The Minnesota Lynx isn’t ready to give up its throne at the top of the Western Conference just yet.
After a spring of which many predicted the Phoenix Mercury (3-4) to overtake the reigning finalists and 2011 champions, the Lynx (5-1) won 80-69 Wednesday in Phoenix, its second this season, snapping the Mercury’s three-game winning streak.
After being named the WNBA Player of the Week, Diana Taurasi maintained her role as one of the world’s elite players after missing most of last season with an injury, leading all with 28 points in 35 minutes, but it wasn’t enough from her supporting cast.
“We were kind of average,” Taurasi said. “Going into the fourth, they turned it up and that’s the reason that team’s been in the Finals the last two years. It’s a good lesson for us.”
Maya Moore led the Lynx with a season-high-tying 26 points and a career-best 16 rebounds while dishing five assists. She had 18 and 10 at halftime.
“I think the last couple days I’ve had a chance to really appreciate what I have,” Moore said. “I just take all of those blessings and take it as a chance to play hard. In particular Phoenix is always a fun game for us. I was just trying to be aggressive. I didn’t take as many threes and just attacked the basket.”
Moore was the star of the first quarter, scoring nine with six rebounds, including a three to put the Lynx up five, a smooth jumper to tie it at 15-15 after a Taurasi three gave the Mercury its first lead, and a coast-to-coast driving layup on the next possession.
In the second, Taurasi made some critical threes to tie it at 30-30 and to bring the Mercury within one with 40 seconds remaining.
Phoenix center Brittney Griner (10 points and seven rebounds) tied it at 46-46 with a rim roller midway through the third, followed by a Lynx shot clock violation. Seimone Augustus and Moore poured in the baskets to earn a couple of six-point leads, but Phoenix held a 60-56 edge to end the third.
From the free throw line, Lindsay Whalen sent the Lynx lead over double digits, and an Augustus jumper as the shot clock expired made it 76-64 with two minutes left. Taurasi hit her third three in the closing minute, her only points of the fourth of which the Lynx outscored Phoenix 24-9.
“I had to rest D because she’s not superhuman when she plays the whole game,” Mercury coach Corey Gaines said, despite her 35 minutes. “The case was, for every shot they missed, they got the ball back 46 percent of the time, and that’s what kills you, you can’t have that. Maya Moore had more offensive rebounds by herself (seven to six).”
With only three points at halftime, Augustus scored eight in the third and six in the fourth to finish with 17.
“Seimone is always someone who can keep playing, at any point she can go in and do the moves to takeover for stretches,” Moore said. “I have so much confidence when I’m out on the court with her.”
The Lynx also outrebounded the Mercury in the game, 48-26, 10 coming from Rebekkah Brunson with Devereaux Peters adding seven.
Candice Dupree scored the first two Mercury baskets and finished with 14 points but only two rebounds.
“I just came out and played hard, crashing the boards, even though the killed us on the boards,” Dupree said. “We could have done a better job crowding her (Moore), making her drive all the way to the basket, both her and Seimone.”
It was a rare off night for DeWanna Bonner, as she went 0-for-13 from the field with only four points coming from the line. She did lead the Mercury with five dimes.
Golden Gopher alumna Whalen (13) and Janel McCarville (10) where also in double figures for Minnesota.
“It’s what our team does,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said of her depth. “I think that’s what makes us so hard to play against. When Maya’s doing her thing, we run plays for her, and if she needs a break, Seimone all of the sudden gets in going. They just have a really good understanding of who needs the ball. I’m really fortunate from that standpoint that this group is so unselfish.”
It was a matchup of the last five Wade Trophy winners (Griner the most recent two and Moore the previous three), and eight of the last 11 when you include Taurasi and Augustus.
“She’s someone who poses a big threat when she gets it in her comfort zone,” Moore said of Griner. “Our job is to to try to not let her get it in her comfort zone, and our post players did a tremendous job making her uncomfortable and our guards trying to harass her when we could.”
The Mercury hosts the Washington Mystics at 7 p.m. Friday from US Airways Center. The Lynx is at the Sparks at the same time.