Commentary

It's all on line for Mercury, Lynx

Phoenix vs. Minnesota one final time this season? You can't ask for more

Updated: September 2, 2014, 11:18 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

The Mercury quickly gathered in an encouraging circle right after Sunday's 82-77 loss to Minnesota. They seemed especially eager to reassure each other.

That's in keeping with the exceptionally good chemistry this team has displayed all season. On Tuesday, they host a Minnesota squad that has also clicked well on and off the court throughout its now four-year run among the league's elite.

So something has to give as Phoenix and Minnesota meet in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. The Mercury have a 17-game winning streak at US Airways Center; their only loss there this season came in May.

[+] EnlargeMoore
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty ImagesPhoenix needs to stay focused on playing team defense against Minnesota. "We did a great job of that in the first game, but [Sunday], not so much," Candice Dupree said.

Meanwhile the Lynx are trying for their four consecutive appearance in the WNBA Finals. The Houston Comets, who disbanded after the 2008 season, are the only other franchise that has done that. The Comets won the title in 1997-2000, although that first year, it was a lone championship game, not a series.

Putting themselves in that kind of historical context is not something the Lynx are thinking about right now, but it would be quite an accomplishment. Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve made a point Sunday of reminding her team of the tangible part of winning it all by bringing the championship trophy into the locker room and reminding her players to hold on to it tightly.

For now, the Lynx still have the chance to keep it. Minnesota prevailed in Game 2, even though Phoenix played well and led for most of the game. But in the fourth quarter, the Mercury weren't able to make enough shots or effectively slow Minnesota's Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus.

"We couldn't get defensive stops," Phoenix forward Candice Dupree said. "They kept scoring and then came down there pressuring the mess out of us. They weren't letting us catch the ball where we wanted or use screens. We have to be able to combat that.

"I think we could have done a better job of rebounding, and that's something we have to change. I thought our defense wasn't there like it was the first game, and we've got to get back to that."

If Phoenix plays as it did in Friday's 85-71 Game 1 victory, it's hard to see how the Lynx could stop the Mercury -- even if Minnesota plays better than it did in that game.

So it's understandable why the Mercury seemed annoyed, but not seriously dismayed, that the Lynx rallied to take Game 2. Sure, Phoenix would have preferred to end the series Sunday and have a week to get ready for the WNBA Finals, which open Sept. 7. But the Mercury are confident they can finish the job Tuesday.

Then again, Phoenix is also well aware that Moore and Augustus -- who combined for 55 points Sunday -- are capable of doing the same thing in Game 3.

"They understand that at this point in the season, it's about stars being stars," Reeve said. "And we needed that, for that light bulb to go on."

[+] EnlargeAugustus/Moore
Jordan Johnson/NBAE/Getty ImagesMaya Moore and Seimone Augustus combined for 55 points in Minnesota's Game 2 victory.

Dupree said the Mercury got away from the team defense they do so well and left DeWanna Bonner and Penny Taylor to try to do too much alone against the Lynx duo.

"Once they get going, they're extremely hard to stop," Dupree said. "We can't just rely on DB to stop Maya, and Penny to stop Seimone. We've got to be there to help. We did a great job of that in the first game, but [Sunday], not so much."

Diana Taurasi led the Mercury with 23 points Sunday, but the efficiency of Phoenix's inside tandem of Dupree and Brittney Griner could possibly be used even more Tuesday. Those two combined for 32 points and shot 14-of-21 Sunday.

"They run some really good stuff and have a terrific center and point guard," Reeve said of the Mercury. "And Candice Dupree is so [underappreciated] in what she does. But I was really proud of our group to hang in there."

Minnesota will have to try to do that again, but this time without the help of a Target Center crowd that definitely seemed to lift the Lynx. That advantage goes back to Phoenix on Tuesday.

"It was a really good game," Taurasi said after Sunday's battle. "These games all come down to making plays and getting stops. Everyone is fine in the locker room. We'll be ready."

However, WNBA fans might not be ready to say goodbye to either of these teams, which have been so good -- and fun to watch -- all season. But everyone expected it would come down to this. The teams with the two best records in the league will meet for the seventh and final time in 2014. From a drama standpoint, you couldn't ask for more.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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