BY MIKE PEDEN
The atmosphere at Target Center Friday night had an unusual vibe for the Minnesota Lynx contest against the New York Liberty.
Minnesota could not find their shooting form, making 33.8 percent of their field goals in a 78-62 loss. New York's Leilani Mitchell scored a season-high 24 points, banking six three-pointers. Seimone Augustus led Minnesota with 17 points.
"(Minnesota) was worried about Cappie (Pondexter) and Nicole (Powell) and left Leilani open. She's a good shooter," said Liberty head coach John Whisenant.
"We made their defense shift and work. They were so focused on helping the inside, they left our guards to shoot their shots," said Liberty forward Plenette Pierson, who scored 13 points.
From the start, New York (18-13) played with a sense of urgency knowing a win would secure a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. For Minnesota, a victory or Indiana loss would lock up the first overall playoff seed.
Minnesota (24-7) fought well despite their shooting woes, going up by three with 3:53 remaining in the third quarter, but New York answered with a 15-4 run and never looked back. During that quarter, the public address announcer informed the 8,929 in attendance of Connecticut's 83-55 win over Indiana, giving Minnesota home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Knowing the Lynx clinched the best record in the league, combined with a 12-point New York lead with 5:32 in the fourth, head coach Cheryl Reeve took out lone starter Augustus and sent Candice Wiggins in her place. The Lynx reserves played the remainder of the game, giving the impression they were willing to concede a victory to avoid a needless injury among the starters and prepare the bench for the post-season. Throughout the year, Minnesota's reserves were considered a weakness for their inconsistency.
"It was a conscious decision to give them some opportunities to play in a hard game and see what they can do," Reeve said.
Another sporadic talking point among critics this season is Minnesota's perimeter defense. New York made 13 of 26 three-point attempts, finding an open Mitchell or Powell early and often.
"I've been struggling all season, so they keep telling me to keep shooting," Mitchell said
"I thought I brought her backwards. I'm glad to see she's back shooting," Whisenant said.
Reeve described how difficult it was to tell her players their regular season games no longer matter. Minnesota has never faced this scenario in franchise history, and the team was no less dejected about having their six-game winning streak snapped. Clearly, the Lynx would like to win the last three games for confidence, but their aim may be tempered by the long-term outlook as they have already accomplished their regular season goal.
"All the other long-term goals depend on how we play together, so we have to bounce back and put our focus on Sunday," said Lynx forward Maya Moore, who scored 16 points.
While the Liberty can now breathe after punching a post-season ticket, where they will be seeded is far from certain. New York is 1.5 games behind Eastern Conference leader Indiana, one game behind Connecticut for the second seed and one game ahead of Atlanta for the third seed.
"Everybody wants to win, so all the games are going to be intense," Mitchell said.
The Lynx and Liberty meet again Sunday afternoon at Prudential Center.
Programs available for DVD purchase
Autism: The Wall That Knows No Limits - Award-winning documentary series providing insights on autism rarely seen in contemporary media. Produced by someone on the spectrum, this series is a wealth of information for anyone seeking to learn about autism.
$15 for one episode, $50 for the complete series (4 episodes)
What Are You? A Dialogue on Mixed Race - Originally a school assignment, this one-hour documentary explores a population that existed for many years but didn't get much focus until recently. This program examines how a small but growing segment of the population could shift racial and cultural identity. Screened at the 2009 Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival and will be screened at the inaugural Critical Mixed Race Studies conference at DePaul University. $15
From Vices to Verses: Featuring Voices Merging - From Vices to Verses: A New Era of Hip Hop and Action is a biannual conference held at the University of Minnesota. The goal is to promote the culture and history of hip-hop, which is often lost in the corporate mainstream representation. In this program, you'll see how the Voices Merging student group absorbed what they witnessed and how their experience will transform them as a group and as individuals. DVD copies come with 14 minutes of bonus footage not seen online or on TV. $15
Minnesota Machine: 2010 - Geared for Greatness - Join the professional women's football team in their historic 2nd season. Despite several injuries that depleted the roster, the Machine finished 2010 with a 6-3 record and their first division title in franchise history, edging the Iowa Thunder in the Midwest Division of the American Conference. This highlight reel includes clips from the 2010 season and their interview on the cable television show Rollin' and Tumblin' - $15
Silhouettes by RZI Couture - The inaugural breast cancer benefit fashion premiere took place in St. Paul and was met with a fabulous response. All the models were breast cancer survivors or relatives of someone affected by breast cancer and all the clothing was designed by Rosalyn Smaller, owner of RZI Couture and currently fighting breast cancer herself. The TV version features testimonials from the models and co-host Miss Georgia of KMOJ. $10 of every purchase will be donated to RZI Couture to help the breast cancer fight! $15