Lynx follow championship ring ceremony with home-opening win
MINNEAPOLIS — Seimone Augustus woke up at 6:45 a.m. Sunday and couldn’t fall back asleep.
This wasn’t just any home opener. There was a piece of commemorative jewelry and a celebratory sellout crowd of 9,434 waiting at her place of employment.
"Watching the clock like ‘it’s not 11:30 yet?’" Augustus said, describing the nature of an ultra-unique pregame routine. "This day just created a lot of buzz for us."
For once in the past calendar year, the game itself was secondary.
It only lasted for a few brief moments before the Lynx’s 90-87 overtime victory over Connecticut. But as coach Cheryl Reeve and owner Glen Taylor embraced, Maya Moore danced her way to center court before addressing the crowd and Augustus and the rest of the 2013 WNBA champions received their title-signifying rings, focus shifted out of the present and back to last summer.
"We’ve been waiting all offseason for this moment right here," Moore told the gathered masses before dropping a game-high 33 points, her second consecutive 30-plus-point effort to begin the season.
After an ear-shattering video intro, Taylor passed out a set of giant, glistening rings bearing Lynx insignia for the second time in the past three years. A new, white banner reading "Minnesota Lynx, 2013 WNBA Champions" was raised among the rafters adjacent to a similar one from 2011. Fireworks exploded. Tears of joy were shed.
The Lynx ran roughshod through last season’s playoffs, becoming the second team in league history to attain an undefeated postseason. This after a 26-8 regular season that rendered Minnesota the WNBA’s regular-season champ each of the past three years.
"I think people . . . want a really good story, and I think the Lynx have been steadily building and making some very smart moves in terms of their coaching staff and their roster to get to this point," said league president Laurel J. Richie, on hand to kick off the pregame proceedings. "I think there’s . . . a sense of celebration and excitement when a team has been able to achieve that."
All the lights, sounds and pageantry made it easy to forget there was a game to play.
And for the better part of four quarters, it looked like Minnesota (2-0) had.
"I told them we’re mature enough to do both," Reeve said, "which is warm up, focus, enjoy the ceremony with the fans and then turn it back on at a high level."
Moore, the reigning WNBA Finals MVP, waited until the third quarter to take care of the last requirement on that list. Her teammates didn’t follow suit until later.
It took a 16-point rally, a game-tying jumper by Augustus and a Lindsay Whalen wakeup call in the extra frame to overcome a Sun (0-2) team that won 10 games last season. If not for a sloppy Katie Douglas throwaway with 7.5 seconds left, Connecticut (0-2) could’ve walked away from the Twin Cities having outclassed the defending crown claimers on their home court, a venue in which they lost just twice in 2013.
"It was smart," Reeve said. "You’re watching a banner raising, a ring ceremony, and if I’m coaching I’m gonna say, ‘Go out there and punch them in the mouth. They’re not ready.’
"And that’s exactly what happened to us."
Not until Moore scored eight straight points in the third frame’s final two minutes did Minnesota sustain much moxie. The Sun still led by as many as six with less than two minutes left in regulation, but Whalen and Augustus hit back-to-back jumpers in the final 35.6 seconds. Whalen dribbled the ball out of bounds before Douglas’ costly turnover, seeming to cap a horrid home debut for the Lynx’ heart and soul leader.
But after Augustus forced overtime with 2.3 ticks left, Whalen finally reverted to her usual ways.
The 11th-year veteran went 2-for-11 from the floor for seven points in regulation. In the extra stanza, she made all three of her field-goal attempts, went 4-for-5 from the free-throw line and scored 10 of Minnesota’s 12 points.
"’I got you Coach,’" Reeve recalled Whalen saying before she checked in for Lindsey Moore, who played the bulk of the point guard minutes during a 24-8 run spanning the final two quarters that forged a 66-all tie in the fourth.
"Coach just said ‘finish it’ when I went back in," Whalen said. "It’s your first home game, you haven’t been home in a while playing, and you’re just feeling it out. The end of the fourth and overtime, I just was like ‘I’m gonna go crazy.’"
With returning posts Rebekkah Brunson and Devereaux Peters sidelined with knee injuries, rookie forward Damiris Dantas filled in nicely for the second straight game. The Brazilian — who barely speaks any English — tallied 10 points and nine rebounds after recording six and five in Friday’s season-commencing win at Washington.
"You can’t tell she’s 21 and doesn’t speak English," Reeve said.
Minnesota’s frontcourt situation looked even more dire when McCarville took a late spill and rolled her left ankle. McCarville said her injury was just a sprain, though Reeve had no official update on her status.
She’ll have some time to heal. The Lynx don’t play again until Friday at Tulsa.
McCarville had inexplicably attempted to dribble up the floor with 1:55 to go. Rookie Chiney Ogwumike (team-high 25 points, 10 rebounds) swooped in and stole the ball away for an easy layup, giving the Sun a 78-72 lead.
"I just saw she had ice on her ankle," Reeve said of McCarville. "I know that your ankle hurts worse when you turn it over."
Reeve blamed the team’s afternoon start and lack of any practice or shootaround time between games for her team’s rough beginning more than the pregame ceremony. But Whalen and Augustus admitted it had an effect.
"You take it all in, you really soak it all in, then you kind of leave it and go the next thing," Whalen said. "It’s easier to look back on a win and learn from some things than to not."
Said Augustus: "It’s hard to kind of switch over. We was still stuck in that excitement of the ceremony, and I think it kind of caught up with us."
Douglas knows the feeling well, having earned a championship ring of her own in Indiana’s 2012 Finals triumph over Minnesota.
"It’s a lot of emotions that you go through when you get your rings and have the banner ceremony," said Douglas, who signed with Connecticut as a free-agent after last season. "You’ve got so many distractions and emotions in your head, so it’s extremely hard to play, and to play well.
"We were trying to come in and be a spoiler, but to their credit they were able to make a run when they needed to."
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