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MINNEAPOLIS -- Rebekkah Brunson was leaning over a trash can, coughing, in the Minnesota Lynx's locker room. She suggested somebody else go do a postgame interview, as she was still kind of catching her breath.
Sorry, she was told, it has to be you. You were just too good.
Indeed she was, and so were the Lynx. They defeated Atlanta Dream 88-74 before a crowd of 15,258 at Target Center, a place that in most years past was dormant during WNBA playoff time.
|Rebekkah Brunson stepped up with 26 points on 10-for-15 shooting, and added 11 rebounds.|
Sunday, though, the Lynx continued their postseason prowess. It is a Minnesota team that has any number of options to score; usually Brunson, a 6-foot-2 forward, isn't the main producer of points. But the mismatches created against the Dream's smaller lineup gave the Lynx a chance to exploit Brunson's strength against players who had a hard time stopping her.
The result: Brunson had a season-high 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field. Seimone Augustus had 22 points, Lindsay Whalen scored 15 and Maya Moore 11.
The Lynx had their ups and downs in this game, the franchise's first time in the WNBA Finals. In the second quarter, they were down as much as 12 points. But the fourth quarter, in particular, was a huge up. That's when the Lynx, who trailed by three at halftime and were tied at the end of three quarters, took control, scoring 13 unanswered points to open the final period.
"Rebekkah Brunson was about as key as you could get," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. "You have games like this, you need X factors. And I thought Brunson was able to get some easy stuff. Game 2 will look a lot different with [Erika] de Souza back in there, and we'll have to go back to the drawing board and look at some things there."
That might be a bit extreme, as it probably won't take a complete overhaul in game plan for the Lynx in Game 2 (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET Wednesday). But the Dream will be different once de Souza returns from the Brazilian national team, which on Saturday won an Olympic qualifying tournament in Colombia.
She missed the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals, which Atlanta won against Indiana. But the Lynx have a powerful inside presence in a way that the Fever do not, especially with Tamika Catchings hurt.
|Game 1 at Minnesota's Target Center drew 15,258 fans, the second-largest crowd in Lynx history.|
Even though Angel McCoughtry went off for 33 points and Lindsey Harding added 20 for the Dream, de Souza's absence really showed with how dominant Brunson was.
"I just took what came to me," said Brunson, repeating what has to be one of the dullest clichés there is in athlete speak but in this case, it was absolutely true. Things really did come easier to Brunson at certain times in the game based on the Dream's personnel on the floor.
"They make it really tough on Seimone and tough on Maya," Brunson continued. "So they give the rest of the team the opportunity to go out there and do some things."
Brunson followed that comment with another cough. Reeve said she was dealing with a little illness, as was Taj McWilliams-Franklin. But asked about it, Brunson shrugged it off with a smile.
"I'm good," she said. "It really doesn't matter. It's time to go, and you've got to play."
Brunson was in her second year in the league in 2005 when she helped the Sacramento Monarchs win the WNBA championship. She was a youngster then, learning from veterans such as Yolanda Griffith about how to survive and thrive in the paint in the big leagues.
Asked if she thought Griffith would have given her a thumbs up about her performance Sunday, Brunson said, "I hope so."
|Despite struggling with a stomach bug, 40-year-old Taj McWilliams-Franklin tallied eight points and 10 boards in 30 minutes.|
Brunson came into the game averaging 9.4 points in this postseason, so her big game scoring-wise really did stand out. But what was spectacularly same-old, same-old for Brunson was her rebounding. One of the top WNBA players on the boards all season, she had 11 rebounds Sunday as part of Minnesota's 40-28 edge on the boards against Atlanta.
"I just smile every time I see her do the things she does," Moore said of Brunson. "I can't describe how much energy it gives us when she makes plays like that. Because she's not the tallest post player, but she's fast and strong. When she does things like she did tonight, it just lifts us up. Her timing and her will -- that's what rebounding is.
"She does that better than anybody on this team. It's so fun playing with her; she gives us extra shots. She makes up for where we mess up."
Brunson said it was all in a night's work, and gave most of the credit to the other Lynx players for taking up so much of the Dream's attention.
"The next game it could be Seimone, the next game Maya," Brunson said. "That's the thing that makes us a special group -- that it could come from anybody. So tonight was a great game for me, but it was a great win for the team."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.