It’s no surprise that ESPN would televise yesterday’s matchup between the Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury, two franchises that have combined to win six of the previous nine WNBA titles. Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve admitted as much after her team had finished Friday’s practice. “This is what ESPN wanted, in making this the game that tipped of the 20th season,” explained Reeve, who holds the highest winning percentage (regular season and playoffs) of any coach in league history.
“[The Lynx] and Phoenix have had a really strong, healthy respect for one another. We’ve had some great games through these years. I think that the decision to put these two [on ESPN] and showcase it was a wise move, fun for the fans and fun for the people at home watching.”
Her players agree, as far as WNBA rivalries are concerned, this is as good as it gets.
“It doesn’t get any better,” said Seimone Augustus. “On the NBA side, don’t you want to see the Cavs and Golden State play right off the bat? It’s the same way with us. We want to create that excitement right off the bat. It’s the 20th season, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding women’s basketball this year. So, why not?”
“Our rivalry with Phoenix is great,” expressed Maya Moore. “It’s one of the most fun rivalries to watch in pro sports, just because both teams are very good at what we do; trying to be efficient offensively, trying to dominant defensively, extremely talented, heavy with vets. So, it’s going to be a fun game.”
Before tipoff the Lynx’ 2015 WNBA title banner was raised into the rafters. Players, coaches and staff members were issued championship rings.
Reeve’s club shortly thereafter began to make easy work of Phoenix, the team a majority of the league’s general managers dubbed as favorites to win the 2016 WNBA title. The Lynx ultimately defeated Phoenix, 95-76.
The home team has won 13 of the last 14 contests, including playoffs.
Moore led all scorers with 27 points and a career-high 10 assists, becoming the first player with at least 10 points and 10 assists in a season opener in WNBA history. Augustus, having scored 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting, extended her franchise record to 105th career 20+ point games.
Sylvia Fowles tallied 17 points and 14 rebounds en route to her 100th career double-double. Lindsay Whalen scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in only 22 minutes of playing time.
The Lynx created 15 steals and outscored Phoenix 27-10 in fast break points.
Diana Taurasi, who returned to the WNBA after sitting out the entire 2015 season, led Phoenix with 18 points and six assists. Brittney Griner, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, scored 12 points and collected five rebounds. Both Taurasi and Griner dealt with foul trouble at various points throughout the game and could never really get going on the offensive end.
“It’s a good starting point for us in a really bad way as far as we know what we have to get better at,” said Taurasi. “We have people in this locker room that have been in the league for a long time, along with a lot of rookies and the season isn’t made on 40 minutes, but the waywe bounce back is going to say a lot about this team going forward.”
“I just think we didn’t play hard enough with what we wanted to do,” admitted Mercury head Sandy Brondello. “We had some good shots, we made shots, but so did they. They’re the Champions basically, they had way better chemistry than we had and their defense was better, and that’s what wins.”
“We’re serious,” Moore said after the game. “We want to take advantage of this special group we have right now. We want to make sure we show it every time that we play.”