AP-MINNEAPOLIS — More than 15,000 fans walked into Target Center on Sunday night, hoping that the Minnesota Lynx could give them a little relief from the sports abyss the Twin Cities sit in at the moment.
They waved white pom-poms and hollered at the top of their lungs, and Rebekkah Brunson and Co. made sure they didn’t go home disappointed.
Brunson had 26 points and 11 rebounds and Seimone Augustus added 22 points to lead the Lynx to an 88-74 victory over the Atlanta Dream in Game 1 of the WNBA finals.
“It was amazing,” Brunson said of the charged-up atmosphere. “The city’s been excited about this team from the beginning of the season and everybody keeps jumping on and jumping on and we love it. We love the fact we can come in here and play in front of a crowd like this.”
Lindsay Whalen added 15 points and six assists and the Lynx turned a close game into a runaway with a 13-0 run to open the fourth quarter. Taj McWilliams-Franklin added eight points and 10 boards while battling an illness.
Angel McCoughtry scored 19 of her 33 points in the third quarter and Lindsey Harding scored 20 points for the Dream.
Atlanta led by 12 points midway through the second quarter, but the Lynx kept them off the board for the first 4:34 of the fourth quarter to take control. With starting center
Erika de Souza missing the game while playing for Brazil in an Olympic qualifying tournament, the Dream were outrebounded 40-28 and outscored in the paint 52-30.
“Look at the rebounds,” Harding said. “We needed her.”
De Souza will be back for Game 2 of the best-of-five series, which is Wednesday night in Minneapolis.
For those who say the women’s game lacks everything that makes the sport great — athleticism, shot-making and competitive fire — Game 1 will not help them make their case.
Maya Moore’s sensational reverse layup, a scoop shot that started from clear on the other side of the rim, got the Lynx started on a third-quarter surge that got them back into the game. Brunson finished a three-point play and Augustus’ no-look pass was finished by Whalen’s reverse layup to cap a 9-0 run that gave them a 51-49 lead.
“We’ve got some athletes up in here!” Brunson boasted.
On the other end, McCoughtry was simply unstoppable, hitting a incredible array of jumpers from odd angles all over the floor, blocking shots and forcing steals to keep her team from faltering. She scored all but four of Atlanta’s 23 points in the third and the game was tied at 62 heading into the fourth.
Whalen started the deciding surge with a three-point play and a shooter’s roll jumper and the Lynx turned up the pressure on the defensive end to get two fast break layups to take a 75-62 lead with 5:45 to play.
“We knew our run would come at some point,” Whalen said.
The Lynx blocked a WNBA finals record 11 shots and held Atlanta to 37 percent shooting in their first finals game in franchise history.
“We couldn’t find the rim for about four minutes,” Dream coach Marynell Meadors said. “And everything we did resulted in points for Minnesota.”
After 12 largely anonymous and often wretched seasons of existence, the Lynx finally broke through this year in a major way. With Augustus healthy for the first time in three years and Moore coming from UConn with the No. 1 overall pick, the Lynx blew the doors off the rest of the league, finishing 27-7, six games better than the second-best team.
The Twins and Timberwolves both finished in last place and the Vikings are off to an 0-4 start, leaving Minnesota’s sporting public desperate for someone to cheer for.
The fired-up crowd of 15,258 — the second-largest in franchise history — was treated to a nerve-racking start.
The Dream just seemed a step quicker than the Lynx in the early going, with Harding running circles around Whalen and the rest of the Lynx in the first 13 minutes. They forced six turnovers and Harding hit two 3s as they jumped out to a 29-17 lead early in the second quarter.
The Dream are playing in the finals for the second year in a row after losing to Seattle last year. Not bad for a franchise that just started four years ago. They dispatched top-seeded Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals to get here, winning on the road in Game 3 to advance.
“The crowd energizes them and it just weighs you down,” McCoughtry said. “It’s good to know that we were the ones that kind of messed ourselves up. That’s a good thing for us because we can adjust that.”
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