Lynx drop WNBA Finals opener

Published 9:04 am Monday, October 5, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS — A trend has developed over the last five years in the WNBA playoffs: No one beats the Minnesota Lynx at home.

Except the Indiana Fever.

Briann January had 19 points and six assists and the Fever stole home-court advantage in the WNBA Finals with a 75-69 victory over the Minnesota Lynx in Game 1 on Sunday.

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Marissa Coleman added 16 points and the Fever hit all 16 of their free throws in a rematch of the 2012 finals. Indiana won Game 1 of that series as well en route to the franchise’s only championship.

“We just believe in one another,” Fever coach Stephanie White said. “We trust one another and we understand that no matter what happens through the course of a game, if we come together we’re going to put ourselves in a position to win.”

Maya Moore had 27 points and 12 rebounds and Sylvia Fowles add 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Lynx. But Minnesota missed eight of 23 free throws and turned the ball over 15 times to drop the opener.

“How do we lose that game?” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said after they held Indiana to 36 percent shooting. “We just didn’t do the little things at key times.”

Game 2 in the best-of-five series is Tuesday night in Minneapolis.

Veteran Tamika Catchings had 12 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Fever, who never got rattled by Minnesota’s boisterous home crowd. They outscored Minnesota 22-12 in second-chance points.

The Lynx were 19-2 at Target Center in their playoff history, the best winning percentage in the WNBA. The last time they had lost at home in the playoffs was against the Fever in 2012.

This one followed a similar script, with the determined and gritty Fever absorbing several haymakers from the Lynx and pushing back each time.

January — the tough-as-nails daughter of a karate instructor who has a black belt herself — led the way. She knocked down two tough jumpers late in the third quarter when the Lynx had pulled within four points and was right there in the end to ice it.

After the Lynx charged back to take a 62-61 lead with 4:28 to play, Coleman hit a 3 and scored on a backdoor cut off an inbounds pass. Then January crossed over Anna Cruz, Minnesota’s best perimeter defender, for a layup and a 68-63 lead.

“I challenged Bri to lead this team,” Catchings said. “To lead us on the defensive end, to lead us on the offensive end. When she plays the way she knows how to play defensively, she gets under people’s skin so bad. It’s fun to watch.”

January added another pull-up jumper before fouling out with 1:12 to play, and the Fever closed out another gutsy road victory.

“We heard the fans going, everything was loud,” January said. “They were going on a run, but we just came together and stayed united in those moments.”

Seimone Augustus had a quiet nine points on 3-for-11 shooting and Lindsay Whalen only attempted three shots for Minnesota.

The Lynx are playing in their fourth finals in the last five years. They have won two championships, but were stunned by the Fever in 2012, a loss that ultimately prevented what could have been a run of three straight titles. After losing to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals last season, the Lynx avenged the defeat by sweeping the Mercury in the conference finals this year to set up a rematch with the only team to beat them in the finals.

A ragged first quarter ended 10-10, but Moore got going in the second quarter to spark the Lynx. She scored on a finger roll, a steal and a pretty hesitation drive to the basket and also set a great screen to free up Fowles for another layup that gave them a 26-21 lead in the second quarter.

The Fever were down 18 in a game against New York in the Eastern Conference finals before roaring back to win, so a five-point deficit was nothing for them.

January scored seven straight Indiana points, Catchings got on the board after an 0-for-4 start and Erlana Larkins beat the buzzer with a layup to give Indiana a 35-29 lead at the break.

“Now we’ve got a game under our belt,” Moore said of adjusting to Indiana’s hard-nosed defense. “Hopefully we’ll be better having experienced it.”