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Sylvia Fowles: 8-20
Epiphanny Prince: 3-11
Allie Quigley: 4-15
Elena Delle Donne: 10 minutes

Add a little double-double from Diana Taurasi, and the Merc say

31587

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Game time!

From Doug: Key story lines for the WNBA conference finals

WOMEN’S WORLD: For the first time in the 18-year history of the WNBA all four teams in the conference finals are coached by women. That guarantees that for the fourth straight year a female coach will guide her team to the title. Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve won in 2011 and 2013. Indiana’s Lin Dunn was the champion in 2012.

”I think it’s great,” said first-year Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello, who was the league’s coach of the year this season. ”There’s a lot of talented female coaches out there, so it’s good to see that.”

From Nate: Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner will be center of attention against Minnesota Lynx

Back before the Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury faced each other at full health the first time just about a month ago, I wrote that the game obviously wouldn’t determine the champion but a Lynx win could very well illuminate just how close these two teams are.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened: the Mercury did come back and beat the Lynx in the final regular season meeting between the two teams on August 9, but we got some insight into a potential determining factor for this series and it was a totally predictable aspect of the game based on the numbers.

From Tim: Minnesota Lynx meet their match Friday in Phoenix

Lynx assistant coach Jim Peter-sen hasn’t been losing sleep this week plotting ways to stop the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA’s Western Conference finals.

“Phoenix is a nightmare in having to game-plan for them, in terms of who do you stop,” Petersen said. “But then you realize, hey, they’re a lot like us. We’re mirror images of one another. In some cases, you lay awake worried about if you’ll play well. This is a case where we lay awake because we’re so excited to play.”

From Tyler Killian: Mercury in for tough finals series against Minnesota

It almost seems unfair.

One team’s season will be over in, at most, three more games.

For two teams that have been head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league like the Mercury and Minnesota Lynx have been this year, a best-of-three series is criminally short to decide who will go on to play for the WNBA championship.

But they have no choice.

From Kent Youngblood: WNBA rivalry rekindled for top two teams in Western Conference

A season later, Seimone Augustus still hears about it.

The Lynx were in the fourth quarter of a Western Conference finals opening-game victory over Phoenix at Target Center when, near midcourt. Mercury guard Diana Taurasi passed the ball, then gave Augustus a little shove. Augustus turned and glared. Taurasi then slammed her shoulder into Augustus. The two were face to face when Taurasi leaned over and gave Augustus a peck on the cheek.

“It was either throw a punch or get a kiss,” Augustus joked this week.

From Randy Hill: More defense is Mercury mantra against Lynx’s Moore

 The Mercury are walking the self-awareness walk at a level never before witnessed in the WNBA.

But swagger of this caliber requires talking the talk as part of a defensive commitment that helped generate the best record in league history.

Also from Randy: Griner hopes to measure up as big difference-maker vs. Lynx

From David: Dishin & Swishin 08/28/14 Podcast: WNBA Western Conference Finals coaches Sandy Brondello & Cheryl Reeve talk about the playoffs

Mechelle chatted:

Shades (Minneapolis): Can you reflect on the career of Lin Dunn and tell us how her presence has impacted the WNBA?

Mechelle Voepel: One of the things that Lin Dunn did was she fully made the transition from being one of the “old guard” college coaches to being a pro coach. And we know those are really different jobs … you can’t coach and deal with pros the same way you do with college kids. Obvious, Dunn’s career at Purdue ended in a difficult way – I won’t get into all that here – and that changed her career path. But she ended up really embracing the pro game. Plus, she showed the resilience you need to have to be a pro coach … sometimes you get fired. Sometimes you realize a player is worth more to the franchise than you are. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad coach. You move on. You keep learning, even as you age. You become a better coach through some of your failures, as well as your successes. Lin Dunn has done all of that, and I think she’s also plotted an “exit strategy” that is to be admired. She helped groom a successor who she’s given a lot of responsibility to. Plus, she’s brought a fun personality that has never changed: She is who she is, and she’ll tell you what she thinks all the time. I admire that.

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Seimone doesn’t pull that… but there is a question to be answered. And she says it has been: Augustus: Car air freshener incident resolved

From Michelle Smith: Jessica Adair keeps dream alive

Jessica Adair is on the court in Los Angeles, working with a Minnesota Lynx assistant coach on her post moves about 90 minutes before tipoff against the Los Angeles Sparks.

She is wearing full sweats, a long-sleeved Lynx T-shirt and making her way deftly around the floor. Through layups, short jumpers and mid-range shots, she moves with ease and grace — even lightness.

