to come out the next series and really assert herself, and she did just that for us,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.
Minnesota has won all six meetings with the Mercury this season, but the teams hadn’t played since July 24. The Mercury went 9-4 down the stretch after naming Russ Pennell their interim head coach, and after his first up-close look at the Lynx, he’s not ready to wave the white flag.
“Sometimes you kind of get something in your head that maybe isn’t true, and if you think about it long enough, you’ll think it’s true,” Pennell said. “I want to make sure they understand that Minnesota is beatable. But we’re going to have to get out of our own way and . focus on what we do. “
The Mercury advanced to the conference finals by upsetting second-seeded Los Angeles, winning both road games in their best-of-three semifinal series. But they quickly discovered that the Lynx were going to be a tougher out.
Minnesota’s 12-2 playoff record at Target Center represents the best postseason homecourt advantage in WNBA history, and the Lynx swept the Mercury in the conference finals en route to winning the 2011 league title.
After losing last year’s finals to Indiana, the Lynx are hoping for another shot at the title. On Thursday they followed a good formula for getting a second ring.
“We make sure we’re sharing the ball, taking the best shot possible and not having any wasted possessions,” Whalen said. “That’s pretty much what we tried to do the whole night tonight.”