MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Midway through the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, Minnesota power forward Rebekkah Brunson rose in the lane toward the basket with her team trying to mount a rally.
Indiana center Erlana Larkins delivered the emphatic rejection.
Brunson was knocked to the floor as her shot was swatted, and Minnesota’s chance to win the series opener essentially fell down with her. The Lynx were trailing 65-62 with about five minutes left, but they never came closer. The Fever quickly tacked on a layup on the other end and cruised to a 76-70 victory on Sunday night.
“It was what I call a thunder block,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said. “She is rising up and she just slides that ball, and it just kind of set the tone: ‘Hey, we’re here for real, and we are ready to play.'”
The Lynx, looking to become the league’s first repeat champion in 10 years, are at full attention.
“We want to make sure that we’re not a team that gets out-hungered. That is really important,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said, adding: “We’ve got a lot to overcome, and we’ll see if we’re able to.”
Game 2 is Wednesday night at Target Center, before the best-of-five series shifts to Indiana for Game 3 on Friday night.
“We’ve got a lot of competitors on our team that really hate to lose, so I guess in Game 2 you’ll see the difference,” Lynx shooting guard Seimone Augustus said. “You’ll see us come out and be a little bit more aggressive from start to finish. We’re going to play and give it all that we have.”
The Fever spent Monday getting massages at a spa before reconvening for practice on Tuesday. The two-day layoff between games probably wasn’t enough for veteran shooting guard Katie Douglas, though. After spraining her left ankle in the last game of the Eastern Conference finals, Douglas was missing from Game 1. Dunn said she’s improving but unlikely to play Wednesday.
“Hopeful for Friday,” Dunn said.
So the Fever will continue to lean on their tallest ladies, with Larkins and Tamika Catchings inside. They combined for 36 points, 21 rebounds and five blocks in Game 1 and held Lynx post players Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin to a total of 16 points and 14 rebounds.
“We had a great week of practice. We went over everything we could have possibly gone over, but they came out and they were ready to win,” Brunson said. “They played great.”
Catchings is still chasing her first WNBA championship at age 33. Larkins was out of the league the last two years before joining the Fever this season. No matter the perspective or the experience, the motivation is the same.
“When you’ve never won a title you approach it a little bit different than trying to defend a title,” Dunn said. “We’ve got players that had a taste of the finals in 2009, and they know what it was like and how close they came. It was almost like they had their hands on the trophy and it got snatched away.”
The Fever lost to the Phoenix Mercury in five games in 2009. So they’re not comfortable by simply taking the home-court advantage.
“We know that they’re going to come out Wednesday, and they’re going to be a much different team and much better,” Catchings said. “And for us, we have to continue to get better too.”
Added point guard Erin Phillips: “They’re going to come in so hungry, so aggressive. They’re the defending champions, and they’re here for the second time for a reason. They’re a great team. … We can’t just sit around and be satisfied that we won Game 1 and give ourselves a pat on the back, and that’s it. It’s going to be a much harder game.”
The Lynx pride themselves on their bounce-back ability, so they’re expecting the same: a more aggressive performance.
“I’m hoping we won’t lose two in a row,” Augustus said. “We’ve been good at that point, bouncing back in tough-game situations, and this is the perfect example, the perfect time for us to be able to bounce back and go to Indiana and steal one on the road or steal two on the road and pull this championship out.”
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