Can Storm Rain on Lynx Parade?
Going into the 2012 WNBA postseason, the defending champion Minnesota Lynx -- sporting the invincible aura of their gold-medal winning Big Three of Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore -- were the consensus choice to repeat as league champs.
A funny thing happened on the way to the victory parade, however, as seasoned WNBA veterans Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and Tina Thompson have led their Seattle Storm squad to within one victory -- in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals Tuesday night in Minnesota -- of knocking off the Lynx and securing their spot in the Conference Finals against Candace Parker, Rookie of the Year candidate Nneka Oguwmike, 2012 WNBA Most Improved Player Kristi Toliver and the rested and waiting Los Angeles Sparks.
"We're obviously very happy to have won that game. It was definitely a tough one. Obviously with the overtimes, you've got to dig down deep and I thought our team did a great job of just finding a way to win," said Bird, who posted a spectacular 22-point, seven-assist, 43-minute performance in Game 2. "Even though we're happy about this, we're not satisfied, and we know we have a good opportunity ahead of us in Minnesota. Hopefully we can come away with a win. But we know it's not gonna be easy. I mean, the first game wasn't easy, the second game wasn't easy, I wouldn't be surprised if Game 3 is harder than both."
For their part, the Lynx acknowledged the late-game exploits of three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson, while keeping things in proper perspective going into Game 3.
"She's one of the world's best players and that's what we expect, even though she had a rough offensive night," said 2011 WNBA Finals MVP Augustus, when asked about Jackson's clutch trey, who had an otherwise lackluster nine points on 4-for-17 offensive day. "When it's time to put the game on the line, of course they're gonna put it in her hands. And she hit a great shot tonight to force overtime."
Rebekkah Brunson, an unsung contributor to Minnesota's championship run last season and their league-best 27-7 regular season record in 2012, took solace in recent Lynx playoff history after Game 2. "We worked all year to be able to have the chance to go home and play. We did put ourselves in a similar situation last year, so we know it's not over," said Brunson after a huge 22-point, 15-rebound Game Two effort. "We know if we come out on Tuesday night and play the way we're supposed to play and focus, we're in a good position."
Minnesota struck back in Game Three at the Target Center, topping San Antonio, 85-67, and earning a berth in the Western Conference Finals against Diana Taursasi and the Phoenix Mercury, who they swept in two straight before dispatching Angel McCoughtry and the Dream in a three-game sweep of the best-of-five WNBA Finals.
In last year's win-or-go-home Game Three semifinals matchup, Augustus poured in a team-high 22 points for the Lynx, while Brunson added 15 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota. "We are just going to stay confident," said Brunson after a huge 22-point, 15-rebound Game 2 effort. "I think have all the players necessary to get it done on the offensive end. We're just gonna stick with it and grind it out.