- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- If there was a list somewhere called "The Last Thing Atlanta Needed in the WNBA Finals," having Minnesota bench-spark extraordinare Monica Wright turn in one of the best nights of her career was probably in the top three.
The Dream already had enough to deal with heading into this matchup with Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen and … you get the idea.
But having Wright explode off the Lynx bench for a postseason career-high 20 points -- not to mention 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and numerous hustle plays -- allowed the night to get out of hand.
So, now the Dream are staring at the business end of an 84-59 Game 1 loss that they can only hope doesn't set the tone for the rest of the best-of-five series.
With Lynx point guard Whalen struggling from the floor, Wright entered the game at the 5:15 mark in the first quarter. Wright hit her first shot, a 15-foot jumper, and finished the first quarter with three quick baskets and a great vibe, changing the complexion of a close game into a blowout.
"Monica has always been that way for them. She comes off the bench, gives the spark," Dream coach Fred Williams said. "That was one of my concerns before the game -- Monica's speed and turning the corner and being able to distribute the basketball. She was good tonight."
Teammate Moore might say Williams was underselling.
"She was amazing," Moore said. "She lifted us completely to another level, so much energy. Her defense, her hustle, her activity. She is vital to us, and we need that from her. When she plays like that, she gives everybody else life."
Wright's contributions to the Lynx have never been in doubt; the fourth-year veteran is consistently considered one of the league's top sixth players. Wright averaged 9.0 points during the regular season and 7.3 points so far in the playoffs. Minnesota's reliance on Wright only deepened when the Lynx dealt Candice Wiggins to Tulsa in the offseason.
Anyone who knows her only as Kevin Durant's fiancée isn't paying close attention.
Wright, the former Virginia star, is always energy and hustle, and, on Sunday night, she was an offensive force. During the Lynx's 15-0 run in the second quarter that effectively decided the game, Wright had six points and a rebound.
"She was huge," said Whalen, who finished 1-for-4 from the field for three points. "Her minutes really set the tone for us."
Wright said she gained confidence from her early success in the game.
"It's the Finals. You want to leave it all out there," she said. "It was falling tonight, and when it's falling early, you get momentum."
This week, Reeve pulled Wright aside to tell her a little story about the 2001 WNBA playoffs and how the Charlotte Sting -- who started the season 1-10 that season -- upset the Cleveland Rockers in the first round of the playoffs and got all the way to the Finals. They did it behind the bench contributions of Tonya Edwards and Shalonda Enis.
"She views herself as an X factor," Reeve said. "The starters are going to match up, and the peripheral players have an opportunity to do well. I told her that story just to give her a visual, for her to see that it's a great time for her to feel comfortable and step up.
"Any time she has that focus and poise, really good things happen to her."
14dBonnie D. Ford