By the time Cheryl Reeve waltzed past hundreds of pom-pom-brandishing fans and into the Lynx locker room Sunday night, her vibrant red-orange suit coattails flapping behind her, they were all that remained of perhaps Minnesota’s most demonstrative performance yet this year.
Over. Done. Next, please.
The wily veteran coach boiled down a night that until its conclusion was all about raw emotion — Monica Wright coming off the bench to play her best postseason game, Janel McCarville warring through a back injury to channel her University of Minnesota days, Atlanta Dream players crumpling to the floor with bruised body parts and psyches — into crisp, clear-cut metrics.
“I think more than anything, every player in that locker room … has the notion that this is simply just 40 minutes,” Reeve said Sunday night after her team’s 84-59 triumph in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. “We started the 200-minute series exactly the way we wanted to.
“Forty minutes is in the book.”
And that’s where Minnesota put them as soon as the Target Center clock struck zero on its absolute thrashing of Atlanta. The 13,804 fans that shook the old, urban barn once again this postseason are surely waxing McCarville’s bone-crushing pick on league scoring champ Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore’s well-timed 3s and Wright’s cold-blooded, 20-point outing around the water coolers today.
History. You want to talk numbers? Try two more wins in four chances for a second championship in three years.
“These 40 minutes that we just played have absolutely no bearing on Game 2,” Reeve said. “It will be absolutely amazing how different Game 2 is vs. Game 1.”
Even after shooting a dismal 6-for-24 from the floor, McCoughtry promised as much when the Dream returns to 600 First Avenue North after a 48-hour turnaround.
“People doubt us already; that’s OK,” McCoughtry said. “We’ll be back for a dogfight on Tuesday.”
Both these teams know a thing or two about coming out on the losing end of series openers. Washington handed the Dream a 71-56 loss in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinals, but Atlanta bounced back to win two straight and hasn’t lost since.
Minnesota wasn’t so fortunate in last year’s finals, dropping Game 1 at home to Indiana and falling 3-1 in the series.
The initial stanza can provide fuel for correction or turn the tide for good, kind of like Moore’s deep 3-pointer 13 seconds in Sunday night.
After holding Atlanta to 31.2 percent shooting and scoreless from beyond the 3-point arc while receiving stark offensive contributions from Moore, Wright and old reliable Seimone Augustus, the Lynx feel they’re poised for the latter.
But opportunity and follow-through are two different things.
“I think we’re setting ourselves up for success winning Game 1 here at home,” said Wright, the first bench option for a team that seized the league’s best regular-season record for the third year in a row. “Obviously, last year was not how we wanted to end the season, and I’m sure everyone took that personal. If you just look at the way our season has played out, I think we all took that to heart and we’re trying to make a different ending to this season.”
After chalking up a postseason career high scoring Sunday, Wright will have a heavy say in that. With her running the offense and scoring like a starter, Minnesota is remarkably deeper than Atlanta.
Starting point guard Lindsay Whalen had a quiet Game 1 offensively — three points and five assists — and no one seemed to even notice.
“(Wright) understands that these type of series are about X-factors,” Reeve said. “Obviously, she views herself in that way. She knows the starters, they’re going to go head-to-head and beat each other up, and it’s really about the peripheral players, if you will, and the X-factors.”
If the Dream are to even this best-of-five slate before heading back to Georgia, they’re going to need McCoughtry to shoot better than 25 percent. The forward missed several open shots and was heavily guarded on her other looks.
Even if she had converted at a normal rate, it wouldn’t have been enough to keep up with a Lynx team that’s as multiple as it is tenacious. Never was that more evident than a decisive 15-0 second-quarter run Sunday in which five different Minnesota players scored.
“This is a long series, and every second that we give them life is a memory that they take into Game 2 or Game 3, the next game,” said Moore, who hit three 3s and scored a game-high 23 points Sunday. “So that’s our mindset: We don’t give up, we don’t relent.”
The Lynx didn’t give Atlanta much hope to hold onto Sunday.
That’s meaningless, in Reeve’s eyes.
“We talk about it being a 200-minute series, these guys played 80 possessions, that’s 400 possessions,” Reeve said. “We have a long way to go. We’re only 80 possessions into this thing.”