The Lynx looked calm during their pregame routine on Saturday night, which is not to say they acted any different than any other game on any other night. Minnesotas been through enough contests together to have comfort and belief in one another, and at times it seems the higher the stakes, the more comfortable they feel.
That sounds about right when it comes to Saturdays circumstances. When Minnesota beat Chicago 79-66 at Target Center, it locked up the best record in the WNBA for the third straight year and ensured they will have home court advantage all the way through the Finals. They needed to win to ensure that top spot, which made Saturday different than other nights.
Yet the Lynx went about business as usual, turning that calm pregame approach into a relentless, eye-of-the-tiger-like mode once we hit tipoff. There was no extra pressure, coach Cheryl Reeve said, and no panic. This group has been through all this before, benefitting from the experience theyve acquired over 80 wins in the past three seasons.
They do it with one simple philosophy that theyll bring with them into their Best-of-3 series with Seattle in the Western Conference Semifinals, which begins with Game 1 at 8 p.m. CT on Friday night.
The Lynx will focus on one challenge at a time.
This first series against Seattle is all that matters. Its 120 minutes, Reeve said. And if you have any other mindset than its 120 minutes, Seattle will have something to say about it. So staying in the moment, staying in Game 1the first 40 minutes. And whatever happens there, take that into the second 40 minutes and see what happens there. Do not utter the word championship.
Saturday night was an example of that. The Lynx hosted the top team in the Eastern Conference with the top spot in the league on the line. Not only that, but Chicago already topped Minnesota, 94-86, in their lone meeting of the season earlier this summer. The final regular season game of the season had postseason and payback implications, but for those very reasons it was one of the Lynx biggest challenges of the year.
Minnesota understood those implications, but it didnt waver from the formula it used to pile up that 15-2 home record this regular season. The Lynx simply went to work and ensured that if the team is fortunate enough to advance through the West, theyll have the opportunity to play on that Target Center court with that WNBA Finals logo pasted on top three out of five games.
We knew what was at stake, and we play that way every night, Maya Moore said. I dont think its anything different for us to play with a sense of urgency and protecting our home court. Thats what weve been doing all season. Tonight was another great example of us doing that.
Theres one other part of the equation that Moore mentioned, and its the feeling the team gets from playing in front of their home sellout crowds. Not only feeding off the energy the fans bring but also helping them feel the excitement in arena is a reciprocal deal.
And its something this particular group of players helped cultivate over this three-season run.
Reeve said she got word in pregame that Target Center was selling standing room only tickets for the lower bowl on Fan Appreciation Night, something that wasnt the case back in her first season of 2010 or in the years prior. But as this team built its talent and its identitycomplementing longtime Lynx star Seimone Augustus with Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson in 2010 and the arrival of Moore in 2011the solidarity and support continued to grow.
Now, they have one of the best home court advantages in the WNBA.
I told them they built this thing, Reeve said. I told them they did that. They built this thing. I wanted them to bask in that and enjoy their fans. That was great motivation for us.
So as the Lynx open up the 2013 postseason, theyll have something no other team in the field will have. They know theyre afforded more home playoff games than any other team, and if they take care of business at home theyll be WNBA champions once again.
But the true catalyst to their success is in the short term. If the Lynx take care of business each night, focusing on 40 minutes at a time, it will carry them through the postseason. One game at a time, one challenge at a time.
Of course we wanted to get the top record and all that, so it was a big game for us, Whalen said. But now we enjoy tonight and we get ready for the playoffs.
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