- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Taj McWilliams-Franklin says a "total team effort" helped the Lynx win Game 2.
MINNEAPOLIS -- There are times when the Minnesota Lynx are just about spent in practice, ready to call it a day. But they don't. That's often when the men's squad that works with the team is going all-out to beat up on the Lynx.
Minnesota veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin thinks that might be as good a reason as any for why the Lynx have thrived in the fourth quarter at the WNBA Finals. Just as was the case in the opener, Game 2 came down to the Lynx rallying and then putting their stamp on the last 10 minutes.
"We play situations in practice for the fourth quarter," McWilliams-Franklin said. "So at the end of games, we always have another gear we can go to."
The Lynx might have played their final game at Target Center for 2011; certainly, they hope that's the case. If so, their 101-95 victory over Atlanta before a crowd of 15,124 on Wednesday could stand as the highlight reel for this entire breakthrough season for the Lynx.
Seimone Augustus had a monster game, with 36 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Nine players scored for Minnesota. Since the defense really did struggle stopping the Dream, the offense needed to outscore Atlanta.
And that pretty much wraps up this Minnesota season: a star playing fully to her potential, a bench that has come through most of the time when needed, veterans who realize you can't win every game exactly the same way.
Although the way that Sunday's and Wednesday's games really were very much alike was in how the Lynx closed the deal.
"We have to focus in on the first three quarters and not wait until the fourth," McWilliams-Franklin said. "Of course, we have won both games "
Exactly. And if the Lynx need to do the same thing Friday night (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET) in Atlanta -- when they'll be one victory away from the franchise's first WNBA title -- they will.
Meanwhile, the Dream head back to Georgia steaming mad about what they let get away Wednesday -- and about what they thought was taken from them. If looks could kill, the Dream might have sent all three officials to the Pearly Gates. Atlanta was called for 33 fouls to Minnesota's 23, and the Lynx were 38-of-46 from the line.
The Dream were 21-of-32 from the stripe, with most of the damage there done by Angel McCoughtry. She broke her own record for points in a Finals game, scoring 38 Wednesday. McCoughtry had 24 points in the first half as Atlanta led 58-50.
Augustus said she didn't feel like Game 2 was a mano-a-mano battle between her and McCoughtry, both former No. 1 draft picks. Although it did at times look that way.
"I didn't think I had to match Angel point for point," Augustus said. "It just kind of happened where we had players in foul trouble, some who were struggling offensively, and some of the scoring load had to be placed upon me."
OK, Seimone, there's being modest and then there's being ridiculously modest. That is the latter. The scoring load always has been on Augustus since the April 2006 day the Lynx made her the top selection. Wednesday, both her points and rebounds totals led the Lynx.
But she paid homage to McCoughtry -- who had scored 33 points in the opener -- for another showcase performance.
"Angel -- oh my God -- every defender we threw at her did a great job of just trying to get a hand in her face," Augustus said. "And even with that, she still made tough shots. Kudos to her, she had a wonderful game. But at the end, we got the victory."
You can understand the Dream's frustration about that. Between this year and last against Seattle, Atlanta has played well enough in five games in the WNBA Finals to have a chance to win every one. But the Dream haven't won any.
Minnesota would like to keep it that way, to win in Atlanta and have the WNBA Finals end in a sweep for the third time in the past four years. Minnesota rookie Maya Moore will go back to Georgia, where she played high school basketball, and hope that her first season in the WNBA ends better than her last one in college.
Moore's UConn career finished in April with a loss to Notre Dame in the national semifinals. But the No. 1 draft pick and WNBA rookie of the year still has a chance to earn a title in 2011 after all.
"I think it's our vets," Moore said when asked how the Lynx have dug their way out of holes in the past two games and owned the fourth quarter. "They have that sense of urgency that, 'We're not going to let this team lose.' And they go out and do it with poise and confidence."
Point guard Lindsay Whalen had 13 points. McWilliams-Franklin, despite a slight knee injury that sent her to the bench, had 10. Rebecca Brunson, who led the Lynx with 26 points in the opener, had nine Wednesday as center Erika de Souza's return to Atlanta's lineup made it rougher on Minnesota's post players. De Souza and forward Sancho Lyttle combined for 21 points and 17 rebounds but also 11 fouls.
And along with the Lynx being able to rely on their experienced players in crunch time, there were also big contributions from the youngsters. Moore struggled to find her rhythm as she was in foul trouble, but still finished with eight points and four rebounds. Fellow rookie Amber Harris had five points, including an important 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. Jessica Adair, who is not technically a rookie but essentially is one, had 13 critical points off the bench.
"You have to dig deep," Adair said of her composure Wednesday, although she could have been speaking about her whole pro basketball experience.
Adair, a 6-foot-4 center from Washington, D.C., was drafted in the third round by Phoenix out of George Washington in 2009 but didn't make the team. Minnesota brought her aboard before the 2010 season, but she got cut again. Then, near the end of last summer, the Lynx used her in one game. This year, she averaged about 10 minutes during the regular season, playing in 31 games. She has appeared in all seven postseason games.
"I thought I was done," Adair said, frankly, about what she thought her chances were for playing in the WNBA after the Mercury let her go two years ago. "I didn't play for a whole year. I got a job as a social worker in D.C. But after playing basketball for so long, sitting at a desk was not where I wanted to be. That made me realize how much I wanted to play, and I needed to do something to change it."
Moore's path, of course, couldn't be more different. She was always the phenom, the No. 1 draft pick this year, the absolutely sure thing, the starter as a rookie.
"I have a lot of respect for Jessica and where she has taken her game," Moore said. "You get cut, and you're striving to be professional athlete, and you have a choice. You can go do something else, or you can make changes that coaches tell you to make. She transformed her body.
"That's the kind of team we have: individual players who have great stories. It's not just a bunch of players who happened to get lucky. It's people who have something inside that comes out. Vets who've gone through injuries and tough years, been on different teams. A lot of stories have all come together."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.
From first-round draft picks to players who were twice cut from the WNBA, a total team effort lifted the Lynx to another fourth-quarter rally past Atlanta in the WNBA Finals.