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After season’s worst loss, Lynx bounce back, dismantle Phoenix

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Minnesota played the role of the hunter, and the Phoenix Mercury the prey, with the Lynx nearly leading wire-to-wire in an 88-71 Friday night smackdown.

Jordan Johnson - NBAE Photos

PHOENIX, AZ – In a game where the away team delivered a systematic, old school Ronda Rousey-style beatdown, the home team may have lost more than just a game but their best player as well.

The “Big Three” of Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles combined for 56 points, and Brittney Griner went down with an injury late in the Minnesota Lynx’ 88-71 victory over the Phoenix Mercury at the Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The score itself doesn’t justify how dominant the Lynx (14-2) were throughout the game.

Minnesota got on the board first with a Rebekkah Brunson jump shot, but Phoenix, led by Griner, Diana Taurasi and Danielle Robinson, kept the game close for the first three minutes.

A running layup by Taurasi gave the Mercury (11-7) an 8-5 lead with 6:43 left in the first quarter…the last lead they would hold the entire game.

From there, Minnesota did what they seem to always do: take the game over.

A basket by Fowles, followed by a Renee Montgomery jumper, and slowly but surely, the Lynx built a 23-13 lead to end the first.

The second quarter started off with a personal clinic being put on by Seimone Augustus, who had her way with the porous Phoenix defense all night. A jump shot followed by a cutting layup gave her 13 points within the first 12 minutes of the game, and the Lynx were up 27-15 with 8:21 left in the first half.

Maya Moore wouldn’t be left out of the fun, getting four quick points of her own to pad the Lynx’ lead. However, it seemed like no matter how often Minnesota scored, Phoenix found a way to keep standing. A Griner layup, followed by a Taurasi technical free throw, kept the Mercury within 11; but with Brunson and Fowles teaming up, Minnesota would keep Phoenix out of punching distance.

Even Plenette Pierson, acquired during the offseason to bolster the Lynx’ bench, got in some first-half action, making two impactful jumpers to help give Minnesota a 41-24 lead going into halftime. The 24 first-half points represented a personal-best for Minnesota’s defense, and a personal low for Phoenix this season. To make matters worse, Phoenix only shot 25 percent in the first half, also marking a new season low.

Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello took no shortcuts when describing her team’s defensive efforts.

“We left them open, we didn’t execute our scout. I thought we had a good preparation going into it; we’ve been playing well up to it. They’re a great team, you can’t leave them open, all of them can shoot. There was no sense of urgency. This is a team if you leave them open they’re going to make shots. They’re good,” Brondello said.

Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve spoke about making defense a priority in this game, especially against a team of Phoenix’s caliber.

“Our defense was really good. We had a tremendous week of practice where we focused on cleaning some things up. We thought we had some slippage through the course of the first 15 games. In the last game we played in we didn’t play very well, we gave up 100 points. I thought we were very very focused on the task at hand on the defensive end,” Reeve said.

Fowles came charging out of the gate to begin the third quarter, scoring the first six points of the quarter for the Lynx. The Phoenix offense, however, began to come alive due to the re-emergence of all-time WNBA scoring leader Diana Taurasi and contributions from Robinson and Stephanie Talbot, at one point cutting the Mercury deficit to 13. But Minnesota, ever the opportunists, got eight straight points by Moore and at the end of the third, would lead Phoenix 64-49.

The upside for Phoenix was that the 25 points scored in the quarter was more than they managed in the ENTIRE first half. The downside: there was still one more quarter to play.

Just when Phoenix thought it couldn’t get any worse, it would. With 8:49 in the fourth quarter, Brittney Griner landed awkwardly on her ankle, which caused her to twist her knee. After being carried out off the court, Minnesota and Phoenix traded off free throws and got a little more physical.

However, without their enforcer on the court, Phoenix stood no chance against the dominating trio of Augustus, Fowles and Moore. A pair of free throws by Alexis Jones put an exclamation point on the Lynx victory.

Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus had 19 points apiece, and Fowles recorded her ninth double-double (18 pts, 10 reb), placing her five points away from reaching the 4,000 point mark in her career. The overall team shot 34-of-65 (52.3%), giving them a 69-3 record since 2011 when they score 50 percent or higher from the field.

Moore, who was named alongside Fowles as an All-Star starter this past week, said the performance was an all-day-type effort.

“I think we came out with a sense of go time. We wanted to play well, a good start to our day. The game momentum comes from shoot around and all the things you do before. It showed in our shooting, it carried over today,” Moore said.

For Phoenix, not only did they get their four-game winning streak snapped (ironically, their last loss was against the Lynx), but they received a grim prognosis in their quest for the playoffs: Brittney Griner, the league-leading scorer AND shot blocker, will be out for 3 to 4 weeks with a bruised bone in her left knee and a sprained right ankle. Despite all that, Griner still managed to lead the team in scoring with 15 points in the game.

However, the team overall didn’t do well from the floor, shooting a paltry 22-of-61 (36.1%), which was capitalized by an 8-for-32 first-half performance. Phoenix guard/forward Monique Currie was among those who were not pleased with how flat their shooting was.

“We missed a lot of easy shots early around the basket, they weren’t going in for us and that happens sometimes, but when that happens we have to pick it up on defense and we didn’t do that today,” Currie said. “I hope for a better night on Sunday but we just have to play harder and dig in and find ways to beat the team.”

The two teams will face off again this Sunday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul at 6 p.m.