SEASON OVER: For the seventh time in the past nine consecutive playoff appearances, the Storm made a first-round exit. Brunson said the game felt like Western Conference Final as it took her defense on Jackson to prevent a possible game-winning 11-foot turnaround jumper with 1.2 seconds remaining in the game. Lynx won 73-72 at Target Center. Minnesota (2-1) advances to play Los Angeles in the best-of-three Western Conference finals at home on Thursday. Seattle returns to its home on Wednesday, holding exit interviews on Thursday. Jackson made a three-pointer to send her team into overtime in Game 2 on Sunday at KeyArena, eventually winning in double-overtime. She finished the series 6-for-19 from the field, but couldn’t pull a miracle twice. The Storm was in a scramble before the play. Down one after a Bird three-pointer and needing a defensive stop, the Storm got one in Little forcing Whalen into a missed 7-footer. Jackson collected the rebound, tumbling over Wright. In transition, Smith didn’t use the Storm’s final timeout as she crossed half-court with about five seconds remaining. Agler stepped in and called one with 3.3 on the clock. A play was designed for Jackson inside. But Bird, after bumping into Jackson in the paint, was open on the wing. With time ticking Smith in-bounded the ball to Jackson. It missed and the season is over. “We should have either called timeout immediately or we should have probably played in transition,” said Bird, who was 7 for 18 from the field for a team-high 19 points. “It’s hard in the heat of the moment. It’s loud. We just weren’t on same page and it’s unfortunate we put ourselves in a situation where we had to find a shot with 3.3 seconds. It could have played out differently. With that being said, we got a pretty decent look, it just didn’t go in…The way the play unfolded, I think Katie felt she was running out of time and saw Lauren. I almost ran into Lauren as I was going to the corner. Either shot we would have gotten between Lauren and myself would have been a good look. I think our mistake came — and that’s all of us — is we weren’t on the same page. That’s what’s most disappointing. It’s very unlike us…What’s the point in dribbling up and calling a timeout? It just waste time that at that point we needed.” It’s hard to nitpick the game much further. Augustus (19 points) was 6-for-8 from the field in the second half and still the Lynx only won by one. Whalen again struggled in leading her team, getting tagged for fouls early that took her out of the game and shooting 2-for-9 overall. And still the defending champion Lynx only inched ahead of the Storm to the conference finals. Wauters said the reality of the loss hadn’t sunk in. The team started the season 1-7, dealt with numerous injuries and player absences and still it even had a chance. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have this team at the beginning of the year,” said Bird of a regular-season that finished at 16-18. “If this is what we look like? I don’t know, a couple weeks all together, imagine what it could have been like. Now, obviously, you never know.”
BUZZER LOVER: Smith nailed a jumper at the buzzer to make the score 56-52. Apparently it’s the Storm’s shot. But it’s not getting them a lead. Jackson is still 0-for-5 and Little also missed at the hoop. The Storm is going to have to make those. Smith spoke before the game about not making little mistakes to win. Headed into the fourth quarter, can it be done? I’m out to write the newspaper version. Moore has a game-high 20 points while Augustus has 19. Little has 17 for the Storm and Bird chipped in 13 despite often working out the kink in her right hip.
SHIVERING WAUTERS: Wauters is 1 for 6 from the field. The misses have be slightly open and greatly needed to close the gap. Seattle is down 52-48 after a coast-to-coast layin by Bird. There’s 2:06 left in the third quarter.
ILLUSION: The deficit is only six points for the Storm, but feels bigger the way Augustus is snapping nets again. The latest with 6:14 left in the third quarter pushed the lead to 47-41 and Agler called time. In Game 2, Jackson said Agler knew how to read the team to make the right adjustments to get the offense going. He’ll nee to do that now. Augustus has 15, six in the quarter.
OBSERVATION: I’d much rather watch a basketball game like the old days when there wasn’t a circus of music, mascots and hype-men at every break and during play. But one thing that irks me about Target Center is how much coaching the crowd needs to cheer. Or at least it seems that way because the hype-man won’t chill like KeyArena’s Shellie Hart does at times. I still think the WNBA should give the All-Star to the Lynx (if wanted) one season. There’s passion here. Take the training wheels off.
HOT DAMN: It’s a family blog. But damn, there’s some ballers on the court. Moore nailed a three-pointer with 20.2 seconds left in the half that was open because Seattle was more focused on Augustus and the paint, forgetting about Moore outside. But as if it were Sunday all over again, Wright knocked one down in the Lynx face with 0.1 left. It wasn’t a quarter-winner, Minnesota going into the break with a 36-35 advantage, but it was definitely the first dagger to the heart of the Lynx. Will there be more? I will say, the Storm isn’t jumping around celebrating anything, yet, like youngsters Candice Wiggins and Moore. Wright nailed the shot and walked off the court emotionless. She’s playing aggressive like Little. The latter leads at the break with 13 while Wright and Bird have contributed seven apiece. All of the Storm players who’ve entered the game have had on a rebounds. Both teams are shooting 40 percent, but the Storm is 2-for-7 from three-point range. The Storm is killing the Lynx in the paint, outscoring them 18-4. Seattle has also only allowed Minnesota one second-chance point. The only thing the Storm will need in the second half is Jackson. She’s an o-fer, again, to start a playoff series. This time its 0-for-4 for four points from the line. She actually airballed a layin which I thought only I did on the playground. In Game 2 she said it pissed her off and she went on to do other things. She’s doing that Tuesday, grabbing three boards. The halftime was the Chicago Boyz Acrobats. They did some high-flying stunts over human-made pyramids and double-dutched on their backs. But after the first-half the Lynx and Storm displayed? Eh.
