With just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter of Monday night's Western Conference semifinal Game 3, Minnesota center Taj McWilliams-Franklin trotted off the Target Center court to a standing ovation, took her seat at the end of the bench and cocked her head slightly to the side to watch everything change around her.
The future will determine what this night means to Minnesota. But for the moment, it's the high point in Minnesota Lynx history, and a vindication for McWilliams-Frankin's decision to leave the Liberty in favor of the Lynx in the offseason: namely, to show this franchise what it means to belong in October.
And every minute she was on the floor on Monday night, she did just that. Not only did she chip in 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting -- after scoring just nine points in Games 1 and 2 combined -- her plus-26 rating over her 28 minutes was by far the game's best. Seimone Augustus led all scorers with 22 points (and added eight rebounds), while Rebekkah Brunson added 15 and Maya Moore tossed in 14, as the Lynx took the 9,000 in attendance at the Target Center and turned them -- after 13 years of toil -- from believers into witnesses.
The Western Conference Finals between the Lynx and Mercury open up at the Target Center on Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET.
|Minnesota vs. Phoenix|
|Game 1 - Thu Sept. 22||Phoenix at Minnesota||8:00PM||9:00PM||ESPN2|
|Game 2 - Sun Sept. 25||Minnesota at Phoenix||2:00PM||5:00PM||ESPN2|
|Game 3 * Tue Sept. 27||Phoenix at Minnesota||TBD||TBD||TBD|
* If necessary
- TwinCities.com: Lynx take fresh look at strategy
- Star Tribune: Phoenix series would be offensive delight -- if Lynx can advance
- ESPN.com: Lynx need stops in Game 3
- ESPN.com: Maya Moore talks WNBA playoffs
- MySanAntonio.com: Stars confident they can win Game 3
Over the course of the best year in team history, the Lynx had win streaks of five, six and nine games (among others). They endured exactly one losing streak, which wasn't even really a losing streak because it was only two games long. Some Boardwalk Empire episodes last (or at least feel) longer than that. And not only did they have a Playoff spot locked up weeks before the season ended, they had the Western Conference's No. 1 seed in hand, too. And over the last two weeks of the regular season, with everyone else playing for second and Minnesota's seats in the recline position, they still managed to win nine of their last 10.
So tonight, when the Lynx take on the Silver Stars for the final spot in the Conference Finals in a deciding Game 3, it means they'll basically have their backs against the wall for the first time all season. Meanwhile, they'll be taking on a San Antonio team that looks to have put a six-game August losing streak -- one that threatened to knock them out of the Playoffs altogether -- behind them. The Silver Stars have now won four of five overall, and looked like a team that could challenge for its first Finals berth since 2008 in Game 2.
And tonight, both teams will need to address a few things if they're to move on.
For the series, San Antonio has seven scorers in double-figures, with Becky Hammon and Jia Perkins leading the way with 34, while Sophia Young has 33. Minnesota has three.
Seimone Augustus, who's played right around the level she set during the regular season, leads the Lynx with 43, while Lindsay Whalen's in second with 35 points (to go along with eight assists) and Maya Moore's in third with 26. But from there, things drop off. Hard. The Lynx' next two highest scorers are Alexix Hornbuckle and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who both have nine points, although Hornbuckle has hers over only 10 minutes and McWilliams-Franklin has taken almost 60 to get hers.
Now, granted, the Lynx' offense does rotate around its Big Three, but one or two of the Little Seven that join them will need to find a way to step up like Perkins has.
At her best, Becky Hammon might just be the most potent force at point guard in the WNBA. Not only can she distribute the ball everywhere (she was second in the league in assists-per-game this year, behind Minnesota's Whalen by three-hundredths of a point), but she can score at will, as evidenced by her 37-point game against L.A. on Sept. 6 and her 33-point affair against Phoenix on July 28. However, Hammon's numbers looked like the stock market this year, with a huge surge giving way to a crash -- like when she scored four points against Seattle on Aug. 23 and zero (zero.) against Minnesota three days later.
But for the Stars to win, they'll need their best from Hammon tonight.
The Rookie of the Year, after doing just about everything right this year, has skidded out a little in the Playoffs. She's scored 26 points in two games, but it's taken 26 shots (and eight free throws) to get there, as Moore's shot 10-for-26 from the field and only 2-for-10 from 3-point range. She also fouled out of Game 2, in a sign that she might have been just a half-step behind the pace. Her efficiency rating of 9.00 is more than five points lower than her season total of 14.2, which had her ranked 19th in the league.
So, call it nerves or call it just good basketball on the part of San Antonio, but Moore's influence on the Lynx has grown as the season has gone on -- and they'll need her dearly tonight.
We saw last night just how little home-court advantage can matter in Game 3. If logic holds, the KeyArena crowd crushes Phoenix like a Dixie Cup after Diana Taurasi leaves the lineup, and the Storm dance into the Western Conference Finals. So much for that.
Minnesota fans have come back in droves, after years of letdowns, to support the Lynx this year. But thus far, Lynx fans haven't entered into the discussion of most rabid fanbase -- a title that's long belonged to Seattle, with Phoenix mixed in. They're loud, but not yet Sixth Man loud.
Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said that for the Lynx to win the WNBA title, they've just got to win all their home games. Tonight, we'll get an idea of whether that's (much) easier said than done?
A first-round loss wouldn't entirely erase the regular season that the Lynx put together. But it certainly would dim things.