That is not something she could always claim.

From Nate: How Minnesota escaped the Western Conference playoffs and returned to the WNBA Finals and The top five WNBA rookies: Who was snubbed from the 2012 All-Rookie Team. I guess Coach K doesn’t count, huh?

On the game tomorrow:

From the Courant: Katie Douglas Stands In Sun’s Path

From the Indy Star: Win or go home: Fever will put it all on the line in Game 3

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to make a game winning – and season extending – shot huh? Says Mechelle:

Indiana guard Briann January had to admit afterward that the closing sequence was a blur in her mind. This much January knew: She had missed a shot that would have been the game winner, but she wasn’t about to let up then.

“We want this so bad,” January said. “We’re going to give everything we have. That buzzer hadn’t sounded. You play until that thing goes off.”

Indeed, time hadn’t run out on the Fever yet in this game. And because January kept hustling, time hasn’t run out on Indiana’s season, either.

Writes David: Indiana Fever beat the buzzer

In an election year in which sides become polarized, the Indiana Fever have been refreshingly centrist. The left has merit. So does the right.

At crunch time Monday night, the left-handed Katie Douglas scored from the right. The right-handed Tamika Catchings scored from the left.

From Mike Peden: Zellous keeps Fever boiling to force third game with Sun

The Minnesota Lynx will have to wait a few more days to scout their eventual WNBA Finals opponent.

The “blame” can be placed on Indiana Fever guard Shavonte Zellous, who drained a long jumper with 0.5 seconds left in regulation, giving the Fever a 78-76 win Monday night over the Connecticut Sun in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals.

From the twittersphere:

Matt Zemek@mzemek

If U caught the end of Game 2 of the WNBA East Finals, congratulations. You saw pure NCAA tournament-style nuttiness. #BANANASInIndianapolis

Matt Zemek@mzemek

Do be sure to catch the final 20 seconds of the Connecticut-Indiana WNBA game on a highlight show, YouTube, or some other video outlet.

@WNBAlien

Holy cow what a finish. What a pass by Catch. What a miss by January. What a save by January. What a shot by Zellous. Wow. #wnba

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We were one, off-balance, rim-tickling shot away from getting a game three between LA and Minny.

I guess you could, as the headline on Smith’s piece says, the Lynx “overcame” Candace’s 33, but looking at the stats, you can also see that the Sparks didn’t have a bench — well, not a bench that could impact this game.

Yes, when Candace nailed an improbable (and TV pleasing three), I’m sure fans (and the Lynx) were having Seattle flashbacks. BUT, then Monica nailed the counter-three,  (Flashback number 2:Minnesota Lynx coach: ‘We’re better’ than last year, thanks in part to talented reserves) and the ball ended up in Beard’s hands. Great defense by the Lynx (who may have had fresher legs) and Alana couldn’t carry her team back to Minnesota.

It hurt to see Candace bent over in pain. But that’s the blessing and curse of sports, isn’t it — all but one end up losers. Said (congrats coach of the year, though I still would have voted for K) Ross:

“Either it wasn’t a good play or it wasn’t executed very well,” Ross said. “You are so frustrated with every decision you make in a one-point [loss]. I will probably spend way too much time scrutinizing it.”

Interesting to read Nate’s Notes on watching the game on tape.

It’s 72-71 with just under 6 minutes left after a Whalen layup and this has been a great game: outstanding individual performances, the Sparks playing some of their best defense for about five minutes, and both teams seizing momentum for extended stretches before the other team grabbed a hold of it. The question down the stretch is who will have more energy left to dig in and win this game with championship-caliber execution at both ends.

Heartache aside, it was a great game to have on national TV. Thank you, players & coaches.

Oh, and congrats to Mama Taj on her 500th game.

That being said, LA, and the rest of the West, better work on getting a bench —  ’cause right now, Minny’s got the young legs to carry them for a while.

Next up: Can Connecticut’s mix of young and new take down the Indy vets.

From the Courant: Sun Hope To Keep Bottling Up Catchings, Playing Up Charles

From the Norwich Bulletin: Connecticut not underestimating Indiana

The lesson has already been delivered to the Connecticut Sun this season by the Indiana Fever: underestimate us at your own peril.

On June 19, the Sun were feeling pretty good about themselves after an 88-85 win over Indiana at home. The two teams both packed up and left the Mohegan Sun Arena together, bound for Indianapolis where two days later, the Fever smoked Connecticut by 34 points, the worst loss of the season for the Sun.

