Professional Basketball

Lynx Shoot Down Mercury, Another Trip To Finals On Tap

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Unlike the 2015 Western Conference Finals which ended on a controversial call against the Phoenix Mercury which put the Minnesota Lynx into the WNBA Finals, the Lynx overpowered the Mercury 82-67 to sweep the best-of-five semifinal series, earning the team their fifth trip to the championship series in six years.

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Phoenix Mercury forward Penny Taylor attempts a layup over the outstretched arms of Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles during Friday’s WNBA Semifinal game at the Xcel Energy Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

In front of a sellout crowd of 9,631 at Talking Stick Resort Arena, the Mercury returned home facing elimination after being on the road for 28 out of the last 35 days including four playoff games, hoping to keep their season alive in front of their home crowd.

“One thing I am sure of, I was not wanting to play another game in front of Phoenix fans,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “I thought they were outstanding today and that’s what it’s all about. When you have a chance to play in the playoffs, you try to win your home games. You can’t do it without a great fan base so kudos to the Phoenix fan base, it’s a great fan base here.”

The first quarter belonged to the Mercury, who led by as much as seven points thanks to the dynamic duo of guard Diana Taurasi, who netted eight points including two three-pointers during the quarter, and Brittney Griner seven points and three rebounds in the frame. Phoenix led 23-18 at the conclusion of the quarter.

Minnesota took a 24-23 lead just 1:22 into the second quarter when forward Natasha Howard scored on a two-foot layup. The teams traded baskets for the remainder of the quarter. The Lynx held a one-point 39-38 lead at halftime.

Like the first two games in the series, all it took was one quarter for the Lynx to break the Mercury resistance down. Lynx forward Maya Moore tallied nine in the quarter along with bench players Natasha Howard who added eight and Renee Montgomery who pitched in with seven points and the Mercury soon found themselves down by a dozen, 65-53 with one quarter left to play.

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Minnesota Lynx forward Natasha Howard drives for a layup against Phoenix Mercury forward Mistie Bass during Wednesday’s WNBA Semifinals Game 1 at the Xcel Energy Center. Howard scored 17 points to lift the Lynx over the Mercury in Sunday’s Game 3. Photo by Abe Booker III.

“The key for the third quarter was our defense. We locked down on certain players on defense, DT (Diana Taurasi), Brittney Griner, and we did our job with those players and we got deflections and that’s what we need and our offense got going,” said Lynx forward Natasha Howard.

Lynx guard Seimone Augustus added, “We always kind of harp on deflections and trying to make passes difficult and you could see in the third quarter they tried to establish Brittney early on as well as trying to get Diana going as well. So we were able to get our hands on a few balls, make it tough for them and get out in transition, which is something Natasha (Howard) is great at. She started running the floor and she started to set random screens in transition which kind of opened the floor for us.”

“Obviously we had a little fatigue here, coming out of that third quarter and Maya Moore kind of took over and we got ourselves in a big hole. We just gave up too many points in the paint really with executing our schemes, and Howard was great off the bench too,” said Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello.

Lynx forward Maya Moore scored nine of her 20 points in the third quarter while Howard added eight of her 17 total points during the frame.

Forced into playing desperation basketball, the Mercury, a team known for being a hot perimeter shooting team, had difficulty finding the net. As the fourth quarter began, Mercury guard Lindsey Harding missed a trey and two free throws. Taurasi missed two treys. Marta Xargay failed to connect on a three-point shot. DeWanna Bonner missed a layup and two free throws. Xargay hit a 17-foot jumper with 5:19 remaining for the Mercury’s first points of the quarter, but by that time Minnesota led 74-55.

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Phoenix Mercury guard Marta Xargay shoots over the outstretched arms of Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus during Friday night’s WNBA Semifinal Game 3 at the Xcel Energy Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Mercury guard Alex Harden went 2-for-2 scoring five points during the final 3:10 to provide a spark off the bench, but the hole had been dug too deep by then. The Lynx ran out the clock to secure an 82-67 victory.

“Obviously disappointed with the result, but the better team won tonight, the series. They’ve been the best team all season long and they showed that,” said Brondello, who noted that fatigue was a factor in the series.

“These players have a lot of mileage on their tires so to speak, but they certainly competed. Minnesota just has too much chemistry I would probably say. Just different people stepping up, they play very well together. At times, that was tough for us to defend. Fatigue was it,” she said.

“Looking back at the last 35 days, I think we’ve been on the road 28 and that really does catch up to you. We’ve had to do two elimination games, but we have ourselves to blame. We didn’t play well leading up to the Olympics, we had to sneak into the eighth spot, which meant we had to face the Minnesota Lynx. There are things we can improve on and every kind of adversity, I like to say every negative experience is a positive because that’s the only way you can get better. And we’ll get better,” Brondello added.

Augustus said, “I don’t know if we caught them at the right time, it was still a tough series to play against great players. Diana Taurasi kind of had her way in the series against us. In the first game they had 85 or 86 points, the next game they were down more and today it was 67. So defensively we felt like we got better from the first game to the third game, but it was still a hard game, it was a tough game.”

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Phoenix Mercury guard Lindsey Harding retired after Sunday’s WNBA Semifinals Game 3 ending her nine year career. Photo by Abe Booker III.

The game also marked the end of the playing careers of the Mercury’s Lindsey Harding and Penny Taylor. With 6:58 remaining in the fourth quarter, Marta Xargay replaced Harding in the lineup ending her nine year career. Penny Taylor stepped off the court for the final time when Alex Harden subbed for her with 3:10 left in the game, ending Taylor’s 13 year career.

“I’ll try not to get emotional because Penny and I go way back actually. I think she was about 19 when I first met her, and we actually played four years together with the Australian team,” said Brondello. “Look, she’s just amazing. Great player. Just plays the game in the right way, she plays hard, she’s very versatile. She wasn’t always the quickest player, but she’s probably one of the smartest players out there. She’s just a great teammate.”

Taylor finished the game with tears in her eyes knowing this is the final time that she would be on the court as a player.

“Right now I’m just really disappointed about this game and this series obviously. You never want to go out on a loss. I think when I can walk again and look back I’ll be very proud of my career and the things that I’ve achieved,” said Taylor. “Really all that’s ever married to me was winning and I’ve been able to do that here a few times, and I’ll never forget those teams and that feeling. I’ll always be proud of that. I feel great that I get to carry those wins with me. I guess in a way it’s a real comfort to me that all that ever did matter was winning, and I was able to do that. That’s the way I feel about my career as a whole.”

The Lynx will now advance to the WNBA Finals for their fifth appearance in six years but will have to wait until the Los Angeles Sparks-Chicago Sky series wraps up. Chicago staved off elimination with a 70-66 win on their home court on Sunday afternoon. Los Angeles leads the best-of-five series 2-1 with Game 4 slated for Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT at Allstate Arena. The WNBA Finals will begin Sunday October 9 in Minneapolis.

 

 

 

 

 

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