Remember, this is a team that's yet to win a Playoff series. Ever. In 13 years. That win in Game 1 over the Silver Stars? That was only the second Playoff game win in team history.
McWilliams-Franklin came to Minnesota to help this team win a title. Who knows where she'll be after this season. Meanwhile, Lindsay Whalen's having a career year, Seimone Augustus is fully healthy and Rebekkah Brunson is pulling down rebounds like New Yorkers stocking up for a hurricane.
But a loss tonight would tinge the memory of a season unparalleled in Minnesota history. A win, on the other hand...well, who knows what it'd do.
Read this great piece on Feverbasketball.com about how Phillips has managed to channel the toughness and aggression that allowed her to compete with the boys in Aussie rules football, and turn it into a positive force on the basketball court.
And, because we can't sit still before tonight's Lynx-Silver Stars showdown, here's a collection of some of the hardest hits from Aussie Rules games.
Fresh off the Fever's 72-62 win over the Liberty in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semis -- a game in which she scored 21 points and held Liberty phenom Cappie Pondexter to 11 points -- Katie Douglas dropped by to talk about Indiana's quest for a title, the New York series and how the Fever are preparing for a team that swept them in the regular season.
What happened on Monday night in Seattle needs no hyperbole, no exaggeration. Just watch the video.
And if you need some context, here it is:
- Going into this series, the Mercury had lost 10 of 11 games to Seattle, then were held to a season-low 61 points in Game 1.
- Seattle had lost just twice at home all year.
- Phoenix hadn't won in Seattle since 2009.
- Phoenix had trailed by as many as 18 points earlier in the game and didn't lead until 6:56 remained in the fourth quarter, when a Candice Dupree jumper put them up, 60-59.
- Diana Taurasi wasn't available on this last play because she'd fouled out with more than six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
- The winner of this game would move on to the Western Conference Finals. The loser would go home.
Said Seattle guard Sue Bird after the game: ``All of a sudden the buzzer's going off and there's this wait-a-minute moment. This is one of those things that doesn't set in until a day, two days, a week.
``Right now, it just feels like we have a game in two days, we must. Obviously we don't.''
Knowing that a loss would end their season, the Phoenix Mercury came out and scored nine points in the first quarter. They didn't break into double-digits until almost two minutes into the second period. At one point, they trailed the host Seattle Storm by 18. And with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Diana Taurasi fouled out, leaving her team to fend for itself.
And Thursday night, the Mercury will open up the Western Conference Finals against the winner of Tuesday night's Lynx/Silver Stars showdown.
Thanks to one of the best performances of Penny Taylor's career (19 points, career-high 17 rebounds) and Candice Dupree's game-winner with 1.9 seconds remaining off a Taylor miss, Phoenix stormed back to win, 77-75, and add another classic to the long history between these two teams.
Phoenix finally took the lead for the first time with less than seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. From there, the teams traded points back and forth the rest of the way. With the Storm down two with under 15 seconds remaining, Seattle's Sue Bird drove left and hit a running jumper to tie it at 75-75. Then, on the next possession, Taylor got a clean look from close range, but the ball caromed off the rim -- right into Dupree's waiting hands. Dupree hit a 5-footer, and the Storm couldn't get a shot off on the ensuing possession, losing at home for just the third time all year.
1. If Minnesota defeats San Antonio in 3 games:
|Minnesota vs. Phoenix|
|Game 1 - Thu Sept. 22 Phoenix at Minnesota||8:00PM||9:00PM||ESPN2|
|Game 2 - Sun Sept. 25 Minnesota at Phoenix||2:00PM||5:00PM||ESPN2|
|Game 3 * Tue Sept. 27 Phoenix at Minnesota||TBD||TBD||TBD|
2. If San Antonio defeats Minnesota in 3 games:
|Phoenix vs. San Antonio|
|Game 1 - Thu Sept. 22 San Antonio at Phoenix||6:00PM||9:00PM||ESPN2|
|Game 2 - Sun Sept. 25 Phoenix at San Antonio||4:00PM||5:00PM||ESPN2|
|Game 3 * Tue Sept. 27 San Antonio at Phoenix||TBD||TBD||TBD|
Additional scheduling information will be furnished as soon as possible consistent with the needs to fulfill league obligations.
* If necessary
Douglas scored 21, giving her a 22ppg average over the three games in the Eastern semis, and Catchings added 17 (along with 8 boards, 4 assists and 3 rebounds) to give the Fever a 72-62 win over the Liberty in Game 3. Read the full recap here and check below for some notes from the game and beyond:
- With the win, the Fever open up the Eastern Finals against the Dream on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. at Conseco Fieldhouse.
- Indy's now 5-0 all-time in deciding games at home; in WNBA history, there have been 44 Game 3's in a best-of-three series (and 45 after the late game tonight), with the home team winning 75 percent of the time.
- When Catchings was on the bench on Monday night, the Liberty outscored the Fever, 12-1.
- Cappie Pondexter scored just 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting, giving her a final total of 15-for-44 (34.1 percent) from the field for the series. After torching Indy in the past, a late-season shooting slump persisted for Pondexter in the semis.
