MINNEAPOLIS – The last thing Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve wanted to talk about was a moral victory.
She had no time for pats on the back after her team came back from 26 points down in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. In the end, the Lynx are down 1-0 to the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks in the best-of-five series because they fell behind 28-2 in the first quarter on their home floor.
The fiery coach blasted her team on Monday, wondering aloud if they are taking for granted a sixth trip to the finals in the last seven years and saying anyone who suggested the Lynx should derive encouragement from their comeback resides in “Loserville.”
“It’s mind-boggling for a team that’s been here however many times,” Reeve said. “Maybe it’s old hat for them. Maybe this is something they’re just softened to.”
It was likely a calculated move on Reeve’s part, a salvo that will turn up the heat on a veteran-laden team that did not grab a single rebound in the first quarter of the opener. A wake-up call for a team nobody expected to need one.
“It just suggests to me that either being in the finals is something they’ve taken for granted,” Reeve said. “It suggests to me that maybe we’re playing against a team that wants to win maybe more than us. Those are answers that I’m looking for to those questions that I will get today when we meet with our team.”
After sitting out the national anthem, the Sparks roared out of the gates in the first eight minutes, leading 12-0 and 28-2 before Minnesota even knew the game had started.
The Lynx turned things around when Maya Moore moved from small forward to power forward and guard Jia Perkins took the place of mainstay Rebekkah Brunson. The small lineup created havoc on defense and helped Minnesota wipe out a 12-point deficit with five minutes to play it the game. Moore’s layup with 6.5 seconds to go put the Lynx in front, 84-83, but Chelsea Gray hit a 14-foot jumper in the closing seconds to win the game.
“We just have to look at the game as we outplayed them in the first five minutes, and they outplayed us in the last 35,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said. “There are a lot of areas we can get better at, we have to get better at and hopefully we will.”
Reeve let loose to the media without her players’ knowledge, but there was little disagreement about the embarrassment surrounding the first quarter.
“There’s no question that both teams want this series, but we have to show it for 40 minutes-plus,” Moore said. “Definitely happy that it’s not a one-game series.”
The highly anticipated rematch between the two best teams in the league delivered the best overnight rating (0.6) for a WNBA Finals Game 1 on the ESPN networks, up 20 percent from last year’s Game 1. What appeared to be a laugher in the early going turned into a tense, back-and-forth finish.
The Sparks are trying to become the first repeat champions in the league since 2002, and they are not expecting a similar start for Game 2 on Tuesday night.
“We played pretty good basketball, but we played five minutes of great basketball,” Sparks star Candace Parker said. “We won two quarters and we lost two quarters. I feel like we can build off of that, but we have to learn to adjust throughout the game, not going back after Game 1 and going back to the film and adjusting, but as individuals on the court.”
Seimone Augustus has felt Reeve’s wrath before and did not want to give too much weight to the emotional remarks.
“That’s just coach Reeve,” Augustus said. “She’ll do anything to push our buttons.”
With the prospects of an 0-2 hole staring them right in the face, Reeve clearly felt those buttons needed to be pushed.
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