Lynx 105, Mercury 83
The Minnesota Lynx finally put their last celebration behind them. Now the focus on becoming the WNBA's first repeat champions in 10 years is fully clear.
Seimone Augustus scored 19 points before leaving with bruised ribs, and the Lynx didn't let up in a 105-83 season-opening victory over the Diana Taurasi-less Phoenix Mercury on Sunday.
''Once the banner went up and the lights went on and we started to warm up for the game, it was about 2012 and what we're trying to do,'' Augustus said.
The MVP of last year's finals was hurt late in the third quarter when she leaped to save a loose ball and landed with her midsection on top of a courtside seat. Augustus stayed down on her knees for a few minutes and went to the locker room for examination, prompting a hearty cheer when she came back to the bench in the fourth quarter with the Lynx still comfortably ahead.
''We didn't play poorly. We still have a long way to go, though,'' head coach Cheryl Reeve said, relieved after a restless night hoping her team wasn't too distracted by the arrival of those sparkling championship rings and the exuberant pregame ceremony.
Lindsay Whalen had 10 of her 13 points in the final 11 minutes to go with five assists and backup Monica Wright added 15 points and five assists in front of the announced sellout crowd of 12,611, the largest of the franchise's 14 home openers.
''When Seimone goes out, I kind of feel like everyone needs to step up and do more,'' Whalen said.
With Taurasi out due to a strained left hip flexor, the Mercury missed the league's scoring leader in each of the last four seasons. Charde Houston, sent to the Mercury in a winter trade with the Lynx, scored 24 points against her old team on 5-for-11 shooting from 3-point range.
''Anybody who can score, it's a good fit for her,'' Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said of Houston's ability to mesh with his fast-paced offense.
DeWanna Bonner had 22 points, Candice Dupree added 13 points and rookie Samantha Prahalis had 12 points and six assists but four turnovers in her debut. The Mercury were done in by familiar weaknesses: not enough defense or depth. The Lynx reserves outscored the Mercury's 40-8, and Minnesota owned a 40-28 rebounding advantage overall.
''We're so versatile. We can all play with each other,'' Wright said.
There were other problems in play, but Taurasi's absence was difficult to overcome.
''When she's in, it's kind of like she just settles everyone down a little bit. She's kind of like a safety valve,'' Prahalis said.
The Lynx passed the 100-point mark five times in 42 games last season, including the playoffs, and three of those came against the Mercury, who allowed a league-most 86 points per game last year.
The Lynx outscored the Mercury 36-23 in the second quarter and finished at 57.1 percent shooting from the field. Their 44 makes were a team record. With nine of their 11 players back from last season, plus third overall draft pick Devereaux Peters coming off the bench to play in the post, they look every bit the dominant team they became last summer. Ten of the league's 12 general managers picked the Lynx as favorites to win this year's title.
The Lynx started a bit sluggishly but quickly recovered. The strength of their chemistry was obvious, with each player knowing where her teammates want the ball and feeding off each other well. On one fast break, Whalen pushed an up-court pass after a steal to Maya Moore, who coolly finished a two-on-one break with a no-look flip pass to Augustus to stretch the Lynx lead to 65-51.
Taurasi and Bonner are the only players left from the Mercury's 2009 championship team. They've been swept in the Western Conference finals in each of the last two years. Their quest to recapture that perch was dealt a big blow when Penny Taylor, who was eighth in the league in scoring last season, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She won't play in 2012.
Houston and Alexis Hornbuckle were the only Lynx players who didn't return this year. They were traded to the Mercury in separate deals, but both of them received their rings with the rest of the Lynx before the game. Houston, whose playing time dwindled last season, had a 2011 high of nine points for the Lynx.
''I haven't gone anywhere. I know what my capabilities are, and it's just a matter of having the opportunity to show my abilities,'' Houston said. ''It's not `the old' or `the new.' It's Charde, period.''