Western Conference Finals: Epic Matchup
To be the best, you have to beat the best. That goes for both the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx this year.
By Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
The Minnesota Lynx defeated the San Antonio Silver Stars and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history Tuesday night. The atmosphere inside the Target Center was something not seen in the building for years and the Lynx players enjoyed it just as much as the fans who cheered them to victory.
“Every step along the way, you have to enjoy it,” said Candice Wiggins. “For me, the greatest part of tonight along with winning as a team, it was awesome to see the fans and the energy of Target Center. That’s something that I’ve longed to see for a long time is the Target Center looking the way it did. That’s incredible. For me, yes, it is just a step along the way and it’s only going to get better and better, but dang, am I happy to see that. Thank you to all the fans and the city for coming out and giving us energy.”
Each and every player in Minnesota’s locker room was, of course, happy with the victory, but since they set higher goals for themselves in the off-season they cannot allow themselves to take too much pleasure out of the win. It is only another step towards their ultimate goal.
“It feels good to be able to continue towards our goal,” said Rebekkah Brunson. “If you don’t get it tonight, then the goals we had don’t matter. We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish them, so we’re glad that we finally got back to being able to play the way we need to play to be able to win. Now, it’s time to look forward. This is over. This really doesn’t matter anymore because we have some things to look forward to and we have some business to handle. Right now we have to look forward and focus in on Phoenix.”
As they prepare for the quick turnaround of playing San Antonio and beginning a new series with the Phoenix Mercury, the Lynx players know they have work to do. Reflecting back on what worked against San Antonio is one thing, but executing those same things against a much better Phoenix team is another.
“The difference was our intensity, our sense of urgency and sharing the ball,” said Brunson. “We got everybody involved. It wasn’t just one person or two people. Everybody did their part. If we play collectively as a unit, as a team, we end up with outcomes like that.”
As the number one seed, it would have been slightly understandable to overlook a number four seed and begin to prepare mentally for the second round. Of course, the Minnesota Lynx refused to do that.
“I wasn’t really thinking about Phoenix at all, even when I heard that they won,” said Wiggins. “I wasn’t thinking about Phoenix because it was all about San Antonio, but now it’s like a switch. Bam, now it’s Phoenix that we’re thinking about. You’ve got media in the room talking about San Antonio, but we’re thinking about Phoenix.”
Minnesota was a bit of Jekyll and Hyde in their series with SA. They believe they found themselves again in the final quarter of Game Two in San Antonio, although that game was eventually a loss. They built on that by getting back to the team who finished the regular season with a dominating 27-7 record in Game Three at home in front of their home crowd.
“I think the best part of tonight was we played like ourselves,” said Maya Moore. “We finally got back into our flow and our chemistry on the court offensively finally felt pretty good for the majority of the game and defensively we were helping each other, getting rebounds and making it tough for them to get shots within the flow. That was the best part. Not just securing the win, but playing well.”
“Hopefully, that other team is gone,” adds Brunson, referring to the Lynx team seen in Games One and Two against San Antonio. “We just have to stay focused in. I think right now, it’s just mental. Physically, we know what we have to do and I think we have all the pieces necessary to win and be successful, but we just have to mentally tough, mentally there. We know we have to execute, we know we have to get everybody involved and we have to play our game.”
Knowing the championship pedigree the Phoenix Mercury have, the Lynx know their level of play and trust in each other must be at it’s highest starting now. Phoenix has their own championship aspirations and will not feel bad in the slightest for taking Minnesota out if they smell blood in the water.
“They play up-tempo, they have experience in the playoffs, they have a great coach, great team, great player in Diana Taurasi, but we have great players too,” said Wiggins. “We’re both just very talented teams and we know each other very well. It’s always a battle. It’s a mental and physical battle with Phoenix and it always will be. Now, it’s clash of the titans.”
“It’s going to be exciting,” adds Moore. “Phoenix is a great offensive team, they push the tempo, they’re physical and it’s going to be a really fun Western Conference Finals.”
Phoenix will show no mercy if the opportunity presents itself, but the renewed Minnesota Lynx feel exactly the same. Yes, they won the regular season series with Phoenix three games to two, but this is the playoffs and nothing else matters. Right now, they are 0 and 0. That will change tomorrow night.
“I think this team—which we’ve proven all year—when we play well, we feel unstoppable,” said Moore. “When we don’t bring it all, we can be exploited. This league is good enough that if you’re not on top of your game, you’ll get beat. We feel like we’re a team that when we come and we bring everything that we have, we bring that focus, that competitiveness, that energy and staying together, we feel unstoppable and nobody can take us out of what we want to do.”
This is the matchup that many wanted. Well, you got it. Now, if the Minnesota Lynx want to be the best, they will have to beat the best.