Google "Game 1, Western Conference Finals" and you'll discover one common denominator of arguably the biggest rivalry in the WNBA: Lynx in three.
Tonight (Sept. 24), Maya Moore and the Lynx satisfied many expert predictions, trumping the Mercury with a final score of 67-60 in the Target Center. The Lynx have only dropped two games in playoff history at home, posting a league-best 18-2 playoff record. Take into consideration Minnesota's 90 wins at home since drafting Moore, and one might shrug tonight's victory off as merely meeting expectations.
The marquee rivalry between the Lynx and the Mercury surely has some history behind it. Game 1 marked the sixth time the two squads have met this year and fourth time in five years they have faced off in the Western Conference Finals. Until Griner's arrival in 2013, not much of a rivalry existed as the Lynx dominated the series winning 14 straight games. Tonight was the epitome of just how far the rivalry has come in two short years.
Before the game, Head Coach Cheryl Reeves kept her message short and to the point. Needless to say, her players took the message to heart despite Phoenix jumping out to a 10-4 lead early in the first quarter.
"They might want Game 1, but it's not happening; not here and not tonight," Reeve said.
The Mercury extended their lead to as large as nine points in the first quarter taking full advantage of Minnesota's seven turnovers to start the game. The silenced crowd in the Target Center didn't last long, however, after a Moore transition three-pointer and a Rebekkah Brunson three-point play the old-fashion way.
Phoenix, much in part to DeWanna Bonner's eight points, finished the first quarter with what would be a short-lived 21-14 lead. The Lynx quickly countered this seven-point deficit to begin the second quarter and made it a one-point game with less than nine minutes remaining in the first half.
It was only a matter of time before the 2014 WNBA MVP found her stroke. Moore single-handedly gave the Lynx their first lead of the game with two defensive rebounds and four points in a matter of minutes. Also stepping up for Minnesota was Lindsey Whalen, dishing out four assists after one-half, and Sylvia Fowles with 10 points on 5-10 shooting.
The Lynx capitalized on a significant scoring drought and outscored the Mercury 20-2 with five minutes to go in the second quarter. Two early fouls from Griner, and hardly putting a dent in her season points average, didn't help Mercury's case, either.
But even so, Bonner continued to pick up the slack for the Mercury. She finished the half with a team-high 11 points and four assists to help pull the Mercury within one after seven consecutive missed shots for the Lynx.
At the buzzer, Brunson put a halt to what turned into 13 straight misses. After just 20 minutes on the floor, Brunson had a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. Add a dash of defensive zest to the mix and you have a 35-32 Lynx lead at halftime.
"We finally found our rhythm and played harder," Moore said. "We came out with great defensive intensity to start the second quarter."
As expected, the first half brought about a series of runs and lulls, neither team appearing truly dominant over the other. However, despite a shaky start, the Lynx came out of the first half with a renewed sense of urgency- forcing a Phoenix timeout with under five minutes to go in the third quarter.
Bonner was the X-factor not only on offense racking up 21 points and five assists on the evening for the Mercury, but also on defense as she held Moore, who averages nearly 20 points per game, to 9 points for a long stretch.
In typical Moore fashion, she took over in the fourth quarter and finished with 19. The defensive game plans of both squads proved to be impactful if you also take into consideration Griner's six shot attempts after three-quarters.
While the Mercury's Candice Dupree exploded for eight points, 10 rebounds, and two steals in addition to Bonner's 21 points, the Lynx finished Game 1 with four of their starting five in double figures on top of a career-high 19 rebounds for Brunson.
"You can't save anything," Brunson said. "I know my team relies on me a lot for rebounding, so any extra possessions I can give them is helpful."
Augustus helped spark the Minnesota offense with a clutch second-half performance and 14 points on the night, but Moore's tenacity and nifty finishes in the paint came at the most pivotal times for the Lynx.
With three minutes left, they jumped out to an eight-point lead, but the game came down to the wire as Bonner drained two threes to cut the lead to four with under 40 seconds remaining.
Despite three missed free throws for the Lynx in the final seconds of Game 1, the home court advantage lived up to its name. With a final score of 67-60, the Lynx survived tonight. Can they snag Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals in Phoenix? Find out on Sunday, Sept. 27 at 3 p.m. ET.