For a while the other night, they could have darkened the scoreboards at Mohegan Sun Arena and measured the first game of the Eastern Conference finals by first downs.And so while the venue changes tonight (to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 8 p.m., ESPN2), the narrative changes (only one team’s season could end) what remains steadfast is this: The Connecticut Sun and Indiana Fever will use each other for punching bags.

Did you catch this by Graham after the first game? Charles’ true value shines in third

On those nights it’s not in use by the Connecticut Sun, Mohegan Sun Arena is a stop for musical acts that, frankly, often saw their best days long before the WNBA came on the scene.

Eddie Money, Journey (with special guest Loverboy, no less), Meat Loaf, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, all will pass through this corner of Connecticut in the next few weeks alone. They are safe bookings, familiar names that will draw crowds who don’t really care if they are any good now, happy to pay for the memories of when they were.

But on nights when they lay down the basketball court and leave the lights on, Tina Charles offers reminders of what it’s like to see a star ascending, a performer growing into the role each time she takes the stage. And her performance in the opening game of the Eastern Conference finals between the Connecticut Sun and the Indiana Fever deserved an encore, never more than when she let loose with a solo in the third quarter.

Graham also added this: January meets challenges head on

What’s left to do won’t be easy for the Indiana Fever. Should inspiration be required, they might do well to look to the difficult path Briann January trod simply to have a season she can put on the line.

More importantly, they will look to her for the points, assists and defense that could make all the difference.

From David Woods: Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings will try to snap a cold spell

As the WNBA’s five-time Defensive Player of the Year, Tamika Catchings can stop almost anyone.Conversely, everyone tries to stop Catchings. That is, if she is not stopping herself.

Also, from the NY Times: Amid Successes, W.N.B.A. Is Still Facing Challenges

With all the good news that it has to shout about, the W.N.B.A. may be the quietest professional sports league in the United States.

The challenge, we all know, is rooted around narrative. Remember how important it was when ESPN — hate’em or love’em — decided to broadcast ALL the NCAA tourney games? The W needs to actively court bloggers, writters, videographers and ESPN. And when they GET a game on national TV, they need to make sure that every single seat is filled — whatever that takes. The story on the court — and off the court — has improved. We’re just not telling that story to enough audiences.

Part of that is reminding them that the W exists. It’s pretty awful that the NYTimes doesn’t carry the W on their scoreboard, and Laurel should be crawling up their butt about that. But what about SB Nation, home of Swish Appeal? Their banner lists the major men’s sports, golf, fantasy… there’s no WNBA. There’s no listing for women’s college basketball (even though the link title is CBB). Heck, the W ain’t even listed under “More.” But “Horse Racing” is. That needs to be changed.

Hey, Nate — need some help making your voice heard? Holler! I’m sure we can get enough fan response. Right?

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’cause it’s time to bring it v. the Lynx.  (Remember this from the 20th of September: Sparks deliver warning shot to Lynx)

And that’s not just because the game is on ABC at 3:30pm and there might be a national audience. It’s because if you don’t, you’re out.

It’s the lovely — and tough — reality of the WNBA playoffs. It’s tough to get a narrative going with the short series. But it sure does ramp up the pressure and tension. We’ll see if, as Mechelle writes, Lynx have Sparks on their heels

Candace Parker was irritated by her team’s indecisive pick-and-roll defense and lack of overall fight. DeLisha Milton-Jones saw a deficient sense of urgency. Alana Beard thought the Sparks didn’t defend or rebound well enough to get their all-important transition game going. Kristi Toliver felt the Sparks started the game back on their heels, and never recovered.

Coach Carol Ross noticed all of the above, along with delivering the quintessential coach’s line, “I’m going to have to look at film to review it all, but …”

It was bad, period. However, it’s because the Sparks are such a good team that they can be that blunt about it.

From the Star Tribune: Rebound machine Rebekkah Brunson keeps on chugging and Coach applauds Whalen for playing through pain.

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Candace got her points, but the rest of the Sparks fell flat – especially when it came to rebounding or defending the three. Minny, anchored by the *coulda been a Lib, no I’m not bitter, what makes you think so* fierce Becky Brunson, had their scoring satellites in sync and spanked L.A.

Whalen’s play gave me flashbacks to her college days, when she came back from a hand injury to scorch UCLA in the opening round of the NCAA tourney. Writes Mechelle:

Sure, Minnesota had some concerns about Lindsay Whalen. The wrap isn’t on her shooting hand, but it’s still a bit troublesome.

