As the WNBA finals approach this will be the first time in three seasons the Lynx wont represent the Western Conference with a chance to raise the WNBA title on the line. That honor will go to the Phoenix Mercury this season. That much was determined last night as Phoenix used an absurd run late in the game en route to a 96-78 win over Minnesota.
Phoenix has been the best team in the WNBA all season and it emphatically proved that notion in Game 3, especially in the final 10 minutes of the contest.
Maya Moore split a pair of defenders and netted a driving layup to tie the game at 67-67 with 1:25 left in the third quarter to cap a furious rally as Minnesota chipped away at the Phoenix lead and tied the game for the first time since the first quarter.
It looked like the Lynx were on the brink of blowing the game open. They were in control. They were firing on all cylinders. They were playing like champions. Then the Lynx went cold and thats putting it lightly.
Minnesota hit absolute zero and didnt score for more than seven minutes after Moores driving layup and in that span Phoenix went on an 18-0 run. Diana Taurasi sank a jumper just seconds after Moore tied it, then dropped in a desperation halfcourt heave to stretch the lead to 72-67.
When anyone makes a big shot like that, we just think, OK. Its our night. Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. I just thought, the look in their eyes, we just knew that it was like, OK. Were good.
Taurasi went on to score 13 straight points to deliver a vicious knockout blow and put the game well out of reach.
Minnesota missed its first 10 shots of the fourth quarter and didnt convert its first field goal of the stanza until a Lindsay Whalen layup at 4:23. It was way too little, way too late.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve checked her reserves into the game with a little more than three minutes left. Reeve said though the way the season ended was disappointing, she was proud after the game.
We won 25 games and with our circumstances we could have taken the easy way out, Reeve said. I couldnt be more proud of our group.
Minnesota has dealt with a host of misfortune all season whether it was Devereaux Peters and Monica Wright missing some time at the start of the season or Seimone Augustus missing a significant stretch toward the middle of the season.
This wasnt the same team that coasted through the playoffs last year en route to its second title in three seasons. This particular team was a year older and a bit unlucky on the injury front. Yet it was still far and away the second best team in the WNBA and a quarter away from representing the Western Conference in the WNBA finals again this season.
Reeve was asked after the game whether she thought this was a changing of the guard of sorts in the Western Conference. Not in her eyes.
I dont think because were not in the finals that there is a seat change, she said. Phoenix had an unbelievable season, record setting.
Reeve made it clear that her team will be back next season. That much is for sure. It still features a battle-tested squad and one of the best players in the world.
Phoenix is going to be very good," Reeve said, "and if we get healthy again next season this has the making to be two very good teams every year.
Reeve is absolutely right. This is the start of a great rivalry, a rivalry that will be talked about years from now. It's definitely an end of an era.
For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Lynx on Twitter.