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An imperfect win: Lynx need to clean up fouls, defense

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Minnesota went up 2-0 against Phoenix in the WNBA semifinals, but fouling and defense remained an issue.

Jordan Johnson - Getty Images

St. Paul, MN—Following their win on Wednesday night, one thing was clear to the Minnesota Lynx: They needed to pick up their defense.

But that wasn’t exactly what happened for game two in the WNBA semifinals between the Lynx and the Phoenix Mercury on Friday night.

The most glaring flaw in defensive play was actually a flaw for both teams. The total number of fouls called in the game was 54-- 28 for Phoenix and 26 for Minnesota.

After the second quarter, Phoenix had six players with at least two fouls. Minnesota had five.

“I really don’t even know where to begin. It says the game took two hours and fifteen minutes, but that’s got to be a typo, it felt like it was like four hours,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said following the win.

“I’ve got to watch the video to understand what really just happened in terms of the things that we weren’t able to get done and the ease with which [Phoenix] scored again. “

The game was tightly called, but it seemed like neither team really made the necessary moves to adjust. As a result, it became apparent that both offenses stalled and players struggled to get into a rhythm.

Yes, Minnesota ultimately came out on top, 96-86. And yes, they now hold a 2-0 series lead and are likely looking at another trip to their second straight finals.

However, when a team knows what it takes to win a championship, and how important consistent defense is on a night-to-night basis? That can make mistakes (fouling in particular) all the more frustrating.

Of course, it helps to have a superstar on your team to create a spark on offense and fuel your defense. Maya Moore scored 26 points, and largely in part to her scoring ability in the first half; Moore was able to stave off any runs by the Mercury.

Minnesota came out of the gate strong, but Phoenix would go on to outscore them in the second quarter. By the end of the second, Minnesota was barely holding on to an eight-point lead. And while head coach Cheryl Reeve stressed the importance of consistent defense on Wednesday, the Lynx gave up 23 points in the second quarter and only scored 20.

“It’s a really good offensive team. Phoenix is a really, really good offensive team. We’ve just got to find a way, especially to have a change to win on the road; we’ve just got to find a way to be considerably better defensively. Not just a little better, but considerably better,” Reeve said.

The Lynx went on to regain some momentum near the end of the third quarter despite the great offensive play by Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi. Turnovers that continued into the final quarter, however, would lead to missed opportunities for Phoenix that Minnesota quickly took advantage of.

So in this new playoff format, can Phoenix come out to beat the Lynx in three straight games?

In order to beat the Lynx, who have only lost 6 games all year, a team needs to be perfect. And on Friday night, in particular, that wasn’t the case. Phoenix had 20 turnovers, which lead to 17 points for Minnesota.

And while the Phoenix Mercury are better than a number eight seed suggests, playing perfect basketball for 120 minutes against the defending champs may just be too much to ask.