The Minnesota Lynx opened defense of their WNBA title with, well, not one of their better games. But it was good enough to defeat the Seattle Storm 78-70 at Target Center. The series now shifts to Seattle, with game three (if necessary) back home on Tuesday.
The Lynx ran out to an early 9-1 lead but Seattle tied it up at 15-15. The Lynx led by 10 late in the 2nd quarter, and 57-40 late in the 3rd, but the Storm again came back to within 6 at 69-63, 71-65 and 73-67 inside of a minute-and-a-half in the game. But Seattle never led, and the Lynx made 5-of-6 FT down the stretch to ice it.
Seattle was 16-18 this year after winning the WNBA title as recently as 2010. But 3-time league MVP Lauren Jackson missed most of the year, first playing with the Australian Olympic team and later with a hamstring injury. Jackson came back in the final week of the season and tonight she contributed 12 points and 3 boards for the Storm.
More instrumental in Seattle's gutsy showing was bench play from veteran Tina Thompson and rookie Shennika Stricklen, who combined for 22 points and 14 rebounds between them. The Wolves' vaunted bench scored just 5 points on this night.
And Seattle's league-leading defense kept 'em in the game, too. Minnesota shot 46 percent for the night, but made 8 straight shots to start the 3rd quarter (Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen 2 FG each) to take that 57-40 lead. The rest of the night the Lynx shot 37.5 percent including 36 percent in each of the 2nd and 4th periods.
Whalen led all scorers with 20 points and added 6 assists. Augustus scored 19 points, Maya Moore 16 and Rebekah Brunson 12. Moore added 7 boards and 5 assists, and Brunson added 11 boards, 2 steals and 2 blocks.
The Lynx out-shot the Storm 46%-40% from the field, 40-29% on 3s and 79-56.5% on free throws. (Actually Seattle's FG shooting percentage was 39.6, and so the Lynx improved to 18-0 when holding opponents below 40 percent.) And a good thing, too, as they lost the possession game. Minnesota had just 3 offensive boards all night, Seattle had 6, and the turnovers were 12 for Seattle and 13 for Minnesota.
The Lynx are trying to become the 1st WNBA repeat champion since L.A. way back in 2001 and 2002. The Sparks opened their playoffs with a come-from-behind 93-86 win over San Antonio on Friday night, while Connecticut and Atlanta won 1st round games in the East. Atlanta was the only team to win on the road, taking Indiana 75-66.
Tina Charles of Connecticut was named MVP Thursday night, while Kristi Tolliver of L.A. was named Most Improved and Renee Montgomery of Connecticut won the 6th Player award. And yet another Connecticut player, Kara Lawson won the Sportsmanship Award. Angel McCoughtry of Atlanta, Charles and Whalen won Performance Awards for leading the league in scoring, boards and assists, respectively. No word on Rookie of the Year as of yet.