MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Lynx looked every bit the favorite to win the WNBA title in their commanding victory over the Atlanta Dream in Sunday night’s opener.
They have home-court advantage in the championship round for a third straight year — a proud, confident and determined bunch pursuing their second title in that span. The Lynx used balance, depth and strength at both ends of the floor to overwhelm the Dream 84-59 in Game 1, the second-largest margin in WNBA Finals history.
That doesn’t mean this best-of-five series is sewn up, though. Though lopsided scores can serve as evidence of a clear gap between two teams, sometimes a blowout makes it easier for the loser to regroup and respond with a better performance.
“We’re seasoned. We have faced adversity, so we know how to handle things. We know that these 40 minutes that we played have no bearing on Game 2,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It will be amazing how different Game 2 is versus Game 1.”
Dream standout Angel McCoughtry was defiant, too, that her team will bounce back in Game 2 on Tuesday.
“We’re not going to be down. What’s the point? It’s over. We’re moving on,” the WNBA’s leading scorer this season said after shooting 6 for 24 and finishing with 17 points and five turnovers. “We’re going to keep our heads up, and we’re going to continue to believe. We have confidence in ourselves. We believe we can win a series.”
They have to start smaller than that, with one game.
This is the Dream’s third appearance in the Finals in four years, but they’re 0-7 so far. They started the season 10-1 but struggled through injuries all summer, and forward Sancho Lyttle is still out with a broken left foot. At 17-17, they brought the worst winning percentage in league history to the playoffs. But they found a rhythm at just the right time, following up a playoff-opening loss to Washington by winning four games in a row to get here.
With Erika DeSouza (10 points, seven rebounds, one block) and Aneika Henry (14 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks) using their superior height to their advantage around the basket, the Dream proved they can play in the post with the Lynx’s Janel McCarville, Rebekkah Brunson and Devereaux Peters. Atlanta had a 44-35 edge in paint points.
The problem was they didn’t try to send the ball in there enough. Guard Jasmine Thomas shot even worse than McCoughtry, finishing 3 for 15 for nine points. The Dream was 0-for-15 from 3-point range.
Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus, the former LSU star, gave the Lynx their usual stellar play, and Lindsay Whalen was the calm, steadying point guard they need her to be with six rebounds and five assists in 24 minutes despite only three points. But the Lynx built up their lead with a playoff-career-best 20 points, plus tight defense on McCoughtry, from Monica Wright off the bench. She went 9-for-14 from the field and also had five rebounds and three steals.
“She is vital to us, and we need that from her. And whenever she can play like that, it gives everybody else life,” Moore said.