MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- It was supposed to be championship game, not a scrimmage between the varsity and JVs -- but if not for a rabid crowd of more than13,000 packing the seats at Target Center, Minnesota's 84-59 demolition of the Atlanta Dream could easily have been taken for a preseason practice between the stars and the benchwarmers.
Then again, many expected this kind of result, given the Lynx balance of talent, and the flawless demonstration of the team's skills and teamwork cast Atlanta as helpless bystanders in a high-level basketball clinic.
Atlanta never led, and the game escaped the Dream's grasp in the second quarter when they suffered a 5:10 scoring drought. Minnesota took advantage with a 15-0 run that energized the crowd and ultimately kept Atlanta without a Finals' win in seven attempts.
The Lynx led by as much as 31, and their separation was so huge that Reeve could afford to bring in her bench players for the last five minutes, allowing her core to recharge for a quick turnaround on Tuesday for game two.
Minnesota's firepower was not limited to a single burst. Six Lynx players recorded five or more rebounds, helping them to a 44-35 advantage in that category, and they also recorded 23 assists (to Atlanta's eight), but the biggest influence in Minnesota's blowout win was shooting accuracy. The Lynx hit 49.4 percent of their field goals, including five-of-10 from three-point range. The Dream only converted 31.2 percent from the floor, and bricking all 15 of their three-point attempts, which allowed Minnesota defenders to sag off Atlanta shooters and prevent drives to the hoop.
"That's got to cut in half," said Atlanta coach Fred Williams, referring the number of long-distance shots. "We've got to take threes sometimes because teams pack it in the paint and leave it open out there, but we've got to get away from that, take one dribble and take the hard two, as I call it."
With Atlanta unable to capitalize on Minnesota's tendency to allow perimeter shots, the Dream could not draw coverage away from the paint. In fact, of Atlanta's 36 attempts outside the lane, only two went in the basket.
The Lynx offered several examples of how to hit long deuces and treys: Maya Moore hit three triples in a row to highlight her 23-point night; Seimone Augustus, the team's mid- to long-range specialist, hit nine of 15 field goals for 19 points; and Monica Wright came off the bench in prime form, scoring 20 points for a playoff career high, hitting her mark on jumpers and fade-aways.
"Because our offense was so good, they weren't able to get points on the other end," Augustus said. "They feed off of turnovers and easy baskets."
Angel McCoughtry scored 17 points, but she was forced into multiple jump shots, known as a hindrance to her offensive production. She even clanked a wide-open transition layup during the first quarter, one of many mishaps in a six-of-24 shooting effort.
"Angel went through the lane, split the defense and came out empty. That enabled Minnesota to come on some runouts," Williams said.
"They were trying to get between help defenders and I thought our help defenders did a nice job of walling up," said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve. "We competed for boards in that stretch and that allowed us to get separation."
Jasmine Thomas was even worse than McCoughtry, taking a postseason high 15 shots, only to sink three of them.
Beyond mathematical calculations, the Lynx also parlayed their hustle and synchronicity to great effect, intangibles the Dream could not replicate. Midway through the third quarter, for example, Lindsay Whalen tried to hook Wright up downcourt for a transition score. The pass was deflected, but Wright won the loose ball scramble and alertly dished to Moore, who put in an uncontested layup.
Nitpicking was the only way to any serious flaw with Minnesota, with Devereaux Peters flubbing several times on passing routes, but her seven rebounds and two blocks made those mistakes minor.
"We've had a week of very good practices," said Peters. "My practice guys do a great job imitating Atlanta and their style of play, so we were very prepared."
However, posts Peters, Rebekkah Brunson and Janel McCarville must neutralize Atlanta's advantage down low for game two. Although Sancho Lyttle's broken foot kept her sidelined for Sunday's game, the Dream still put up 44 points in the paint, with Aneika Henry and Erika de Souza making the most of their touches.
Henry was the only player with a double-double, getting 14 points and 14 rebounds while de Souza added 10 points and 7 boards -- and should some perimeter shots fall for Atlanta, that could be an issue for the Lynx.
"Game two is going to be a whole different situation if they come out, hit shots and still get the offensive rebounds," McCarville said.
If Atlanta wants to flip the script, there is no way around making outside shots to open things up, and even that may not guarantee a chance to win on Tuesday. Minnesota has come away with victories in multiple scenarios during the 2013 playoff run, displaying an enhanced versatility that would likely rank this squad above the 2011 group, should the Lynx win the championship.
That last caveat, though, assumes the varsity shows up for the Dream on Tuesday. Sunday, it looked more like women against girls.
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