- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
- 0 Shares
MINNEAPOLIS -- It was going to be different on Thursday night. Phoenix hadn't played Minnesota since late July. New Mercury boss Russ Pennell hadn't coached against Minnesota. Phoenix was playing better defense now.
That 10-game losing streak the Mercury had against the Lynx dating back to last season was not applicable here in the Western Conference finals.
The Phoenix Mercury now have to pull off more than a mere bounce-back effort after an 85-62 blowout loss to the Lynx at the Target Center in Game 1 Thursday. Minnesota took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series in emphatic style.
Phoenix needs to go back to the desert and search for a way to keep the Lynx from making this a very short series. The Mercury need to be a whole lot better on both ends of the floor. Because if Minnesota shows up in Phoenix like this on Sunday (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 5 p.m. ET), the Mercury's season will be over.
"They kicked our ass in every aspect," said Diana Taurasi, who led Phoenix with 15 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the floor. "They had a checklist and they did everything on it and we had a checklist and we didn't do anything on it. We've got to change that."
Minnesota blew apart whatever good work Phoenix had done on its defensive game by halftime, running to a 45-22 lead and holding the Mercury to a season low for points in a half. Minnesota outscored Phoenix 21-6 in the second quarter; the Lynx's largest lead in the game was 31 points.
"Thirty-one? That was it?" Taurasi said dryly. "I thought it was more."
In fact, the first half went about as badly for the Mercury as it could have. They shot 24.3 percent from the field. Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner, the team's second- and third-leading scorers, were a combined 1-for-12 from the floor. They got outrebounded 24-17.
"Sometimes the ball isn't going to go into the basket," Pennell said. "And I was more disappointed in our defense than actually missing shots."
Actually, he called his team's defense "terrible." And it only got a little better in the second half.
Credit to Minnesota, of course. The Lynx are ruthless scorers, shooting 58 percent in the first half. Minnesota's big three -- Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen -- combined for 58 points in the game.
"I think it was really the first time that me and Lindsay and Maya all got going at the same time, and it was fun," Augustus said.
Fun, perhaps, until things started to get a little chippy late. In a moment that already has made its way onto YouTube, Taurasi and Augustus scrapped away from the ball and went chest-to-chest. As the referee came in to call the double-foul, Taurasi ended the tussle with a kiss on Augustus' cheek.
Minnesota played well defensively. The Lynx held Phoenix to 34.3 percent shooting for the game, kept Brittney Griner contained (13 points, four rebounds), forced 18 turnovers (leading to 24 Lynx points) and kept Bonner and Dupree very, very quiet.
"Our defense fueled us, it always fuels us," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. "We read about how different Phoenix is now. The thing we can control is ourselves. We aren't different. Throughout the season, we've had one of the best combinations of offense and defense. We just try to be ourselves."
That has to be what will keep the Phoenix players from sleeping over the next couple of nights.
"We can't let them be the aggressors," Dupree said. "We can't let them take us out of our offensive sets."
The Mercury appeared fatigued, perhaps the result of a grueling travel schedule comprising 12 flights in 19 days, with more than 9,000 miles covered.
"I thought we were a half-step slow tonight. Running in sand tonight," Pennell said. "But that's not an excuse."
Tired or not, Minnesota has been a nightmare for Phoenix all season. In the six games they have played in 2013, Minnesota has held a 30-point lead three times.
Pennell said he acknowledged the elephant in the room with his team before the game.
"Sometimes you kind of get something in your head that isn't true, but if you think about it long enough, you will think it's true," he said. "I want to make sure they understand that Minnesota is beatable. But we are going to have to get out of our own way."