The finals — whatever the level or the sport, is where everything is heighten to a new level — on a national stage.
That was the case in the second game of the Minnesota-Atlanta WNBA championship series Wednesday in Minneapolis as two opposing players combined for over 80 points.
Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry set a WNBA Finals record with 38 points, breaking her own record from a year ago — 24 of them in the first half of Wednesday’s contest, only the second most points scored in a half — McCoughtry had 27 in the second half of Game 1 on Sunday.
“Every defender we threw at her did a great job of trying to get a hand in her face,” noted Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus. “And even with that she made tough shots.”
“It’s just 38 points,” added McCoughtry. “I don’t care about that. I want to win a ring.”
Unfortunately, that win is now three wins away for her and the Atlanta Dream, while Minnesota only needs one — Wednesday’s 101-95 victory gave the Lynx a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Augustus’ 36 points were the second most in a Finals game — only the second time two players on opposing teams passed the 30-point mark in a playoff game: McCoughtry and New York’s Cappie Pondexter combined for 78 points in a playoff game last year.
In the battle of who was the most determined to put her team in the winning column, Augustus, the longtime Lynx player won the honor over an equally determined McCoughtry Wednesday night.
“I’m so happy the whole world got to see that,” says Lynx guard Candice Wiggins on Augustus’s performance.
“I didn’t think I had to match Angel point-for-point,” admits the guard. “It just happened that way.”
Nonetheless, chants of “M-V-P” rained from the 15,000-plus crowd while she was at the foul line in the fourth quarter — Augustus was there 13 times in 10 minutes.
“We all know who the MVP is, it’s Tamika Catchings,” said Augustus when asked to comment about the crowd’s chanting. “I want the title.”
“It was her will and her toughness,” marvelled Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen, who finished with 13 points.
“I don’t think this one performance dictate who she is,” added center Taj McWilliams-Franklin on Augustus. “It so happened that her performances before no one really witnessed them because they weren’t in the playoffs or the finals. I think for her it was just one great game — did what she needed to do to help her team win.”
As was the case in Game one, Minnesota’s fortitude wore down Atlanta again in the fourth quarter. On Wednesday, the Lynx again got contributions from others not as heralded but just as needed. Such as little used rookie Amber Harris, who hit a 22-foot three pointer to give Minnesota a two-point lead just under the seven-minute mark that seemingly took the wind out of the Dream.
“Seimone didn’t use the screen, and I know that nobody was on me,” Harris told me — she finished with three points and three boards in just under five minutes — her first career playoff points. “So I just shot it.”
Such as reserve center Jessica Adair, who scored 13 points in 17 minutes off the bench on Wednesday, along with a team-high three blocked shots. She was one of three players with double-figures trips to the foul line: McCoughtry shot 16-for-21; Augustus was 13-for-16, and Adair was 9-for-11.
Augustus’ 14-footer broke a 85-85 tie with 3:20 left, which started a 6-0 run. She had 15 fourth-quarter points as the Lynx outscored the Dream 32-21, shot 50 percent from the field and nearly 80 percent from the line.
Although it’s not inconceivable, but Atlanta can get it back with two wins at home this weekend. Game 3 is Friday.
“It’s not over yet,” predicts McCoughtry.
Those words should be Xeroxed and put in every Lynx player’s locker, playbook, whatever as they prepare to leave for Peachtree Street.
“We have to come in (Atlanta) with a mindset that we’re down 0-2,” suggests McWilliams-Franklin, who banged knees with teammate Monica Wright and didn’t play at all in the final 10 minutes of Wednesday’s game — she did finish with 10 points and five rebounds. Team surgeon Dr. Joel Boyd later told me that he will know more Thursday but think Minnesota’s oldest player’s knee only will be sore.
“It’s a 40-plus minutes game,” believes Lynx guard Alexis Hornbuckle. “If you are going to win a championship, every possession counts.”
As was the case on Sunday, Minnesota still having problems making key defensive stops early on — it doesn’t help that Atlanta isn’t easy to guard. But giving up 58 first-half points — on 59 percent shooting, is unacceptable.
“I was disappointed overall in our defense,” admits Minnesota Coach Cheryl Reeve. “We did defend better in the second half (because) they ended up shooting 29 percent in the second half, but we have to be better defensively, and we can be. We have to play better. We’re fortunate that we’re talking about the Lynx having a win.”
However, what has stood gone well for the Lynx in this series is as Reeve points it, “the combination of stops and scores” in the two fourth quarters that has proven the difference in consecutive games thus far.
As she was leaving the arena Wednesday, the second-year head coach told anyone standing in the hallway, including this reporter, that she doesn’t want to see us a week from now — that would mean Game 5, if necessary.
“This is a closeout game,” concludes Hornbuckle. “It is always the hardest game, and it’s away. We’re a good away team but it’s the playoffs. They (Atlanta) is going to bring it.”