Commentary

Whalen paces Lynx past Dream

Minnesota takes 2-0 lead and looked Ferrari-like with point guard running show

Originally Published: October 8, 2013
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- As a point guard, Lindsay Whalen has long been the quarterback on the basketball court. But there was a sequence Tuesday in Minnesota's 88-63 victory over Atlanta during which she played like a wide receiver who refused to be denied the end zone.

Whalen had released down the court and let teammate Seimone Augustus know she wanted the ball.

"That was a go pattern; I had everybody kind of beat, and I yelled for her to throw it up," said Whalen, who then pulled in the long pass and kept herself from going out of bounds. "I felt like I couldn't go up with it right away, so I kind of had to get to the other side of the basket.

"I was going to shoot that ball regardless, though. I didn't want to take a bad shot, but I was like, 'I worked hard to get the ball down here, and I'm going to get a basket and keep sending a message.'"

[+] EnlargeLindsay Whalen
Greg Smith/USA TODAY SportsLindsay Whalen scored nine of her 14 points in the first quarter as the Lynx jumped to a 27-16 lead.

So she worked her way through the defenders, the shot went in and the message was loud and clear. The Lynx took a 2-0 lead in this best-of-five WNBA Finals series with the Dream, and they are intent on not playing another game at Target Center this season. They want to finish this off Thursday at Atlanta (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET).

The Lynx haven't lost yet in this postseason; these two WNBA Finals victories have both been by 25 points. Tuesday, all five Lynx starters scored in double figures, led by Augustus' 20 points.

Whalen scored 14, with 13 of those coming in a first half in which she did exactly what she set out to do: establish that the Lynx offense was going to come from her and from everyone else. Good luck stopping them all, Dream defense.

With Whalen at the wheel, the Lynx looked Ferrari-like with a WNBA Finals-record 56.9 shooting percentage from the field (33-of-58).

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said before the game that she thought her point guard would want to score a little more than she did Sunday, when Whalen took just four shots and had three points.

"Yeah, I wanted to be as aggressive as possible, and I was going to get into the flow early tonight," Whalen said. "They are a great defensive team, and they're tough. But I felt like we needed to still be able to get in the lane, make good plays. We had too many turnovers, but, overall, it was a good game for us."

Janel McCarville, who had 11 points, said that Reeve gave the Lynx a B for their performance, which was a step up from their grade at the break when leading 51-36. "We had a C-minus at halftime," McCarville said. "She wasn't happy about nothin' -- you think you got a little lead and you're in a good position, and she comes in and busts that bubble real quick.

"She wasn't as impressed as other people are, which is good; she holds us to a high standard and keeps us grounded."

[+] EnlargeDream/Lynx
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesFormer Minnesota Gophers teammates Janel McCarville, No. 4, and Lindsay Whalen, No. 13, helped harass Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry into 5-of-18 shooting.

So far this postseason, Reeve is the only one who can ground her team, because the Lynx have soared against all their opponents. Yes, the Seattle Storm pushed the Lynx in Game 2 of their first-round series, which Minnesota won by three points. And in the Western Conference finals, the Lynx won Game 2 over the Phoenix Mercury by seven.

But unless something changes drastically with this series moving to the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Thursday, the Lynx's toughest challenge might be behind them.

To alter that, the Dream will have to -- among other things -- keep Whalen from dictating the tempo and "feel" of the game, which is what she did Tuesday. She had seven turnovers -- the Lynx had 20 overall -- but that didn't really even matter. When you shoot nearly 57 percent from the field, turnovers are just a minor nuisance.

Maya Moore had 14 points and eight rebounds. Rebekkah Brunson had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Lynx reserves Monica Wright and Devereaux Peters combined for 13 points off the bench.

Augustus went 9-of-12 from the field, and, when asked how the Lynx had torched the Dream offensively, said, "Ball movement. We wanted to try to make their defense move around a little bit and get the extra passes."

No WNBA point guard can make defenders feel like they're just spinning in circles more than Whalen can, which her teammates truly appreciate.

"I can easily say there's no point guard I'd rather play with," said McCarville, who was Whalen's Minnesota Gophers teammate in college, too. "We both see the game the same way.

"And when she goes into the lane and gets a rebound over you as a post player, it takes the wind out of your sails. She's done that to me a few times when I was playing against her. She's got hops and a knack to go get the ball."

Whalen has always had an almost uncanny fearlessness -- but not recklessness -- about penetrating.

[+] EnlargeSeimone Augustus
AP Photo/Stacy BengsSeimone Augustus and the Lynx shot a WNBA Finals-record 56.9 percent from the field (33-of-58).

"The pounding she takes and then gets back up [even] when you thought she had the wind knocked out of her," Moore said. "She's just a warrior. And it's so funny, because off the court, she's just a silly, fun-loving, class clown with us. Then she gets on the court and she's killer."

Whalen has not shot the 3-pointer much at all this season; she took only nine during the regular season, making one. In the playoffs, she's 0-for-1 from behind the arc.

Whalen said it wasn't really a conscientious decision she made to stop shooting much from long range. After all, she can do it; for her WNBA career, she has made 157 3-pointers in the regular season and 25 in the playoffs.

The fact that the 3-point line moved back this season to 22 feet, 1¾ inches wasn't a factor for curtailing her long-range shooting, either. Instead, it has just been how the Lynx's offense has developed and what she has seen as most open to her to help the team win.

Even without the 3-ball in her repertoire this season, she still had her highest scoring average (14.9 ppg) of her 10 WNBA seasons. And now, she's one victory away from winning her second WNBA title for her home state's franchise.

"She's a lot of fun to watch," Wright said, and added, laughing, "Sometimes, I get caught watching her when I'm in the game with her."

Opposing defenses can be mesmerized by Whalen, too -- except for them, it isn't any fun at all.

"I feel like when I have that mindset and our team needs it, I am always going to make my way to the basket," Whalen said. "I'm never going to do it where it's going to hurt the team. But I feel like one my big roles is to get in there and make plays. Tonight, it was about getting in there, finishing a couple, making it to the foul line. I feel like it's something the team feeds off."

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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