Preview | Series Stats | TV Companion | WNBA Playoff Blog
Recaps Fever Take Game 1 | Liberty Roll in Game 2
N.Y. Post: Liberty to Face Fever in Deciding Game 3
IndyStar.com: Another Do-or-Die Postseason for the Fever
Complex.com: 5 Reasons to Watch the WNBA Instead of Monday Night Football
Swish Appeal: Stat Analysis: Liberty Even the Series
Preview | Series Stats | TV Companion | WNBA Playoff Blog
Recaps: Storm Dominate Game 1 | Mercury Bounce Back in Game 2
Arizona Republic: Mercury Confident Going into Seattle
Seattle Times: Storm Gearing Up For Game 3
Storm.com: Quotes & Notes
They�re both great shows, sure. But on our end, it was the two awards for the dearly departed Friday Night Lights -- a Best Writing award for Jason Katims, and a Best Actor for Kyle Chandler -- that got us going. And after we got done watching New York Mag's Coach Taylor Pep-Talk Mashup for the 63rd time in a row, we figured it was time to dole out some awards of our own.
We�ve already got Best Actress covered in our Race to the MVP, and DeWanna Bonner's already wrapped up Supporting Actress with her Sixth Woman award, but in the spirit of award season, we bring you...The WEmmys.
WNBA.com sent a writer to follow Maya around virtually everywhere she went during Draft Day. It only got crazier from there. Over the course of a rookie season rivaled only in interest by Candace Parker�s first year -- and far exceeding it in coverage -- Moore was not only the league�s top rookie, she was the league�s most popular jersey, as thousands of little girls found role model. And, as always, the one-time prospective Rhodes Scholar was up to the task.
Call this one the Michael Bay Memorial Award: While Bird had to make a lot from a little, Whalen had the unique challenge of finding the best way to make an ensemble cast of stars click. Said Maya Moore: �We like to score the ball.� Not only did Whalen arrange the parts perfectly, averaging a WNBA-high 5.85 assists per game, she also got herself into the act, with nearly 14 points per game.
We make the distinction here because of the different challenges: while Whalen had a major-network production to work with (many weapons, healthy players), Bird had to make do with an indie budget. When Lauren Jackson went down early in the season, it was like a ratings-monster TV show losing its lead character. For years, the Storm offense had orbited around the perennial MVP. Then, all of a sudden, she was gone, with a hit show in jeopardy of falling apart. But, at the end of the regular season, there it was again, right near the top of the list � and who knows where it�ll finish at the end of the year. And none of those would have been possible without the savvy leadership of Sue Bird, who was able to bring out the best of the remaining cast members and summon a different side of herself to keep Seattle in position and make everyone (nearly) forget that the centerpoint of the show (who�s now back in the lineup) was missing.
Stay tuned. This one could be renamed for Ashton Kutcher next year.
The 2011 Coach of the Year couldn�t have scripted a better regular season. Not only was the final result � the best record in team history, the first No. 1 seed in team history, only the sixth 27-win season in WNBA history � a great one, but the individual storylines she wove together made the Lynx plotline the stuff of oft-underlooked NBC football dramas. Seimone Augustus came back from years of injuries to lead the team in scoring and earn a tie with Diana Taurasi for the fewest games it took to score 3,000 points. Whalen, the hometown hero, played the best ball of her career in her eighth season. Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the 41-year-old veteran, provided a spark off the bench and became the team matriarch. Meanwhile, Reeve brought along Maya Moore at a slow enough pace to have the rookie dissolve into the fabric of the team, turning the player deemed the Future of the WNBA into a subplot within a greater tale.
With WNBA Legend/�ber-Australian Lauren Jackson on the shelf for most of the year, this award was up for grabs. For a couple weeks, at least. At 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, fellow Australian Penny Taylor shone all year long.
The Dream started the season with expectations as high as any in their short history. They were coming off a trip to the WNBA Finals. They had one of the biggest stars in the business, in Angel McCoughtry. Then things went bad, fast. And through 12 games (just past the first third of the season), they were 3-9 and looking like a team that�d stay in the vault when the Playoffs began. Then they found their timing. The supporting cast fell into their roles and McCoughtry looked like the star everyone knew she could be. And all of a sudden, they�re the first team in the Conference Finals and in the conversation for Best Team in the WNBA. Parks and Recreation did pretty much the same thing.
Swoopes� reward for getting back to the court at the age of 40 was a 3-31 year in Tulsa. But it also featured that game-winner against Los Angeles, an 8.2 points-per-game scoring average and a 20-point, seven-rebound game to finish the season against San Antonio. When we�re 40, we�re hoping we can still get up stairs without our knees sounding like old floorboards. And because Swoopes, one of the Top 15 all-time WNBA players, did so much more than just show up, we salute her.
Between mid-June and mid-August, the Tulsa Shock lost a record 20 straight games. They didn�t win once during the month of July. Even their lone All-Star, rookie Liz Cambage, lost in the All-Star Game, with the East nabbing a 118-113 win. Then, all of a sudden, on Aug. 26, they won � and on a game-winning shot by Swoopes, no less. A night later, they won again. Up to that point, the Shock had won exactly one game, going 1-25. By the time they dropped the Connecticut Sun by 11 points on Aug. 28 for their second straight win, the Shock had tripled their win total on the year. Tulsa finished the year on a six-game losing streak, but for those two games in August, a long-losing franchise saw its future...like when AMC stopped showing silent movies and started showing Mad Men.
Watch this video twice. Watch it once to re-live McCoughtry�s show-stopper at the 2011 All-Star Game. Then watch it again to see the look on Liz Cambage�s face.
