The WNBA Playoffs Semifinals got under way on Tuesday night and the top-seeded Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks delivered as they beat the Washington Mystics and Phoenix Mercury in their respective Game 1 clashes.
Sparks begin title defense with win over Mercury
The defending champion Los Angeles Sparks took the Phoenix Mercury apart in Game 1 of their WNBA Playoffs Semifinals, winning 79-66 in California.
It was a victory spearheaded by Nigerian-American star Nneka Ogwumike who scored 19 points for the Sparks, while grabbing nine rebounds as well. The Sparks starting five was on fire and all of them scored in double digits. Candace Parker weighed in with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists, Chelsea Gray scored 13 points and dished six assists. Odyssey Sims finished the game with 12 points and newly crowned 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard scored 11 points and stole the ball twice.
The Mercury had come through two single-elimination rounds to get to the semifinals but couldn’t find another gear to shift once the going got tough. Leilani Mitchell top-scored for them with 19 points, making 5-of-7 of her 3-point shots. Britteny Griner was the only other Mercury player to get to double digits as she ended the contest with 18 points, shooting 50 percent from the field. Veteran Diana Taurasi was kept very quiet as she scored only six points in her almost 33 minutes on court. The entire team only shot 38.2 percent from field-goal range.
The Sparks weren’t at their very best, shooting 43.3 percent from the field, but they made the shots when they counted. The team shot 81 percent from the free-throw line, thus making the Mercury pay for their mistakes. Los Angeles kept control of the ball better than Phoenix as they made 10 turnovers compared to the Mercury’s 16. The Sparks were also very alert on defense and tallied 11 steals in the game as the Mercury failed to get going. Despite being outrebounded the Sparks got the win to give them the 1-0 series lead in this best-of-five series.
The Sparks are looking to become the first team in 15 years to win back-to-back championships.
This series will be a bit of a tall order for the Mercury, who lost all three regular-season meetings with the Sparks. They are now down a game in a tough series, but will be keen to prove their worth again in Game 2 at Staples Center in LA.
Augustus, Lynx bury Mystics in Game 1 of semis, 101-81
Seimone Augustus set a career high in assists this season, thanks in large part to teammate Sylvia Fowles’ emergence as an MVP candidate.
Her grandmother had a simple request for her as the playoffs began—‘‘Shoot the (expletive) ball,’’ Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve recounted.
Augustus scored 24 points and Fowles added 18 to help the Minnesota Lynx roll to a 101-81 victory over the Washington Mystics in Game 1 of the WNBA Semifinals on Tuesday night.
Augustus made 11-of-17 shots and the Lynx looked plenty sharp after a week off and playing in an unfamiliar arena. The Lynx will play all of their playoff games at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena after spending the regular season at Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild.
‘‘I’ve been hearing it all week in practise from coach,’’ Augustus said. ‘‘So it completed my week to hear my grandmother call and say, `Shoot the ball, please.’ OK Granny.’‘
Elena Delle Donne had 17 points for the Mystics, who had a quick turnaround after beating the Liberty in New York on Sunday. After setting a playoff record with nine 3-pointers in the victory over New York on Sunday, Mystics guard Kristi Toliver scored just three points on 1-for-7 shooting.
Minnesota shot 59 percent from the field and set a new franchise playoff record with 12 3-pointers on 17 attempts, blowing the game open after an ugly 6-for-17 start in the first quarter. Maybe it took some time to get a feel for ‘The Barn’, one of the oldest arenas in the country with a raised floor that gives the court a totally different feel.
‘‘We just got bombarded,’’ Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. ‘‘I’m not sure they knew we were out there for about 15 minutes.’‘
The Lynx were initially displaced from Target Center for the entire summer while the building undergoes massive renovation. They played across the river in St Paul, but had to vacate when the Wild returned for training camp this month. Team owner Glen Taylor spent about $1-million to upgrade the old building, including adding air conditioning that came in handy on a day when temperatures surpassed 80 degrees.
Renee Montgomery added 18 points and hit 4-of-5 threes for the Lynx, who led by 29 in the third quarter.
TOLIVER GOES MISSING
After playing a key role in the Los Angeles Sparks’ victory over the Lynx in the WNBA Finals last season, Toliver scored 32 points and rallied the Mystics from a 14-point deficit to beat New York on Sunday. But she couldn’t find any room to breathe against a determined Lynx defense and went scoreless over the final 35 minutes of the game.
‘‘She got a lot of attention,’’ Thibault said.
Augustus has enjoyed a renaissance season in year No 12, shooting 43 percent from 3-point range and 51 percent from the field while feasting on the open looks created when defenses collapse on Fowles in the paint. She is also averaging a career-high 4.0 assists and has more closely resembled the offensive dynamo she was earlier in her career.
Reeve monitors her minutes closely during the regular season to make sure she’s ready to go.
‘‘When Seimone plays well, we don’t lose,’’ Reeve said.
Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen scored two points in 16 minutes after missing the final 12 games of the regular season with a broken left hand. Whalen started and had two assists but was clearly knocking the rust off.
Whalen did not want to miss this one, a return for her to the arena that she starred in during an All-American career for the Golden Gophers. She drew the biggest cheer of the night when introduced in the starting lineup, with the public address announcer saying, ‘‘Welcome home!’‘
‘‘That was really, really special,’’ Reeve said. ‘‘I was moved by that and I’m sure she was, too.’‘
Game 2 is on Thursday night in Minneapolis.
By WNBA News
First appeared on WNBA.com