WNBA: Lynx take Game 1 in Western Conference finals
MINNEAPOLIS -- For Rebekkah Brunson, it was Throwback Thursday in the Minnesota Lynx's 67-60 victory over the Phoenix Mercury in Game 1 of the WNBA Western Conference finals.
MINNEAPOLIS -- For Rebekkah Brunson, it was Throwback Thursday in the Minnesota Lynx’s 67-60 victory over the Phoenix Mercury in Game 1 of the WNBA Western Conference finals.
The 33-year-old veteran power forward gave Target Center fans a glimpse of what has made her one of the WNBA’s most clutch performers for more than a decade with a 13-point, 19-rebound performance.
“Rebekkah was unbelievable,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Our sponsorship people need to get on that right now. Curad. Band-Aid. Something. She needs to be the face of because there’s not a bigger band-aid than what we experienced tonight with Rebekkah. She was so engaged.”
Brunson, who came up one rebound shy of tying her career-high 20 rebounds set in 2012, entered the game needing just two offensive rebounds to become the league’s all-time leader in postseason.
Two of her seven offensive rebounds came in dramatic fashion. One was a tip at the halftime buzzer. But her last rebound came after a potentially critical missed free throw by Sylvia Fowles with under a minute left leading only by four points.
“Coming into the game we knew that rebounding would be important for us,” Brunson said. “We knew that there would be lots of opportunities for us to get boards.”
Lynx star Maya Moore scored 10 of her team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter, including a three-pointer to extend Minnesota’s lead to nine points at 1:10 and two free throws with 18 seconds left.
Phoenix center Brittney Griner didn’t have much of a challenge inside in the 2015 playoffs - not until Thursday. The 6-foot-8 all-star met her match with Minnesota’s frontcourt tandem of Sylvia Fowles and Brunson, who combined for 23 points and 30 rebounds.
Phoenix’s DeWanna Bonner had 21 points, including a three-pointer to cut the lead to 64-60 with 38.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Fowles missed two free throws after being fouled on the ensuing possession. But Brunson swooped in for the rebound and sank 1 of 2 free throws to provide a cushion.
The Lynx held the Mercury to 33 percent shooting and had a 44-30 rebounding advantage.
Fowles was acquired in a blockbuster trade in July mainly to match up with a post presence such as Griner in the playoffs. She proved her worth with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Seimone Augustus also had 14 points for Minnesota.
“You just have to say aggressive, move your feet and make her think,” Fowles said of Griner. “My teammates did a good job of helping me once she caught the ball and trapping her. That’s how we got it done tonight.”
Griner finished with nine points on 3-for-7 shooting and six rebounds. But she was averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks in the playoffs entering Thursday’s game, making Phoenix a strong contender to successfully defend its league title.
The Mercury didn’t need much from Griner to take a 21-14 lead after the first quarter, but they could’ve used some help being outscored 20-2 to open the second quarter.
Moore even took a back seat to Brunson in the first half. Moore had been averaging nearly 27 points a game in the playoffs, but she scored just seven in the first half.
Meanwhile, Brunson and Fowles combined for 21 points and 18 rebounds. Brunson had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, most notably a tip on a missed shot from Lindsay Whalen at the second-quarter buzzer. The Lynx led 35-32 at halftime.
Griner failed to have much of an impact on either end of the floor in the first half. She had just four points and one block until the waning seconds of the second quarter.
In the second half, Fowles opened with a hook shot over Griner to make it a five-point Lynx lead. But the 6-5 center picked up her fourth foul a minute later to sit the rest of the third quarter.
Minnesota still challenged Griner inside with backup center Devereaux Peters scoring twice, including a basket to make it 47-40 with 4:21 left in the third quarter.
Phoenix pulled to within a point on two free throws from Candice Dupree, but Moore finished a layup off the glass to extend it to a 49-46 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
Moore led the way in the second half, but Brunson was the difference maker while making history.
“It feels really good,” Brunson said. “That’s something I pride myself on, going out there and being aggressive on the boards. But it feels even better knowing we got the win after it.”