See the picture above.
And this and this and this and this and this.
After the Mavericks won the NBA title, Seattle center and Dallas native Ashley Robinson dyed her hair blue to celebrate the occasion. Later, she�d turn it purple, then pink � although never red, because that�s Rhianna�s thing � but on July 19, with hair as blue as the sky, she blew up on the Sky, scoring 14 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in a matchup with Sylvia Fowles.
Runner-Up: Your middle-school librarian.
Diana Taurasi�s Texas Two-Step at the All-Star Game was one thing. You know, as they say�when in San Antonio.
But DT takes home this award because of her nearly three-minute, one-woman dance-off that asks you one question: Can you Dance Like Dee?
Click here or on the photo to check out the performances to remember from Sunday night!
Here's what we know:
- The Atlanta Dream are in the Eastern Conference Finals.
To put things a different way...epic.
Last year, three teams waltzed into the second round in three games. This year, only one team -- the Dream -- managed to do so, and on an upset, no less.
We'll have much more today on Monday night's pair of Game Threes -- Dream-Liberty at 8 p.m., Storm-Mercury at 10 (both on ESPN2) -- but in the meantime, check out the schedule for the Eastern Finals, depending on who wins tonight, and some more links from last night.
1. If Indiana defeats New York in 3 games:
|Indiana vs. Atlanta|
|Game 1 - Thu Sept. 22||Atlanta at Indiana||7:00PM||7:00PM||ESPN2|
|Game 2 - Sun Sept. 25||Indiana at Atlanta||3:00PM||3:00PM||ESPN2|
|Game 3 * Tue Sept. 27||Atlanta at Indiana||TBD||TBD||TBD|
2. If New York defeats Indiana in 3 games:
|Atlanta vs. New York|
|Game 1 - Thu Sept. 22||New York at Atlanta||7:00PM||7:00PM||ESPN2|
|Game 2 - Sun Sept. 25||Atlanta at New York||3:00PM||3:00PM||ESPN2|
|Game 3 * Tue Sept. 27||New York at Atlanta||TBD||TBD||TBD|
Just under 10 minutes later, the Connecticut Sun's season was over.
The Dream now await their second-round opponent. No matter who wins the Fever-Liberty series, the Eastern Conference Finals will start on Sept. 22. It's just a matter of home/away, with the Dream starting on the road if Indiana wins and at home if New York pulls it out.
Meanwhile, the SIlver Stars managed to do what they very nearly did in Game 1 -- drop the top-seeded Lynx. The 84-75 win was the first in eight games against Minnesota for San Antonio, who forced a Game 3 on Tuesday night. Jia Perkins scored 24 points and Sophia Young came up with 23 to pace the Silver Stars, who are looking to get back to the second round for the first time since 2008.
But it's Sunday night, and we know you're pinned to your TV to find out who takes home the Emmy for Outstanding Host For A Reality Or Reality-Competition Program 2011, so let's break the night into bullets:
Atlanta Dream 69, Connecticut Sun 64
- The Dream became the only team to sweep their first-round opponent, after three teams did so in 2010.
- Tina Charles had a game-high 17 rebounds, but only two in the fourth quarter as Atlanta outrebounded Connecticut 13-5 in the period.
- During the first five minutes second half both teams were ice cold, shooting a combined 2-for-18
- McCoughtry scored her first basket with 4:04 remaining in the third quarter. She was 0-for-9 before that.
- Connecticut led by as many as 11 points in the second half and after Tina Charles hit a jumper to open the fourth quarter, they held a nine point advantage.
- The Dream would outscore them 25-11 the rest of the way.
- The Dream took the lead in the fourth on a Lindsey Harding layup with 3:26 to play. That came in the middle of a 18-4 run that resulted in the Dream leading by five.
- In the final minutes the Dream kept to their MO and kept running and scoring, rather than pulling the ball out and trying to run out the clock.
- Connecticut went five minutes without a field goals in the fourth quarter.
- Atlanta dominated the paint, outscoring the Sun 38-20.
San Antonio SIlver Stars 84, Minnesota Lynx 75
- The Silver Stars never trailed in the game. There were four ties but no lead changes.
- Young had a big second half, scoring 17 of her 23 points after the break.
- Perkins scored a team-high 24 points in just the second playoff game of her career.
- The Lynx were unable to win their first playoff road game as well as their first playoff series with today's loss to San Antonio.
- The Lynx dominated the boards (45-30), including a 21-8 edge on the offensive glass, but failed to convert them to points, scoring their first second chance points with less than 3 minutes to play (double check their total for second chance points).
- San Antonio entered the game having lost seven straight games to the Lynx and had five straight playoff losses overall. They are trying to get out of the first round for the first time since 2008 when they reached the Finals.
Preview | Game Info | TV Companion | NBA TV Previews Game 2
New London Day: Sun have their backs against the wall
Norwich Bulletin: Connecticut Sun gearing up for crucial Game 2
Hartford Courant: Sun Have Made Difficult Road For Themselves
Atlanta Journal Constitution: Dream can clinch playoffs series Sunday
Preview | Game Info | TV Companion | NBA TV Previews Game 2
San Antonio Express News: Silver Stars face elimination today
Star Tribune: Despite troubles, rookie Moore remains poised
Fox Sports North: Lynx look for first playoff series victory
Hartford Courant: Whalen Continues Winning Ways With Lynx
As the two sat side-by-side at the beginning of their postgame press conference, Taurasi turned to her teammate and said:
�You missed two shots today? .... You suck!�
A touch of sarcasm from Diana to open the press conference following the Mercury�s 92-83 home win over the Storm to force a winner-take-all Game 3 on Monday night back in Seattle.
