Professional Basketball

Lynx ring in new season with win over Mercury


When the Minnesota Timberwolves opened their regular season, they paid a special tribute to head coach Flip Saunders, who lost his battle with cancer prior to the home opener. On Saturday night, the Minnesota Lynx did the same thing with a special video tribute to Minneapolis music legend and Lynx fan Prince, who passed away April 21.

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Phoenix Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner is defended by Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore during the first quarter of Saturday’s game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Prior to tipoff, there was a slight bit of old business to finish up as new WNBA President Lisa Borders presented the team with their 2015 WNBA championship rings amid player introductions to Prince songs along with green and purple laser lights. Though no longer with the team, former Lynx players Kalana Green, Shae Kelley and Tricia Liston were on hand to receive their rings, as was Anna Cruz who will not be joining the team until after the Olympic break. Six players – Renee Montgomery, Sylvia Fowles, Rebekkah Brunson, Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus are currently on the active roster and received theirs also. Devereaux Peters, who was traded to Indiana in the offseason, and Asjha Jones were not present.

“I haven’t put it on yet, but when we get them back in a couple minutes, I’m going to be ready. I’m excited about this ring. It’s pretty special to me,” said Fowles, the 2015 WNBA Finals most valuable player.

“We wanted to survive the emotion. It’s draining,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “These last couple days, really the weeks starting with going down to Mr. Taylor’s house to see the rings for the first time, all the way through the emotion of the first game. We were very excited. It took forever for the game to start. We’re doing all this stuff. We’ve been through it before so we really tried to manage the emotion of it and make sure we were ready when the ball was tipped.”

With the formalities from last season over, it was time for tip off against the Phoenix Mercury, who the Lynx narrowly defeated in the Western Conference Finals last season. While the Associated Press last week predicted the Lynx to repeat as champions, the league’s general managers predicted the Mercury will be the champions.

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Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi and Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore tangle during the second quarter of Saturday night’s game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

“It’s a long year. It’s one of those things where sometimes we’re on the top of the list, sometimes we’re not. One way or the other, I’m not really too concerned, I just want to go our and play hard and do our thing. We’ve been at this so long that if it’s a little extra motivation, that’s a good thing, but at the end of the day you’ve got to go out there and play, tip the ball up and do what you’re really good at,” said Lynx guard Lindsay Whelan.

When the game got underway, Phoenix controlled the tip and Mercury guard Diana Taurasi hit an 18-foot jumper 11 seconds later, her first points since Game 3 of the 2014 WNBA Finals on Sept. 12, 2014. At the end of the quarter, Taurasi scored 10 points as the Mercury shot 75 percent from the field and took a two-point lead, 28-26, going into the second frame.

“They started off on fire. They’re going to lead us and make sure we’re going up. That’s what they do. They’re veterans,” said Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello.

The game was tied three times during the second quarter, but key deflections by Lynx guards Renee Montgomery and Jia Perkins helped ignite the home team, allowing them to take a 52-42 lead into the half.

“We played a little more in scramble mode, where Renee got up into the backcourt and set the tone a little bit more on Taurasi, trapped her a little bit, got it out of her hands and just tried to change the flow. I thought that was effective. We had a greater sense of urgency in that our guards were more aware of screens coming,” said Reeve.

After the half, the Lynx never looked back, extending their lead to 14 points by the end of the third quarter, extending it to as many as 24 during the fourth quarter, while settling for a 95-76 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 9,221 at Target Center.

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Phoenix Mercury center Isabelle Harrison shoots over the outstretched arms of Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore during Saturday night’s game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Minnesota was led by forward Maya Moore’s 27 points and 10 assists, and guard Seimone Augustus pitched in for 21 points, while Fowles netted 17 points to go with her 14 rebounds. Taurasi was Phoenix’s leading scorer with 18 and Penny Taylor, who also sat out last season, added 13 in her first game back.

“We just settled for too many easy open shots but usually what we’re built on is good ball play movement. We need to get to that next action,” said Brondello. “They are all things that we can fix. It’s the first game of the season. It’s disappointing that we obviously didn’t play as well as we thought we may have played, but there are areas that we know that we can change. We’ll go back to practice, get ready and hopefully go from there.”

“Well, you know it’s a really good starting point for us in a really bad way as far as we know what we have to get better at really soon in the season. We have people in this locker room who have been in this league for a long time, along with a lot of rookies. The season isn’t made on 40 minutes but the way we bounce back is going to say a lot about this team going forward,” said Taurasi.

A bright spot for the Mercury was the play of forward Sonja Petrovic, who played one season in the WNBA previous, back in 2012 for the Chicago Sky. Petrovic went 4-9 from the field for 8 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in the effort.

“I thought she was one of our better players. I thought she played with intensity defensively. She contested on shots. She competed to offensive boards and we were terrible on the boards offensively. I thought she made good shots. She’s a versatile player and I think the more comfortable she can get, the better she can get,” said Brondello.

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Minnesota Lynx guard Renee Montgomery attempts a fast break layup over the outstretched arms of Phoenix Mercury forward Mistie Bass Saturday night at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Petrovic knows that she has a lot to learn to adjust to Brondello’s system and her role off the bench.

“I see that my role should be really able to cover a lot of positions and making sure that a lot of our players can get some rest because a bunch of work will be up on them,” said Petrovic. “We have so much amazing players, my role here should be different from role I had in Europe, so

I’m still kind of finding myself. In the end, I just try to do things that I do good. Rebounding is just an effort thing. Defense also.”

But the WNBA is not European ball. Petrovic noted the difficulty in playing against a team with as much strength as the Western Conference rival Minnesota Lynx team.

“Coming from Europe, you know you usually have brief seconds or some minutes when you can kind of relax or you don’t have to guard the best player. With Minnesota, you don’t have any second as they are covered in all positions. You have to play each second of the game. That was the point, I think, that our intensity wasn’t our greatest at every second, so that’s the only thing. We got to make sure when we are out there, every second counts.”

As for the AP and league general manager predictions, regardless of the outcome of the first game, both teams are going to continue to improve upon the finer points of the game. Nothing gets decided for another 33 more games, but if the first game is any indication, both teams will merit post-season discussion before the season closes out.

“We weren’t out to send a message other than that we want to win our home games. I thought it was a really good start for us,” said Reeve. “I think any time you have a Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and really good players, they should be in a the title conversation.”

As Brondello put it, “They’re the champions, basically. They have more of a chemistry than we have. Their defense was better and that’s what wins and we didn’t play good enough. We’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the past, and that’s our goal again. We have to be. If we’re going to be champions, we have to play defense.”

The Lynx (1-0) travel to the Chicago Sky (1-0) for a 11:30 a.m. CT matchup at All State Arena on Wednesday, while the Mercury (0-1) visit the Indiana Fever (0-1) at Banker’s Life Field House for a 6 p.m. CT contest also on Wednesday.

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