Attempting to repeat as WNBA champions, the Phoenix Mercury will likely endure a recurrence of their 2013 postseason fate if they don’t improve their shooting and rebounding from Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
The best-of-three series shifts to Phoenix on Sunday afternoon with the Minnesota Lynx owning the upper hand by virtue of Thursday’s 67-60 win, a result fueled by strong defense and dominating the glass. The Lynx held the Mercury to 25 percent shooting in the second half and 32.8 percent overall while finishing with a 44-30 rebounding advantage.
Rebekkah Brunson grabbed a franchise playoff-record 19 rebounds and Sylvia Fowles added 14 to help put Minnesota one win away from a fourth WNBA Finals appearance in five seasons. Phoenix ended the Lynx’s run as conference champions by winning the 2014 West finals in three games, avenging a Minnesota sweep the previous year.
Fowles and Brunson each had six points during a 20-2 second-quarter run that erased a nine-point deficit, while Maya Moore scored 10 of her 19 points in the fourth to protect a lead that was cut to 47-46 late in the third.
Brunson finished with 13 points and became the WNBA’s career leader in postseason offensive rebounds by recording seven.
”Rebekkah was unbelievable,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. ”Our sponsorship people need to get on it right now. She needs to be the face of (an ad campaign), because there’s not a bigger Band-Aid than what we just experienced with Rebekkah. She was so engaged, at a high level.”
DeWanna Bonner had 21 points and was the lone Mercury player in double figures. Brittney Griner was held to nine points and six rebounds after totaling 41 points in Phoenix’s semifinals sweep of Tulsa.
”They took us out of everything,” Bonner said. ”As a team we couldn’t find an offensive flow. We had it going a little bit in the first half, but in the second half they turned it up a notch.”
Regaining their scoring touch will be vital to the Mercury’s chances of extending the series. Phoenix was 0-9 during the regular season when held under 70 points and 5-9 when outrebounded by the opposition.
"We’re a much better offensive team than we showed (Thursday)," coach Sandy Brondello told the Mercury’s official website. "We need to do a better job of keeping the ball moving. Credit to Minnesota for their defense, but there’s certainly things we could have done better."
Phoenix should benefit from a return to Talking Stick Resort Arena, where it’s 14-4 including the playoffs and won all three regular-season meetings with the Lynx. The Mercury averaged 77.7 points in those games and 58.5 in two prior losses in Minnesota.