These WNBA Finals are not for the feeble. Seimone Augustus and the Minnesota Lynx toughened up after a rare loss and a soft performance at home in the opener by wearing down the Indiana Fever.
Augustus scored 23 of her 27 points in the second half to help the Lynx surge past the Fever 83-71 on Wednesday night to even the best-of-five series at one game apiece.
"We're going all out. We don't want to look back on this situation and regret anything," Augustus said.
Maya Moore pitched in 23 points and the defending champion Lynx forced the Fever into 24 turnovers, 15 after halftime. Tamika Catchings led the way as usual with 27 points and eight rebounds, but the Fever's defence faded after a dominant start that forced the Lynx to miss 11 of their first 14 shots.
They let the Lynx score 29 points in the third quarter and bring an already-loud crowd into the game even more. Catchings offered an alternate theory, though.
"Seimone Augustus went against us. That's what happened," she said.
The series now moves to Indiana. Game 3 is on Friday, and Catchings predicted an even more physical match.
"It was pretty rough out there, and we're going to have to adapt to that," said Fever coach Lin Dunn, who called this the most physical game she's seen in 42 years. "We'll go home and we'll be ready."
The Fever played without shooting guard Katie Douglas for the second straight game, the sprained left ankle she suffered at the end of the Eastern Conference finals still not ready for action. Then in the second quarter of this one, backup Jeanette Pohlen hurt her left knee and was taken to the locker room for further examination. She didn't return, and the lack of depth hurt the Fever down the stretch.
Lynx reserve guard Monica Wright had five steals, and coach Cheryl Reeve said she changed the game with her defensive intensity. Inside, Rebekkah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin limited Erlana Larkins to three points on 1-for-6 shooting. She had 16 points and 15 rebounds in the opener. Dunn said she was disappointed in the effort.
"We just have to go back to Indy and regroup," Larkins said.
The Lynx held a 24-3 edge in second-chance points and 17-2 advantage in offensive rebounds.
But Augustus, named to the All-WNBA first team earlier in the day for the first time in her well-decorated career, was the primary difference maker. She swished a 3-pointer with about 6 minutes left to give the Lynx a 71-57 lead, their biggest to that point after the sluggish beginning. Augustus, who missed six of her eight shots in the first half, flashed a big smile toward her teammates as they retreated on defence.
"She has to have MVP-like performances in order for us to have a chance to be successful, and we saw that tonight," Reeve said.
Even Reeve showed some muscle in this one.
After Lindsay Whalen tied the game at 48 with a reverse layup, Moore picked up her third foul on the other end. Whalen's layup was blocked by Briann January when the Lynx got the ball back, and Reeve's game-long lobbying boiled over.
Screaming for a whistle after her miss, Whalen was slapped with a technical foul by official Michael Price, who quickly tacked one on for Reeve. Then the coach really lost it, tearing her suit coat off and trying to escape assistant coach Jim Peterson's long arms as he held her back from further confronting the refs.
"We've got a lot of league people here. It's the WNBA Finals. So we have to be really, really careful in the things that we say. Clearly, I wasn't happy in that moment. I'm not happy about how the game was officiated, period, but that's all I'm going to say about it," Reeve said.
Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, decked out in a black and green Lynx jacket, agreed with Reeve from across the court, dismissively waving his hand in disgust at the officiating crew.
Catchings made both free throws to give the Fever a two-point lead, but the Lynx were fired up after that. Rebekkah Brunson soared for a rebound she tipped to Moore to retain possession. Moore pump faked then dribbled in for a layup that drew a foul and swished the free throw for a 57-55 lead. Augustus added a 3-pointer near the end of the period for good measure.
"I thought as a team we didn't step up to the plate when we needed to when we should've rallied and come closer together. It's like we came apart a little bit, and we can't afford to do that, not with the defending champ," Catchings said.
Whalen had the look in her eyes that she wasn't going to let this one slip away, making a pull-up jumper early in the fourth quarter to stretch the lead to six and following that with a 3-pointer to put the Lynx up 66-57 with 7:21 left.
"It's the finals, so everyone is going at it aggressively," Whalen said. "It's a lot of fun."