The Mercury were up seven at that point after leading by as many as 15 earlier in the fourth quarter. It appeared that the Storm had one final push in them, but a trio of uncharacteristic plays by Sue Bird sealed their fate down the stretch.
First, she missed a pair of 3-point attempts badly on back-to-back Storm possessions with just under two minutes to play. Then, with less than a minute to play, Bird was called for a traveling violation. Keep in mind that Phoenix did not score during this stretch, which could have allowed Seattle to close in on that eight point lead.
Bird finished with 17 points, just one behind team leader Tanisha Wright, who scored all 18 of her points in the game�s final 13 minutes. But in addition to the plays at the end of the fourth, Bird also had a peculiar play at the end of the half, as she was unaware of the time remaining in the period and dribbled out the clock without getting off a shot. You just don�t see that from Sue Bird.
But what we saw most on Saturday night were buckets by Dupree on the interior and newly re-crowned Sixth Woman of the Year DeWanna Bonner making plays all over the floor. Bonner finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds on the night she received her third straight Sixth Woman trophy.
Diana Taurasi scored 26 points after scoring just 11 in Game 1, but she still did not shoot the ball very well, going 9-for-23 on Saturday, after her 3-for-11 Game 1 performance. That�s a combined 12-34 (.352) shooting for Taurasi. Will she find her shooting touch in Game 3?
With all of these performances, both Bonner and Taurasi made a point to single out the efforts of Nakia Sanford and the impact she made on the game in limited minutes after missing Game 1 with a knee injury. Sanford�s presence down low helped the Mercury control the paint, an area the Mercury dominated 58-12.
In fact, Seattle�s Lauren Jackson did not make a two-point field goal on the night. She hit 3-for-11 overall, but all three makes came from 3-point range. The long-distance shot is what kept Seattle in this game, as the Storm connected on 13-for-22 (.591) form behind the arc, compared to just 11-for-36 (.305) on two-point shots.
Part of the Storm�s 3-point barrage came from Katie Smith, who rebounded from an 0-for-8 performance in Game 1 with a 4-for-6 shooting night on Saturday, with all four of her made shots coming from behind the arc.
One player the Storm must find a way to get going is Swin Cash, who scored just two points on three shot attempts in over 32 minutes on the floor. She has scored just 12 points in the first two games combined, after averaging 13.3 points per game during the regular season.
Of course, Game 3 will take place in Seattle, where the Storm have lost just twice in the past two years. Perhaps some home cooking and sleeping in their own beds will be the remedy for the Storm�s woes in Game 2. If Phoenix is to advance to the second round, they will have to accomplish the rare feat of winning in KeyArena, something they have not done since September of 2009.
A few things stand out from this game.
1. Tamika Catchings had a day to forget.
The MVP candidate scored just two points on 1-for-8 shooting � going 0-for-3 from three and 0-for-2 at the line � to go along with six turnovers. While she did have a game-high nine rebounds, that was about all that went right for her on the night.
�Catch is a phenomenal player, there�s no question in my mind that she�s going to come out unbelievable in the next game,� said Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter after the game. �I think we did an all around good job of covering her, it was good team effort, we keyed in on her.�
In the first two games of the series, the Fever have won the first quarter � outscoring the Liberty 28-16 in Game 1 and 23-20 in Game 2. But those are the only quarters they have won in the series, as the Liberty have outscored the Fever by a combined 123-95.
In Game 1, the Fever won the first quarter by 12 points, so even with the Liberty besting them by 10 from the second quarter on, it was not enough to get the win. Game 2 was another story. The Fever held just a three-point advantage at the end of the first quarter, followed by the Liberty closing the game with a 67-49 edge.
With the Fever playing well � especially Katie Douglas, who had 11 points in the period � the Liberty stayed in the game thanks in large part to the outside shooting touch of Nicole Powell and Leilani Mitchell, who combined to hit five threes in the first quarter to keep the Liberty close, as leading scorer Cappie Pondexter went scoreless.
3. The Liberty defense got things going.
The Liberty forced 18 Fever turnovers on Saturday and scored 28 points on Indiana�s miscues, while limiting their own turnovers to 11, which led to 13 Fever points. That 15-point disparity also matches the final margin of the game.
Liberty coach John Whisenant is well known for his white-line defense and tonight the Liberty executed the plan superbly. When asked what defensive adjustments he made following Game 1, Whisenant had a quick answer.
�We don�t change,� he said. �We just try to do what we do better. That�s our goal; not to change or trick anybody.�
�It wasn�t anything new, we just emphasized some of the things that we�ve been doing earlier and we didn�t do very well in Indiana.�
In addition to slowing down Catchings throughout the game, the Liberty did a better job on Douglas after the first quarter. Douglas scored 11 points in the first quarter on 4-for-5 shooting, including 3-for-4 from three, but had just nine points on 3-for-11 from the field, including 0-for-6 from three, the rest of the game.
4. You have to get to the line.
On Saturday both the Liberty and Fever made 30 field goals and seven 3-pointers. Where the Liberty found its biggest offensive edge was at the free throw line, where they went 20-for-21 (.952), while the Fever went just 5-for-10 (.500).
