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September 28, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Game Day: Game 1 of the WNBA’s Western Conference playoff series between past two league champs

WrightVMoore.jpgThe WNBA playoffs began Thursday and it’s no surprise the toughest matchup was in the Western Conference. No. 2 seed Los Angeles rallied from a 10-point third-quarter deficit to beat No. 3 seed San Antonio 93-86. There were 18 lead changes and 11 ties in the game.
All-Star Candace Parker had a big fourth quarter finishing with 25 points while Kristi Toliver was Kristi Toliver. Awarded the league’s Most Improved Award, she finished with a game-high 29 before about 5,000 fans at Galen Center.
The best-of-three series was played on USC’s campus because of the Batman Live show at Staples Center. Saturday’s game will be at San Antonio’s Freeman Coliseum because the Red Hot Chili Peppers are holding a concert at the AT&T Center.
Sigh. Remember when the WNBA required teams to schedule-in playoff dates? Maybe it should fix that, too.
Anyway, keeping the focus on the game, Parker was a superhero herself. Benched most of the third quarter for poor play, she scored 15 points in the final 13 minutes of the game — including six FTs in the final 34 seconds — to seal the win.


Seattle’s WNBA fans probably didn’t see the game with Washington’s upset of No. 8 Stanford in college football played on ESPN. (I flipped between channels)
That shouldn’t be the case Friday. The real bite will be the Minnesota-Seattle series featuring the WNBA’s past two league champions. And the fourth-seeded Storm (16-18) hopes to pull the upset against overall top-seeded Minnesota (27-7) with a healthy roster.
It’ll be the sixth time this season that Seattle has played with a complete squad, going 3-2 in the regular-season games. None were against Minnesota with three-time MVP Lauren Jackson.
“If I can help, that would be great,” Jackson said Thursday, adding she feels good after a recent hamstring flare up. “But it’s going to be a collective team effort. We can’t rely on one or two people to play well, then I just think it’s going to be a good series.”
At practice on Thursday the Storm was loose and visibly healthy. PG Sue Bird did do a lot of yawing, but C Ann Wauters dunked before the session, so her Achilles is fine. Jackson put a skull and cross bone design on her nails instead of the standard black, so she’s tapping her inner fighter and G Tanisha Wright beamed the brightest smile I’ve seen in an interview, so she’s feeling good.
Of course none of that has to do with execution against the league’s best offensive team (85.9). But Seattle’s signature is defense, holding opponents to a WNBA-best 71.6 points. Mix in some strong rebounding and offensive chemistry and you have another competitive Western Conference matchup.
The most important piece could be Storm F Camille Little against Lynx F Rebekkah Brunson. Minnesota gets most of its advantage from Brunson’s rebounding (8.4). Little will have to hang with her under the hoop to keep Seattle in the game. Both teams can spread the offense with multiple shooters, including Little’s improved shot from three-point range (33.3 percent).
“It’s going to be a tough matchup, but they’re (Minnesota) beatable,” said former Storm reserve Le’coe Willingham. Her Chicago Sky team defeated the Lynx 83-70 on Sept. 11. Minnesota G Seimone Augustus didn’t play due to a sprained right foot.
“Everyone’s beatable and Seattle can beat them,” Willingham continued. “If Seattle comes in and Lauren and Sue are playing well, that’s a tough matchup for anybody. Minnesota will have its hands full as well.”
Still, Minnesota is scary good. Media proclaimed the Lynx a dynasty since it won the 2011 title because of their youth and returning most of the roster. But a dynasty means you’ve won more than one title. The last time a WNBA team won back-to-back championships was L.A. in 2002-01. And the only WNBA dynasty remains the defunct Houston Comets (RIP), which won four straight from 1997-00.
The Lynx are reporting that reserve Amber Harris returned to practice after suffering from mono. Augusts, the team’s leading scorer (16.6), is also reportedly healthy. No, Storm fans, nothing is wrong with all-everything Maya Moore. She’s averaging a monstrous 18.5 points since winning her first Olympic gold medal.
Game time is set for 6 p.m. PT on ESPN2.
There’s one other game on the network in No. 2 seed Indiana hosting No. 3 seed Atlanta. This afternoon 2011 MVP Tamika Catchings was awarded her fifth overall Defensive Player of the Year honor.
The Fever-Dream series should be more competitive than top-seeded Connecticut’s 65-60 win against Cappie Pondexter, err, New York. Yes, the final score is close. That’s because the Sun relaxed to allow a double-digit advantage slip late.
The WNBA dumped most of its regular-season awards on the Sun prior to the game, including the 2013 All-Star game. Connecticut C Tina Charles won MVP, reserve G Renee Montgomery is the Sixth Player of the Year while PG Kara Lawson was given the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship award.
*PHOTO CREDIT: Maya Moore (L) of the Lynx looks to make a move on the Storm’s Tanisha Wright by Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune

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