(3) Phoenix Mercury at (1) Minnesota Lynx, Game 1, Western Conference Finals, 8 p.m., Target Center
Series Tied 0-0
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During the 2011 season, the Lynx faced off against the Phoenix Mercury in the Western Conference Finals and defeated them 2-0 to advance to the WNBA Finals.
Minnesota went on to win the WNBA Championship that season.
On Thursday night at the Target Center, the Lynx will face off in the Western Conference Finals against Phoenix once again, and they are hoping for the same results. A lot has changed, though. Phoenix has No. 1overall pick Brittney Griner on its squad, as well as a new defensive-minded head coach in Russ Pennell.
The Lynx have battled against Griner four times this season and have been pretty effective against the center. In three games, Rebekkah Brunson and Janel McCarville have limited her to 12 points and seven rebounds per contest.
"Just try to be aggressive and do a lot of the work early," said Brunson on defending Griner. "She gets down low it's kind of difficult to make up size down there, but when you put her outside, it balances things out a little bit."
One person who they are not as familiar with is Pennell. Pennell spent much of his career coaching men's college basketball. Once he was hired by the Mercury in early August, he's made a focus on defense, something Phoenix wasn't doing under Corey Gaines. Pennell said the change wasn't all that hard to make, though.
"The biggest thing was to get the trust of the ladies on the team and tell them that this was what we needed," Pennell said during Thursday's shoot around. "... The good part was all of them have played in programs in college where defense was stressed."
Last time out
The Lynx are coming off a series ending 58-55 win over the Seattle Storm at the Tacoma Dome.
It marked the second consecutive season in which the Lynx eliminated Seattle in the semifinals. All-WNBA First Team member Maya Moore led the way with 22 points and seven rebounds. Brunson finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Seimone Augustus finished with 10 points despite shooting 5-of-16 from the field.
Phoenix is coming off of a Game 3 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks. In the final seconds, Griner hit a turn-around shot to give the Mercury the lead and the series.
Forward Candice Dupree led the way with 22 points and four rebounds. Guard Diana Taurasi finished with 18 points and a game-high 10 assists, while DeWanna Bower added 19.
Griner finished with six points and four rebounds.
They Lynx are 5-0 against the Mercury this season, but the two Western Conference rivals haven't faced off since July 24.
Minnesota won that game 81-69 at the Target Center thanks to 18 points and seven assists from Lindsay Whalen. Augustus added 16, while Moore finished with 10 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Monica Wright led the bench with 14 points.
Dupree led Phoenix with 17 points. Phoenix was without Griner (knee), Taurasi (suspension) and Penny Taylor (rest) in that game.
Key matchup: Augustus vs. Taurasi
We mentioned this matchup in yesterday's Practice Report, and not a whole lot has changed. These two players are very key players to their respected teams.
Augustus, a product of LSU, is averaging 14.5 points per game this postseason, which is about two points less per game than her regular season mark.
In five games against Phoenix this season, Augustus is averaging 14.8 points per game.
Taurasi is averaging 22.7 points per game this postseason, which is 2.5 points more than her regular season mark. She's averaging about one more assist per game (7.3) in the postseason as well.
In four games against Minnesota, Taurasi is averaging 19.7 points and four assists per game.
The two players have played with each other in the Olympics and have played against each other over the years in the WNBA. The two also played AAU basketball when the two were still watching cartoons on Saturday mornings.
"Seimone and I, we go back to like seventh or eighth grade," Taurasi said. "She might have been a sixth grader playing because she was so good. I've known Seimone and her family for a long time."
After 68 combined regular season games and five combined playoff games, both teams appear to be fully healthy. Well done, trainers, well done indeed.
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