The extra opportunities at the line came from aggressive play on offense along with the fact that they forced turnovers and caught the Fever in transition. When you can�t set your defense � and Indiana has one of the best � the fouls are more likely to come.
Preview | Watch on LiveAccess | TV Companion | NBA TV looks back at Game 1 and previews Game 2
Indy Star: It's on the boards
FeverBasketball.com: Game Preview
FeverBasketball.com: Rebounding may determine Fever's Fate
NYLiberty.com: Kym Hampton's Keys to Victory
Preview | Watch on LiveAccess | TV Companion | NBA TV looks back at Game 1 and previews Game 2
Seattle Times: Storm tries to close out Mercury
Arizona Republic: Mercury one loss away from ending season
Fox Sports Arizona: Mercury try to stave off elimination
PhoenixMercury.com: Practice Interviews - Sept. 16, 2011
StormBasketball.com: Insider Game Preview
Seconds earlier, it was Jones who missed a point-blank wide-open layup that would have closed the Dream lead to one and kept the Sun�s chances of defending its home court in Game 1 alive. Instead the layup was missed, Harding was fouled and made a free throw to extend the lead to four and seal the road victory for the Dream on Friday night.
Ironically, it was Jones that scored eight of her 16 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Sun close after the Dream had taken the lead on Iziane Castro Marques� second three of the quarter after coming off the bench to replace Angel McCoughtry.
Highlights: Dream-Sun | Play of the Day
More Video: Dream-Sun Postgame | Breakdown: Stars-Lynx
Photo Gallery: Shockwaves In Second Day of Playoffs
Now the Sun face the daunting task of winning in Atlanta just to keep their season alive and force a Game 3 back in Connecticut. They are the only team facing this predicament as the higher seeds in the other three series were able to defend home court and take a 1-0 lead heading into Game 2.
In the second game of the Friday doubleheader, the Minnesota Lynx escaped with a 66-65 win over the fourth-seeded San Antonio Silver Stars in the Lynx�s first playoff game since 2004.
If the Lynx go on to win this series, the Silver Stars will look back at this game as a golden opportunity to steal a game and take control of the series.
After a pregame ceremony to hand out end-of-season awards to Maya Moore (Rookie of the Year), Lindsay Whalen (Peak Performer) and Cheryl Reeve (Coach of the Year), the Lynx came out of the gate extremely cold.
The Silver Stars jumped out to an early lead � they were ahead 16-11 after the first quarter � but had opportunities to open a bigger advantage. But after shooting just 4-14 in the first quarter, the Lynx responded hitting four of their first seven shots in the second and eventually took their first lead midway through the quarter.
Whether it was nerves from playing in their first playoff game or just an off shooting night, the Lynx had opened the door for the Silver Stars and they just couldn�t kick it down.
But the game remained tight the entire way with neither team leading by more than five since early in the second quarter. The Silver Stars even took a late lead, when Becky Hammon connected on a three-pointer in transition off a nice cross-court pass from Jia Perkins with 1:10 to play.
But Seimone Augustus had the answer. While it was the steady play and 20 points by Whalen that keep the Lynx in the game (and Rebekkah Brunson�s 14 boards didn�t hurt), it was Augustus that hit the clutch shots down the stretch, including a fadeaway jumper from just outside the key on the left side with 53 seconds left that ended up being the final points scored in the game.
That brings up two subplots from the final 53 seconds that we have to discuss. First, it was not a good final minute for rookie Danielle Robinson, who had a missed jumper with 39 seconds left; a missed runner on a fast break with 12 seconds left that she could have brought out and set up a play for a better shot with her team down just one; and a turnover on an inbounds pass with four seconds left.
Keep in mind that after hitting the three with 1:10 left to give San Antonio the lead, Becky Hammon never took another shot.
But the reason Robinson and the Silver Stars had those chances to begin with was becase the Lynx couldn�t seal the game at the free throw line. With 10 seconds left and the Lynx clinging to a one-point lead, Moore missed back-to-back free throws. Moore was bailed out by Brunson grabbing the rebound to give the Lynx another possession and forced San Antonio to foul again. Brunson would then miss two free throws of her own, with the Silver Stars finally corralling a rebound and setting up their final play, which ended up being a turnover.
But the bigger issue here is the free throw line. Of all of the things the Lynx do well, shooting free throws is not among them. They ranked 10th out of the 12 teams in the WNBA with a team free throw percentage of 74 percent on the season. Could this end up biting them during these playoffs? They escaped on Friday.
More notes from Friday night:
- After scoring just four points in the first half, McCoughtry scored 11 of her 16 points in the third quarter
- When McCoughtry went to the bench after picking up her fifth foul with 9:10 to play the Sun led by three and were up by five after the free throws following McCougthry�s foul on Allison Hightower
- Izi Castro Marques only hit two shots all game, but they were huge, as she connected on a pair of threes in a two-minute span that helped the Dream go from down by five to up by two
- Another player to step up in McCoughtry�s absence was point guard Lindsey Harding, who scored 10 of her game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter
- The Dream outscored the Dream in only one quarter � the fourth quarter � 28-18
- These teams split their season series with each team defending its home court making this the first road team by either team in this matchup this year
- Atlanta outscored Connecticut 17-2 in fast break points
- The coaches tried a few strategies tonight that worked with varying results
- Cheryl Reeve wanted to keep Danielle Adams off the three-point line, but by doing so, it opened up the middle to Adams to work down low. Reeve said she�d rather give up 2s than 3s and she did, but many of those 2s were easy looks at the basket thanks to a great high-low game between Adams and Sophia Young
- Dan Hughes shook things up by going to a zone defense for stretched, in particularly in the fourth quarter where the Silver Stars seemed to frustrate the Lynx offense and got them out of their flow.
