Augustus' Historic Night Has Lynx Just One Win Away From Title

Oct 6 2011 1:55AM

MINNEAPOLIS, MINN – With just over a minute left in the second quarter Wednesday, Seimone Augustus walked over to the Minnesota Lynx bench for a timeout, sat down, hunched over and blinked back the tears from her eyes.

Her surgically repaired knee had gotten tangled up on the previous play, a hoop-and-harm driving layup from the right side. She came out of the timeout grimacing and immediately missed the ensuing foul shot.

Then, for the next 21 minutes, she completed the best performance in the history of the WNBA Finals.

“This is my fifth Finals that I’ve been in, so I’ve seen a lot of Playoff games,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. “I’ve not seen the type of performance that Seimone Augustus showed us tonight – it’s the best individual performance I’ve seen in the Playoffs. She’s a warrior. She’s hurt. And she’s tough.”

“I think Seimone wants it more than anyone,” said Lynx center Jess Adair. “You can tell by the way she plays .She came to the bench, she had tears in her eyes, and she went back out there, and she fought hard. She just wants it more.”

The books will say that Angel McCoughtry had the bigger night, with the Dream’s star guard scoring 38 points to break the Finals record of 35 that McCoughtry herself had set last year. But the 15,124 in the Target Center – many of whom were there for their first-ever WNBA game – can leave telling their friends and family and anyone else that’ll listen that they were there when Seimone Augustus made The Leap.

Augustus has always been a scorer. She’s always been a playmaker. But on Wednesday night, after six years of injuries and disappointments and faith that one day that would all change, she made sure it all did. With 15 points in the fourth quarter and a night verging on perfection, she completely took over a game and took one more step toward going from star to champion.

And with “MVP” cheers coming down from parts of the Target Center that usually have sheets over them, Augustus and her team are now just a win away from the first title in the 13-year history of their franchise.

“We all know who the MVP is – it’s Tamika Catchings,” Augustus said. “She’s wonderful person. She’s a wonderful player. I just want to get the title. MVP award is over and done. You can talk about the WNBA Finals MVP, but I want the title. That’s it.”

“I think that you get a lot of credibility when your team is winning,” said Augustus’ teammate Rebekkah Brunson. “I think she’s very appreciated as an individual talent, but she hasn’t really gotten the recognition because the team she was on wasn’t winning. Now that we’re winning a lot of people around the league can focus in on her and say that she’s kind of the truth.”

Augustus’ 36 points would have been a new Finals record had McCoughtry not scored 38, making Game 2 in the only WNBA Finals game in history to feature two opponents with more than 30 points apiece. Together, their 74 points is the second-most for opposing players in Playoff history, and by far the most in Finals history.

And to appreciate what Augustus accomplished on Wednesday, it helps to bind both nights together.

All night long, the pair marched in step, going shot-for-shot at times. McCoughtry would come down, spot up or break down somebody (or three somebodies) and hit. Augustus would do the same thing, using a crossover that bent ankles into right angles to finish at the basket time and time again.

In the first half, the pair combined to shoot 16-for-19 from the floor, with McCoughtry holding a 24-19 edge in scoring. But Augustus stormed back after the break, getting 17 of her points in the second half – and 15 in the final frame – while shooting 3-for-4 from the floor and 11-for-13 from the foul line, compared to 2-for-13 and 10-for-14 for McCoughtry.

It was amazing. It was amazing to watch and be a part of. -- Rebekkah Brunson, on Augustus' night

In total, McCoughtry took 22 shots from the floor, sinking 10 of them. Augustus needed only 14, hitting 11. Angel shot 76 from the foul line (16-for-21). Seimone, at 13-for-16, shot 81 percent.

Across 38 minutes of play, Augustus took 30 combined shots from field and the foul line. She made 24 of them.

“It was amazing,” Brunson said. “It was amazing to watch and be a part of. That just shows how mentally tough she is, regardless of how she’s feeling. If she wants something bad enough, she’s gonna do whatever she can to make it happen. It’s apparent that she really wanted this win tonight. She went out there and put the team on her back.”

The efficiency is one thing. But what truly set night Augustus’ night apart from McCoughtry’s is how both players affected the rest of their teams.

For the second game in a row, McCoughtry’s hot spell led to a cold snap for the Dream. Atlanta shot 59.5 percent from the floor in the first half on the strength of McCoughtry’s 8-for-9 effort from the field. With 10 from Lindsey Harding and eight more from Izi Castro Marques, the Dream put together the highest-scoring first half (58 points) in Finals history.

But with McCoughtry going 2-for-13 from the field in the second half, and reverting back to the 1-on-1 (or, in the case of one transition play four minutes into the third quarter, 1-on-4) style of play, the rest of the Dream looked like they were standing and waiting at times. Again.

“I think Angel tries to take over on her own,” Adair said. “A lot of times she plays without using her teammates. … I think she tries to take it all on herself a lot of times. I think that kind of brings the team down.”

The Dream shot only 12-for-39 in the second half, as they once again watched the Lynx take control.

Meanwhile, Augustus managed that rare feat – to take over a game without freezing the other four people on the court, Adair said.

The Lynx shot 13-for-27 in the second half, getting at least five points from six players, compared to just two Dream players after the break (McCoughtry and Sancho Lyttle, who had nine in the second half).

“We feed off of her,” she said. “To see her wanting it so hard, we want to win for her. … We feed off her energy and her desire to win.”

Before the series, McCoughtry – who now owns the three highest-scoring games in Finals history – had talked about studying Michael Jordan and other greats who’d won multiple titles. She wanted to know what about them, beyond scoring, got them to the next level.

On Wednesday, she got a first-hand look.

“Angel, oh my God, every defender we threw at her did a great job of trying to get a hand in her face, and even with that she made tough shots,” Augustus said. “But that’s all you can ask for, is to get a hand up and contest every shot. Everybody did an amazing job. She just had better offense.

“Kudos to her – she had a wonderful game. But at the end we got the victory.”

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