“Everybody has worries when your point guard has a sprained wrist,” Minnesota Lynx teammate Seimone Augustus said. “It was great to see her come out and be aggressive and not show any fear, to see her playing as usual.”

Whalen did indeed look like her normal self Thursday, and so did the Lynx. Those concerns about Minnesota being too worn down by its first-round series with Seattle? About Whalen’s left-wrist issues? About Maya Moore’s shooting struggles in the fourth quarter?

None of those things were any problem as the Lynx decisively beat the Los Angeles Sparks 94-77 Thursday in Game 1 of the WNBA’s Western Conference finals.

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start all over again….

ESPN 2 – 8PM EST: Sparks v. Lynx in Minneapolis: Preview

Despite barely surviving, the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx were content with their performance in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Lynx’s happiness in the Western Conference finals might hinge on whether they can add to their superb record at home and take advantage of the Los Angeles Sparks’ inconsistency on the road.

Mechelle writes: Lynx say fatigue won’t be factor – Minnesota, Los Angeles split four regular-season meetings

Did having to go the distance against the Storm weaken Minnesota’s 2012 championship chances? What about Lindsay Whalen’s wrist injury? How about the fact that the Sparks — who finished the regular season a few days before the other WNBA teams and then swept San Antonio in the first round — have played less basketball in the past two weeks than the Lynx have?

Not surprisingly, both sides downplayed the “rest” factor. Los Angeles coach Carol Ross shrugged when asked if the Sparks benefited from being done with their series earlier.

She’s also got: Douglas, Fever ready to face Sun: Friday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).

The last time the Connecticut Sun made it to the WNBA Finals, Katie Douglas was a big reason why. This year, she’ll try to be a key part of keeping the Sun from playing for a league title.

From the Pioneer Press: Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen takes broken finger, bruised wrist into L.A. series

From the Minny Star Tribune: Brunson enjoying herself in Lynx’s playoff run

From SB Nation: Lynx preparing for offensive-minded Sparks

From Nate: WNBA Western Conference Finals preview: Point guard play will figure prominently for Lynx, Sparks

From the LA Times (FINALLY): Sparks face tall order vs. Minnesota Lynx in WNBA playoffs

From the Hartford Courant: Connecticut Sun-Indiana Fever: Each Team Hot After WNBA Title and Sun Well-Rested For Series With Indiana

The Day adds Supporting cast serves Sun well

You are a Connecticut Sun fan. You are asked why your team is 27-9, champion of the regular season and about to begin the conference finals Friday night.

They survived 14 games without Asjha Jones, you say.

Tina Charles, the Most Valuable Player, has been a horse, you say.

Kara Lawson hasn’t missed a shot since around Easter, you say.

You would be right on all counts.

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From Seth at SBNation Arizona: Phoenix Mercury Playoffs: Beating Seattle With A Secret Weapon (WHB note: guess it ain’t so secret now, huh, Seth?) The Phoenix Mercury are confident they can beat the Seattle Storm despite a 1-10 head-to-head record over the last two years

From Kirotv: Robinson Becomes Major Contributor For Storm

When the Seattle Storm open defense of their WNBA title on Thursday night, center Ashley Robinson will be playing for more than just herself, her teammates and the team’s vociferous fans. She’ll also be playing for Pat Summit, the heralded women’s basketball coach at national power Tennessee who helped make it possible for Robinson to have a life as a professional player — and who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

At the Indiana .com site, Tom Rietmann writes: Phillips, Catchings ready for playoffs

Point guard Erin Phillips sat out the Indiana Fever’s final two regular-season games with a sprained ankle, but there’s little chance the gritty Australian will miss her team’s playoff opener.

Not in light of what’s at stake. And not with Phillips’ parents in the United States for the first time since 2006 to see her play a WNBA game.

At the AJC it’s Michael Cunningham, not the AP, writing: After slow start, Dream streak into playoffs

The Dream finished the season as the hottest team in the East with victories in four consecutive games and 12 of their past 15.

“Everybody has their season, [and] I feel like this is our season,” McCoughtry said. “I feel it. I can’t explain it. I just feel good. I feel like we are going to go in there and play hard and do what we can do.”

More details on league-wide stuff: WNBA’s 15th Season Delivers Increased Attendance and TV Viewership

Check out the Pre-Playoff Conference Call Transcript to hear what the Rebecca Lobo, Carolyn Peck, the coaches, Swin, Angel, Cappie and Lindsay had to say.

Will the media follow the .com’s Race to the MVP conclusions?

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