Rebbekah Brunson excels in playoffs yet again

Once again, Rebekkah Brunson has reentered her element.

Even while administering and sometimes taking a physical beating, the Minnesota Lynx’ resilient power forward rarely displays much discomfort at any point during the season. But when the playoff lights come on and the going gets rougher, Brunson’s tenacious style of play fits right in.

And, for the second year in a row, it vaulted her team to a Western Conference semifinals triumph against Seattle.

“I assume she likes the playoffs,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “These are the money games; how do you not like them?”

Through Minnesota’s second-half blowout Friday and last-second dogfight Sunday, Brunson leads the Lynx with 22 total rebounds and is second in scoring with 33 points. The seven-year pro carried them through a rough first half in the opener, notching 13 of her 18 points before the break and extending several possessions with offensive boards.

Sunday afternoon in the Tacoma Dome, she was everywhere — pouncing on loose balls, tapping away frontcourt steals, and making Tina Thompson and Camille Little earn all 14 of their combined rebounds.

Brunson had 13 all on her own.

“You have to go out there and you have to elevate your game to another level,” Brunson said after her 18-point, nine-board performance in Game 1. “So I just try to go out there and set the tone immediately, and I know that my team is going to follow.”

And it has. Three-time conference regular-season champ Minnesota, which awaits Monday night’s Los Angeles-Phoenix victor, outscored the fourth-seeded Storm 40-28 in the second half of an 80-64 win Friday and gutted out a 58-55 victory in Game 2.

Her even-keel composure, a Brunson staple, has been equally helpful. Even during a sloppy Sunday matinee that wasn’t over until she hit a pair of free throws and the Lynx put together a final defensive stand, they never lost their cool, Brunson said.

“We knew it was going to be that type of game,” Brunson said. “We knew that it was going to be tough and physical and closely matched.”

Just how Brunson likes to play.

After being named to the WNBA all-defensive second team, Brunson spent most of last week resting. Some newfound offensive energy renders her Minnesota’s second-best scoring threat behind Maya Moore early in the postseason, and Brunson continues to display the glass prowess that helped her finish fourth in the league in rebounding this year.

“I think she was ready to play,” said Reeve, whose bunch hosts Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at 8 p.m. Thursday. “She was ready to come out and set the tone. She was pretty locked in most of the way, even when things weren’t going well.”

But this is nothing new.

In two WNBA Finals runs with the Lynx since being picked up in the 2011 Dispersal Draft of former Sacramento players, Brunson has averaged a double-double (11.9 points, 10.2 rebounds). Last year against the Storm, she shot 60.6 percent from the floor and averaged 16.7 points and 11.7 boards in a 2-1 series win.

If Minnesota is to claim its second title during her tenure here, the 6-foot-2, 188-pound workhorse will have had a substantial hand in it.

“I just try and set the tone for my team and lead by example,” said Brunson, already the leading rebounder in the franchise’s 15-year existence. “I know that the playoffs is a new series and a new season.”

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