D-FENCE: The Storm is covering the Lynx like white on rice, to steal and old phrase from Agler. It forced the Lynx into one FG in the second quarter, missing 13 shots. The Lynx are getting to the line. Agler is irritated at that, talking to Brewton about the disparity over the three playoff games. No matter, Moore is at the line for two and there’s 1:27 left in the half.
LITTLE IS BIG: Little has 13 first-half points. The biggest was a three-pointer at the top of the key to give the Storm a 26-25 lead. Another shot by Strick has the Storm leading 28-27 despite two FT by Moore.
OLD STORY: McWilliams-Franklin injured her tailbone but started Game 3. Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve wondered if the veteran center who turns 42 later this month should have been placed back in the double-overtime loss based on some mistakes McWilliams-Franklin made. She’s missed three of the Lynx’s past four shots. Seattle took advantage, Wright making a tough, reserve layin and Smith dropping a jumper. It’s Minnesota 22-19 with 7:40 remaining in the half.
SETTLING DOWN?: The Lynx closed the quarter on a 18-4 run. Whalen was on the bench for most due to two fouls. But the Minnesota missed its last shot to halt the barrage of consecutive shots. After the bad strat, the Lynx are shooting 64.3 percent from the field. Seattle has dropped to 25 percent. Moore has 10 points. Jackson is 0-for-3 from the field.
TIME!: Little had a sweet drive to the hoop to temper the crowd, but it’s off the charts now as Augustus is juking the Storm defensders and Moore nailed a three-pointer with 2:15 on the clock. Wauters is a little stronger with her shot, but not enough to be a solid replacement for Jackson. Lynx on a 15-2 run to go up 17-10. Agler called for time.
FIRST SWITCH: Jackson and Smith are out for rookie Shekinna Stricklen and Ann Wauters. The Lynx have responded, as expected, and two buckets by Moore helped tie the game at eight points apiece with 4:26 remaining in the opening quarter. Seattle has forced three Minnesota turnovers for four points, but is starting to give up the ball itself (two). Little has four points to lead the Storm.
GOOD START: Smith said a big key would be the Storm’s start. None wants the Target Center crowd getting into the game So far Seattle has kept Minnesota a one-shot opportunities. Whalen putting the Lynx on the board late. It’s 6-2 Storm with 6:58 on the clock. Lynx 1 of 5 from field.
Storm coach Brian Agler told me to buy a Mercedes. Ahem, that’s not economically fiscal with my journalist finances.
“That’s my point,” he said in response to whether the WNBA should look at charting flights during the playoffs to reduce some of wear-and-tear on players who already compete year-round. A minor reason would be privacy. The Storm traveled to Minnesota with the Lynx on Monday for the decisive Game 3 Western Conference matchup Tuesday. Some in the Lynx camp described it as awkward after the Storm’s double-overtime Game 2 win Sunday (86-79).
“In wishful thinking, there would be a lot of things you’d like to have in emulating the NBA,” Agler said. “But there’s also the fact of finances. At this point and time in the maturation level of our league, we don’t have the ability to do it. We can’t afford it.”
Storm G Katie Smith said she’d rather have more pay and handle the three-hour direct flight. Well, players earn more money the further they go in the postseason, another motivator for Game 3.
Minnesota (1-1) stumbled into a Game 3 against San Antonio last season after an impressive 27-7 regular-season. The experience makes the Lynx confident it game pull of another series win. The team went on a six-game win streak after the opening round to win the franchise’s first WNBA title.
Seattle (1-1) has been in these situations before, too. And mostly lost. So many times, people are tired of the team’s polarized postseaston character. It either wins a title or exits in the first round.
What do you do to make sure that doesn’t happen again?
“You don’t make it really complicated,” Agler said. “Minnesota can play a lot more different styles than we can. Whether we get the game played at our level or not, that doesn’t mean Minnesota can’t win the game because they’re that good. What we’ve got to do is stay right there and be persistent. Try to make things difficult for them at both ends of the floor and take advantage of our opportunities.”
There’s nothing more to say. Winner travels Wednesday to Los Angeles for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Sparks (2-0) on Thursday.
Here’s your stating lineups:
F Katie Smith
F Camille Little
C Lauren Jackson
G Tanisha Wright
G Sue BIrd
F Maya Moore
F Rebekkah Brunson
C Taj McWilliams-Franklin
G Seimone Agustus
G Lindsay Whalen
Tonight’s officials are Eric Brewton, Denise Brooks, Lamont Simpson.