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WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Minnesota Lynx (0-0) vs. Phoenix Mercury (0-0) | 7:00 P.M. CT
WHERE TO WATCH: ESPN 2
WHERE TO LISTEN: 106.1 BOB FM
So, we meet again huh? For the sixth time this season, the Minnesota Lynx will take on the Phoenix Mercury, the only difference being that tonight’s match-up will have a lot more on the line than previously.
Tonight, the Lynx and Mercury will face off in game one of the Western Conference Finals, a rematch of last year’s conference finals in which the Mercury had homecourt advantage and defeated the Lynx in the series 2-1; this year, the Lynx have homecourt this season.
“We accomplished our goal,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “We wanted to be best in the West and we did that and now we can check that off our list.”
There is no match-up in which Minnesota’s homecourt advantage is better seen than against the Mercury. In the five regular season match-ups, the Lynx lost three of the games, but won both of the games played at Target Center and won by a combined score of 142-117.
“We have such great fans,” Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen said. “We try to make it so difficult for teams to play here and that really starts with our fans. It’s really not a surprise that we have the best homecourt in the league.”
Last season the Lynx lost the deciding game three of the Conference Finals in Phoenix; however, should a game three be necessary this year, it will be played in Minnesota. After last season’s road defeat though, Lynx players insist having homecourt this season makes little difference to them.
“I think that our group is always hungry no matter what,” said Whalen, speaking about Minnesota’s game three win over Los Angeles, sending them into a series against Phoenix. “It’s that time of year where players have to step up and make plays and our group did that tonight. We’ll enjoy this one for a couple hours and then start to get ready for Thursday night.”
The Mercury made quick work of the Tulsa Shock in their Western Conference Semifinals series, sweeping the Shock and winning the series 2-0. The Mercury won their series by outscoring the Shock by a combined score of 179-122. More importantly, Phoenix has an extra day of rest heading into tonight’s game because the Lynx needed three games to close their series with Los Angeles.
“This is obviously going to be a hard series, like we knew that it would be, when you go one more step it gets even harder,” said Reeve. “We know Phoenix well and they know us well. Not a whole lot of time to prepare, no practice time. They’ve had some practice time but whatever. We worked really, really hard to have homecourt advantage, now we’re going to make sure we play with that same energy.”
We’ll see tonight just how much that extra rest helps Phoenix and whether or not Minnesota can carry the momentum from their game three win over the Sparks into tonight’s game against the Mercury.
The Lynx and Mercury met five times this season and the Mercury emerged victorious in three-of-the-five meetings; both teams won all of their respective home meetings.
Their first meeting of the season was all the way back on June 14 and ended with an 81-66 Mercury victory in Phoenix. The Lynx shot just 35 percent in the game and committed 18 turnovers that led to 20 Mercury points. The Mercury shot just over 40 percent while dominating inside scoring 32 points in the paint en route to a rather easy victory over Minnesota; it would not be that way in their next meeting.
Their second meeting this season took place on June 27 at Target Center, and the Lynx were definitely feeling that home crowd energy, putting on a defensive clinic and playing arguably their best game of the season to that point, beating the Mercury 71-56 in Mercury center Brittney Griner’s return from a suspension. Minnesota held Phoenix to just 33 percent shooting while getting 10 steals and blocking 10 shots, both then season-highs.
The Mercury rebounded in the team’s third meeting of the season in Phoenix, beating the Lynx 73-66 on August 7. It appeared early in the game as though the Lynx were going to steal one a win on the road after ramping up their defense and holding the Mercury to just seven points in the second quarter, however, the Mercury turned up their defense in the fourth quarter and eased away from the Lynx. Despite shooting a better percentage than Phoenix, the Lynx were unable to stop Phoenix in the paint and, when their offense fell stagnant late, eventually suffered the loss.
For the fourth meeting of the season, the two teams met once again down in Phoenix on August 23 and, once again, the Mercury emerged victorious, winning 79-67. The game was really close…until the second quarter, then the Mercury used their suffocating defense to shut down Minnesota’s offense, outscoring the Lynx 21-9 in the second quarter and carrying that momentum for the rest of the game. Once again the Lynx were held to under 40 percent shooting while allowing the Mercury to clinch the season-series victory over Minnesota. This meeting helped to close a rather difficult month of August for Minnesota, but the Lynx would end the season series on a positive note.
On August 30 the teams met for the fifth and final time of the regular season at Target Center and, with crucial playoff positioning on the line, the Lynx emerged with the win, defeating the Mercury 71-61. Despite nine blocks from Griner, the Lynx still managed 28 points in the paint and a 14 point, 13 rebound performance from Lynx center Sylvia Fowles. Most impressive, Minnesota notched the win despite shooting just 32 percent from the floor.
The one constant through all five regular season match-ups was defense. Both teams relied heavily on their defense but also scored like the best teams in the league. If the regular season match-ups are any indication what is to come tonight, it is certain that fans are going to see a lot of star power and a lot of low-scoring games with tough, physical defense on both ends of the floor.
KEY MATCH-UP: SYLVIA FOWLES VS. BRITTNEY GRINER
After a quiet opening round from Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, one wouldn’t expect her to play such an important role in this series, but, in fact, that is exactly why she is so important for Minnesota. The Lynx made such a huge trade for Fowles because the 6’6, two-time Defensive Player of the Year is going to have to defend Phoenix’s 6’8 two-time Defensive Player of the Year, center Brittney Griner.
In the regular season, Fowles averaged 15.3 points, second-best on the team, and 8.3 rebounds, tops on the team. The playoffs have been a different story for Fowles though, having averaged just 9.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and two blocks in the three games thus far; however, Fowles showed just how dominant she can be in the fourth quarter of game three against the Sparks, scoring nine points in the quarter and willing the Lynx to victory. With such a dominant end to the series, the hope is that Fowles’ great play can carry over and help slow down Griner, although slowing her down seems almost impossible at this point.
Griner enters tonight’s game on an absolutely dominating run after averaging 20.5 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 assists and eight blocks in the opening series against the Shock. Griner has been impossible to slow down offensively and impossible to get through defensively. Fowles is going to face a tough task against Griner but has proven able to slow her in the past, holding her to just 10 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks; hardly slowing her down but a rather quiet night by Griner’s standards.
Everyone knows how great these two players can be and tonight, they will be given the chance to showcase their talents when their teams clash in game one of the Western Conference Finals at Target Center. Both teams make their livings by scoring points in the paint and defending the paint so when they meet tonight it will be strength against strength and we’ll just have to see who comes out on top.
Lynx: PG – Whalen, SG – Augustus, SF – Moore, PF – Brunson, C – Fowles
Mercury: PG – Xargay, SG – Bonner, SF – Currie, PF – Dupree, C – Griner