- t will be interesting to see what adjustments each coach makes for Game 2 as the strategic chess match continues.
- After scoring just seven points in the first half, Seimone Augustus got things going in the second half. The turning point came on a great defense-to-offense sequence with about 5:30 to play in the third quarter. Augustus blocked a shot by Becky Hammon and let out a huge scream to pump herself up. Of course Whalen knows you have to reward the effort, so she found Augustus on the Lynx next possession for a baseline jumper that go the Lynx�s leading scorer going.
Preview | Live Stats | Fan Predictions | Series Preview
Sun.com: Lawson Talks Playoffs
TheDay.com: Devil or Angel? McCoughtry will make it tough on Sun
Norwich Bulletin: High-scoring Sun, Dream teams meet in conference semis
Hartford Courant: �Keeping Angel McCoughtry From Free-Throw Line Is Key For Sun
�AJC.com: Dream's Angel McCoughtry renews rivalry in playoffs �
Preview | Live Stats | Fan Predictions | Series Preview
Lynx.com: Chat With Play-By-Play Man Alan Horton | Lynx Armed With Experience
Lynx.com Series Breakdowns: Rebounding | Defending Silver Stars
SilverStars.com Interviews: Hammon | Hughes | Young | Perkins | D. Adams | Robinson
Silverstars.com: Rookie Diary: Danielle Robinson
TwinCities.com: Lynx plan for longest postseason appearance yet
Washington Post: Minnesota Lynx have strong Washington connection
MyFoxTwinCities.com: Top-Ranked Minnesota Lynx Host First WNBA Playoff Game Since 2004
� Philly.com: From La Salle to the pros, Cheryl Reeve loves her work
Forbes.com: Lynx's Moore picked as top rookie, Reeve top coach
Star Tribune: Lynx dominate, but get little respect
� MySanAntonio.com: Silver Stars ready to go against the odds
� MySanAntonio.com: Silver Stars' Bevilaqua finds her shooting touch
� MySanAntonio.com: Silver Stars vs. Lynx matchups
Maya Moore's entrance into the WNBA last April made the 2011 Draft one of the biggest -- and certainly the most widely-covered -- in the history of the league.
From the start, the expectations swelled, inflated with a few gusts of hyperbole. Not only was she going to make Minnesota a contender by herself, she was going to be the future of the WNBA. Not only was Moore coming off a career at UConn that had her in the mix for Best College Player Ever, she was an Academic All-American, too, who considered applying for a Rhodes Scholarship.
Today, in what many saw as a foregone conclusion after an injury cut into San Antonio center Danielle Adams' season, Moore was named WNBA Rookie of the Year. After landing an All-Star bid in the first major milestone of her career, she checked off the second big one today. It's the fourth straight time that a No. 1 pick has taken the award, after Tina Charles took it last year and Angel McCoughtry (2009) and Candace Parker (2008) took home the hardware in the two years prior.
Of course, if you talk to Moore -- as WNBA.com got a chance to do on Thursday, before the Lynx open up their postseason on Friday night -- you get the feeling that those two so-called milestones could easily be blown away by the third.
Maya Moore: They have some different weapons. Obviously Becky Hammon is a threat anywhere on the court. Sophia young does such a good job inside and crashing the boards. They�ve got bigs who can shoot the ball, they've got great ballhandlers, like Jia Perkins. It's a pretty balanced team, they're coached well. They play great defense � they�ll lock you in on the defensive end, and get into your cuts and make it hard on you. You have to grind it out with them.
How are you planning to attack them?
We just have to continue to do the same we've always done, stick to what we�ve been good at. We�re a defensive team, and we like to score the ball [laughs]. [Our gameplan] is not that much different from what we've always been doing, with our intensity, playing within ourselves, and not trying to break everything down 1-on-1.
You�re a front-runner for Rookie of the Year. Is winning that award a goal you laid out for yourself before the year?
It�s not something I write out saying I want to do this or that, but it's always my main focus to win a championship � that's always how I�ve approached every season. You gotta focus on the step-by-step, but any individual awards are icing on the cake. It'd be an honor, obviously, but it's not gonna be as sweet if we don�t win.
Despite your record and the No. 1 seed, people are saying that other teams, like the Storm, have a better playoff pedigree, and an edge over you guys. Do you hear any of that? And if so, how do you react?
I don't really listen to it. I usually don't find out stuff like that until I�m being interviewed. It's just a matter of what you do on the court. I speak � and my team speaks � with our actions on the court. And that'll reveal all. That's why we're practicing every day to get ready for the great teams in the Playoffs.
Lynx fans have been burned over the years, with fast-starting teams that faded late. It looks like you�ve turned them into believers. How important have they become in your run?
It�s been awesome to be appreciated by the fans and for us to be able to play well. We have a good home court feel this year. We've worked really hard to put on a show, and we have our fans excited to have us play. We depend on them to be the x-factor when these playoffs get going, and it's been fun to hear them scream for us and give them something to scream for, because we're doing something right.
