Sunday, September 25, 2011

Western Conference Finals: Defending a sweep


By no means are the Minnesota Lynx believing they can waltz any way they can with the Phoenix Mercury for game two of the Western Conference Finals Sunday at Phoenix's US Airways Center.

Minnesota can advance to the WNBA Finals with a win Sunday afternoon, but they are aware of how rapidly Phoenix can tilt the balance via the perimeter or pushing the tempo with perennial scoring champion Diana Taurasi, who is averaging 19.5 points per game this post-season.

"Phoenix at home is a deadly combination. Phoenix is like a cobra. You have to go in to game two thinking you're down 0-1," said Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who scored 14 points in Minnesota's 95-67 win Thursday night. "They're going to throw everything: kitchen sink, shoes, Corey Gaines (Phoenix head coach). We have to be prepared for whatever they bring us."

While the Mercury were the only team to beat the Lynx twice this season, two Lynx victories in the regular season series came on the road, including a 96-90 win to close out the year.

"They're going to be real upset. If you can't get intense, excited and motivated for this, they've got bigger problems," said Lynx reserve Candice Wiggins, who scored 14 points off the bench in game one.

Scouting the Lynx in the Western Conference Finals is astronomically different than the tentative, jittery exhibition that nearly led to a first-round sweep at the hands of San Antonio. Minnesota rekindled its fluid offensive production after taking scoring pressure off point guard Lindsay Whalen, allowing her to focus on setting up her teammates. She has only eight points in the last two games, but the remaining Lynx starters have scored at least 13 points or more in that span, earning two blowout victories.

To illustrate, Phoenix never got closer than six points in the second half of game one. Their three-point and field goal shooting fell flat for a team considered the bastion of both aspects (Phoenix made 20 percent of their three-pointers and 68 percent of their free throws). As usual, the Lynx dominated the Mercury on rebounds, getting 42 against the Mercury's 26. Had the Lynx not suffered ball control issues early, they could have sealed a victory long before the fourth quarter started.

"We forced the ball out a little bit further, making every shot difficult," said Lynx guard Seimone Augustus.

Minnesota remains mindful of Phoenix's offensive style, as any opponent would when facing the WNBA's top-scoring team. However, the concerns proved to be secret blessings for the Lynx in game one. University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, making a guest appearance for ESPN as a color commentator, believed the Mercury's up-tempo game did not create scenarios for the Lynx to make defensive mistakes on their own.

Another factor favoring Minnesota is emotional stability. While Taurasi's outburst after fouling out in game three of the Western Conference semifinal round at Seattle has faded, Phoenix head coach Corey Gaines was charged a technical foul only 3:14 into game one of the Western Conference Finals. Mercury forward Candice Dupree was called for technical fouls in two consecutive games, earning them in the final game of the Seattle series and in game one of the Minnesota series with 9:00 left in the fourth quarter. Adding to the irony was Dupree's ESPN interview stressing the need to keep Mercury emotions from boiling that aired in the Seattle series.

"From a Dupree standpoint, it's important to keep her out of the transition game. She is such a great rim runner," said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve after game one.

Of course, Phoenix's upset win over Seattle on the road will keep Minnesota's team in check while providing Corey Gaines' team confidence that one clunker does not define a playoff series.

"Augustus hit some great shots. We have got to limit her touches when we're in Phoenix," said Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner.

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