Minneapolis, MN -- The Minnesota Lynx committed 20 turnovers, leading to 25 points for the Atlanta Dream in game two of the WNBA Finals Tuesday night at Target Center.
That was the bad news, but the 12,312 fans in attendance would never know it, as the good news for the Lynx -- starting with a Finals' record 56.9 percent shooting -- overwhelmed the bad, and for that matter, Atlanta.
Seimone Augustus headlined Minnesota’s marksmanship, making nine of 12 field goals en route to 20 points. All five starters cracked the double-digit mark, illuminating the “balance of terror” that makes the Lynx difficult to defend.
"We wanted to make their defense move around and get the extra passes," said Augustus.
"When we play with tempo, we play with a lot of energy on offense," said Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen.
Energy channeled through Minnesota quickly in the first quarter. After giving up the first four points of the game to Atlanta, Whalen started a 16-4 run to get Minnesota's offense moving. The Lynx never trailed again, but the situation grew slightly tense midway through the second quarter. The Dream scored eight straight points, including a five-point possession, to cut the deficit to 35-27.
Unfortunately for fans hoping for a competitive game, they could not weaken Minnesota's ironclad poise. The Lynx padded the halftime lead to 51-36, and the second half was largely uneventful aside from a game-ending surge to win by 25.
"They did have good pressure altogether," said Minnesota center Janel McCarville, " but (Seimone), Maya (Moore) and Monica (Wright) were able to read it. Quick curls get easy shots."
From the start, Atlanta sought to take the ball through the lane. The problem with that strategy? Minnesota knew exactly where the Dream wanted to go. The Lynx clogged the paint more frequently, disrupting drives and layup attempts, including an emphatic swat from Moore against Angel McCoughtry in the first quarter. Overall, the Dream made only 13 of 30 shots in the paint, for 26 points, making their increased scoring from the outside a moot point. Minnesota matched its paint production from game one, scoring 42 points, and taking away Atlanta's strength,
"It was the backdoor cuts, some of the post-ups off of their deflections, screens off their offense," said Atlanta coach Fred Williams. "That adds up to points in the paint."
With plenty of Atlanta misses inside, rebounds were available for Minnesota, who posted a 40-22 edge on the boards. Rebekkah Brunson had seven rebounds in the first quarter alone and nine in the first half, equaling Atlanta’s total mark in that span. She finished with a double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds), her second of the 2013 postseason.
"The way that she was going to get rebounds was really impressive," said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve. "It helped her a little bit to be close to the glass, not having to run around the perimeter." One reason Brunson was near the backboard was that the Lynx have no fear of Atlanta's perimeter game, allowing defenders and rebounders to cluster in the paint.
Aiding Brunson in the rebound hunt were Moore's eight rebounds and McCarville's seven.
Thriving on pinpoint perimeter shots in game one, Minnesota stepped up its inside game Tuesday. If the Lynx couldn’t penetrate, they used their agility to draw fouls against the Dream. Although Minnesota’s 22-of-31 mark from the free throw line was a pedestrian percentage, drawing fouls neutralized Atlanta’s top threat in McCoughtry. Facing a cycle of four Lynx players, McCoughtry fouled out of the game with 3:54 left in regulation, making only five of 18 shots for 15 points.
"Throwing different looks at her, she's not able to get a read on anybody," said McCarville. "She's never comfortable, and each person is always fresh when they guard her."
Atlanta’s posts were on target, but their guards were off. Armintie Herrington scored the opening basket of the game and was never heard from again. Jasmine Thomas hit only five of 12 shots, and Alex Bentley had a three-of-10 mark from the floor.
With game three of the series on neutral ground at Gwinnett Center in Duluth instead of Atlanta's Phillips Center, the majority of fans and media expect the Lynx to complete a sweep. If they do, Minnesota would be the fifth team in the league's 17-year history to finish a postseason undefeated, and the second to do so under the current format.
To ensure a coveted spot in WNBA history, cutting turnovers will be key, as Atlanta's biggest asset is creating offense in transition. Lindsay Whalen had seven of Minnesota's 20 turnovers, including a few unforced errors.
"We know they're going to try to pressure us and try to force turnovers. If we can handle that, we'll be good," Brunson said.
The Dream's best hope of extending the series through the weekend is getting production out of their guards, and perhaps catch the Lynx on a poor shooting night. Psychologically, the team's frustrations are growing more expressive in a series where they have led for only 2:07. If they cannot make the Lynx pay for cheating inside or set up Erika de Souza and Aneika Henry down low, their winless mark in the Finals (0-8) will likely continue.
"We were mad at ourselves," said Thomas. "We have to stay after the hustle plays. We have to play better defense."