MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Their disappointing experience last year showed the Minnesota Lynx the danger of a loss at home to open the WNBA Finals.
This time, they left no doubt about who’s in early control of the series.
Maya Moore had 23 points, including three 3-pointers in the first quarter to fuel a strong start, and the Lynx delivered a dominant 84-59 victory over the Atlanta Dream in Game 1 on Sunday night.
“I think we’re setting ourselves up for success,” said Monica Wright, who pitched in 20 points off the bench and teamed with Rebekkah Brunson to fluster league scoring leader Angel McCoughtry into 6-for-24 shooting for 17 points plus five turnovers.
Moore shot 10 for 16 from the floor and grabbed seven rebounds, and Seimone Augustus scored her usual 19 points. The Lynx led the entire game, shot 49.4 percent from the field and stymied the Dream into 0-for-15 shooting from 3-point range.
“People will doubt us already, but that’s OK. We’ll be back for a dogfight on Tuesday,” McCoughtry said. “Everybody has cold days. This is a cold day.”
Aneika Henry added 14 points, but Jasmine Thomas shot 3-for-15 from the floor. The Dream fell to 0-7 in the finals since 2010. They were swept by Seattle in 2010 and the Lynx in 2011.
Game 2 is here in Minnesota again on Tuesday night, with the best-of-five matchup shifting to Georgia for Game 3 on Thursday night.e
“They looked really good. They were sharp. And we got hit in the mouth,” said Dream guard Armintie Herrington.
Their four-game loss to Indiana in the finals last season not forgotten, the Lynx have played with even more of an edge this season, welcoming the tenacity, strength and slick passing ability of center Janel McCarville to the lineup to join her old pal Lindsay Whalen from their days together at the University of Minnesota.
Henry and Erika de Souza gave the Dream some early production inside, but the Lynx didn’t bother tussling much with them in the post. They snagged the defensive rebounds they needed, enjoying a 31-19 advantage in that category, and simply launched swish after swish from the corners and the wings with some hustling, highlight-reel fast breaks mixed in.
“She knows that the starters, they’re going to go head to head and beat each other up, and it’s really about the peripheral players,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.
The Lynx went on a 15-0 run in the second quarter to pull away, with five players scoring during the spurt. They had 14 assists in the first half, to four for the Dream.
McCoughtry started the third quarter by clanking a 3-pointer off the rim. Then she had a fast-break layup stolen by Whalen on the next possession, her complaint to the officials for a foul call ignored. A little later in that period, McCarville leveled McCoughtry with a jarring screen. Then she peeled off, caught a pass and swished a jump shot for a 48-31 lead. The players ran by as McCoughtry sat on the court, still dazed from the collision.
Then right before the buzzer at the end of the quarter, Augustus hit a 3-pointer to push the advantage to 68-43. She pivoted and pumped her fist in celebration.
“You could sense the frustration, like the body language of their team,” Augustus said. “Once Angel was out of it, that’s the leader of their team. The team kind of falls to the side a little bit.”
McCarville had seven points, five rebounds and four assists while fighting through a bad back.
Moore had 27 points in the clinching game of the Western Conference finals over Phoenix and has 109 points in five playoff games this year. The Lynx improved to 26-0 this year when outshooting their opponent and 26-1 when giving up less than 80 points.
The streaky Dream brought the lowest regular season winning percentage of any team to reach the WNBA Finals, their 10-1 start having disappeared during a slew of injuries. After losing nine of 12 games including their playoff opener to Washington, they reeled off four straight wins to get here.
But the Lynx are quite the formidable opponent, as evidenced by that decisive third quarter.
“We don’t want to ever relax. The work that we do in the first half, we want to make sure that that means something, and so in order to protect what we just did we have to go out and play just as well or better in the second to build momentum,” Moore said. “This is a long series, and every second that we give them life is a memory that they take into Game 2.”