The answers were great.:
To read fan predictions for all four series, check them out here:
Sun vs. Dream | Lynx vs. Silver Stars | Storm vs. Mercury | Fever vs. Liberty
Click here or on the photo to check out the performances to remember from Thursday night!
We got the chance to speak to Indiana Fever star/MVP candidate/Top 15 All-Time WNBA Player/all-around shining example of human goodness Tamika Catchings before she and her team caught a flight to LaGuardia airport on Friday afternoon, and she told us that, even though it didn't really look like Erin Phillips' game-winning shot against the Liberty was designed that way, the play was going to Phillips all the way.
"When she made it, she looked like she was in shock, like 'If I wouldn't have made that, they would've killed me."
And now, because of Phillips, the Fever are just one win away from surviving into the second round.
Stay tuned for more from Catchings shortly.
Then, in the second game of the night -- the opener in the Storm-Mercury series, the only thing that went as predicted is that the Storm won at home (which happens pretty much every time); but somehow, at the final bell, it was 80-61 in favor of Seattle. That's right: the WNBA's top-scoring offense (Phoenix is averaging just under 90 a game) was held under the highway speed limit, while Seattle -- which has long been known for its defense and, on occasion, for making other defenses look better -- had four players score in double-figures, including 21 from Tanisha Wright, to go along with double-doubles from Swin Cash and Camille Little. Diana Taurasi scored just 11 points for Phoenix.
Ok. Another breath. Let's take a look at what else happened.
- Taurasi's 11 points also came with a minus-30 rating for the night, which means that the Mercury scored 30 points fewer than the Storm when she was on the floor.
- Sue Bird, on the other hand, had a plus-28 rating.
- DeWanna Bonner, a huge boost off the bench for the Mercury down the stretch, started in place of Nakia Sanford and scored 10 points in the first quarter. Said Taurasi before Thursday's game: "She's taken her game to a new level, which takes us to a new level. She�s just so versatile defensively, rebounding the ball, shooting the ball. She�s our Scottie Pippen."
- The Mercury were held 28 points below their season average in scoring, and fell below their previous season-low of 68, against San Antonio.
- The Fever nailed 20 of 23 free throws to keep their lead alive, despite late-game shooting woes.
- Pondexter, who led the Liberty with 18 points, again struggled from the field, going 6-of-15. After going 27 percent from the field over her final six regular season games, she couldn't shake the bug on Thursday.
With Lauren Jackson back for the Storm, injuries are in the rear-view mirror.
In the words of your high school car...not so fast.
For that question and more (four more, to be exact) as we approach the opening tip of the WNBA Playoffs, click here to find out the answers from WNBA editor Brian Martin.
Game Info | Live Stats | Series Preview | Your Predictions
Fever.com: Phillips, Catchings Ready | Rebounding Could Determine Fate | Sutton-Brown Chat Video
NYLiberty.com: Anyone For a Rematch?
USA Today: Catchings, Douglas have a fever for WNBA title
NJ.com: Liberty Hit Road Against Fever
ESPN.com: Fever-Liberty Playoff Preview
DeseretNews.com: Catchings Chases Elusive WNBA Title
New York Times: Vaughn, Carson Give Liberty A Shot
SportsPageMagazine.com: Liberty Look to Steal Game 1 on the Road
Preview | Live Stats | Series Preview | Your Predictions | PLAYOFF SOUND-OFF: Bird vs. Taurasi
Storm.com: Storm, Mercury Renew Rivalry | Ties Run Deep | Insider Preview
Mercury.com: Diana Taurasi: All Heart | Penny Taylor Interview
Seattle Times: Storm, Mercury resume one-sided rivalry in WNBA playoffs
AZCentral.com: Phoenix Mercury trying to solve Seattle Storm
The News Tribune: You again? Playoffs begin with Phoenix
Washington Post: Familiar foes, Seattle and Phoenix, prepare for Game 1 of Western Conference semifinals
� ESPN.com: Boisterous Fans Give Seattle Decided Advantage
Before the Lynx hit the hardwood against the Silver Stars in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Friday night, WNBA.com caught up with Lynx rookie phenom Maya Moore -- the two-time Rookie of the Month and possible Rookie of the Year.
This time last year, Moore was back on the University of Connecticut campus, taking classes, going to practice and walking around Storrs as the consensus Best Player in the Country. Today, she's in Minnesota, preparing along with her Lynx team to go after just the second Playoff win in Lynx history.
There'll be more from Moore on Friday, but meanwhile, get a glimpse into her mindset as she waits to step on the floor for her first-ever WNBA Playoff game.
On how her first WNBA Playoff appearance compares to the feeling before the postseason at UConn:
It's pretty similar to my freshman year in college, not having gone to the Final Four or championship round. In both cases, you're little nervous, with lack of experience of being int he playoffs, but it's also just exciting. It focuses you.
On whether or not she still gets butterflies:
It's different than having butterflies. There's butterflies every time you have a postseason or a championship game, but you're just excited. It's that anxious feeling of wanting to play. The intensity's higher. Everything's worth more. It's definitely different, but once the horn sounds those things will all work themselves out.
Stay tuned for more on Friday, and check out NBA Entertainment's interview with the sensation that's gone from looking like the future of the WNBA to somebody very, very much in the present.