Rebekkah Brunson: The Other All-Star

Oct 2 2011 6:59PM

Rebekkah Brunson capped off the first half of her 2011 season with 20 points and nine rebounds against the best women’s basketball players on earth.

She’d have had a pretty good shot at becoming the first-ever player from the losing team to win the All-Star MVP trophy, had teammate Swin Cash not posted 21 points and 12 boards to pull off that feat.

No matter. Heading into the second half, Brunson looked like a leading candidate for the WNBA MVP award. Scoring at a higher rate and grabbing more rebounds than she ever had, Brunson at one point lumped herself into the same conversation as Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles. Over the season’s first 14 games, she’d reached double-figures in scoring 12 times and was pulling down nearly 11 rebounds a game, to give her eight double-doubles before the break.

Then, over the Lynx’ next 20 games, she scored in double-figures just five times. Her minutes sagged (especially in blowouts), and her rebounding numbers fell with them, to 7.5 per game. You wouldn’t have noticed anything by the Lynx’ record, of course. But that’s the point.

In the name of playing her role (grabbing every loose ball, nullifying opposing scorers, convincing post players that it’s a bad idea to wander into the paint), and nobody else’s, she dropped out of the MVP debate and the headlines. But never once forgot her job, her teammates say. While Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen (who joined Brunson on the All-Star team) got the ink, Brunson got the bruises. And that was a good thing: Brunson vanished because, in doing so, she erased Lynx opponents’ post players, too.

So when she earned her first-ever spot on the WNBA All-Defensive First Team at the end of the season, it was about time she got some credit for what everybody inside the league already knew: Rebekkah Brunson hadn’t gone anywhere. And don’t look now, but Brunson’s put up double-figures in scoring in each of her last three Playoff games.

“I was definitely more aggressive offensively in the beginning of the season,” Brunson said. “I didn’t keep that aggressiveness the whole way through, as far as my offense is concerned. I tried to be consistent with rebounding, though – that’s definitely something my team needed me to do.”

“You can’t say enough about her,” said Whalen. “She does everything for us.”

On Sunday night, she’ll have one of the toughest tasks on the court. Brunson will likely be matched-up against the Dream’s top scorer Angel McCoughtry at the No. 4 position – which means she’ll be trying to pull off another two-woman vanishing act on the defensive end.

“It’s great to have an athletic post that can actually get out and guard some guards if she has to,” Augustus said. “We’re figuring McCoughtry can play a lot of 4, and to know that Becky will be A-OK with guarding McCoughtry and really happy to give a lot of help to defenders is a great thing.”

A vanishing act, that is, until the ball hits the rim.

This series may very well come down to rebounding, many of the players on both teams have said. Both teams will run and both teams will shoot and, even though they’re both in the top three in the WNBA in scoring, they’ll have to miss shots at some point.

“This is definitely the best rebounding team – I don’t like that,” said Atlanta guard Lindsey Harding about the Lynx. “That’s going to make our job a little more challenging.”

And a series defined by boards may quickly turn into one defined by Brunson.

“Brunson is just very athletic, and a very great rebounder,” said Dream center Alison Bales. “We’re gonna have to keep her off the boards. That’s one of her biggest strengths.”

So, at this point in the season, anything Brunson can do on the offensive end is just added value, the Lynx say. Not that they’ll turn down the 13.3 points per game she’s given them after scoring only seven, combined, in the first two games of the postseason.

“She’s been amazing for us,” said Augustus. “People kind of got lulled into how she was at the beginning of the season, like ‘Oh my God, she’s scoring.’ Rebekkah’s always been a great rebounder and will continue to be, and when she did hit that slump it was a matter of our team coming together offensively so we didn’t need her to score as much as she did in the beginning.”

“We have a really well-balanced team,” Brunson said. “I think that’s why we’re in the position we are in right now, because it’s not coming from one person every night. It can come from anybody any given night, and that gives us such an edge.”

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