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Indiana takes WNBA Finals opener

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Lynx were not fooled. They were not confounded by a new Indiana defense. They were not bamboozled by surprising offensive sets.

They knew the Indiana Fever was a tough team, with a tenacious defense and paint play so physical that the meek need not enter. The Lynx just couldn't do anything about it.

Not this time, anyway.

Indiana opened the WNBA best-of-five finals with a 76-70 victory Sunday over a Lynx team that had won eight straight home playoff games. It was only the second game Minnesota has lost at Target Center this season.

"We came in here without any fear," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. "We knew they would be tough at home, the crowd was going to be great. Defensively I thought we did the things we needed to do to win."

No question about that.

A strong third-quarter run took the Lynx from down six to up two entering the fourth. But in crunch time it was the Fever that stood tall, holding the Lynx to 2-for-17 shooting in the fourth, forcing the Lynx to miss 12 straight shots at a crucial juncture.

And so, the tone for the series is set.

"The game was as hard as we thought it would be," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeves said. "Through three quarters, for the most part, we responded. In the fourth quarter we stopped scoring."

Indiana, playing without leading scorer Katie Douglas, got 20 points from Tamika Catchings who, though she shot just 6-for-20, made all five of her fourth-quarter free throws. Guard Erin Phillips got 13 points and fellow guard Briann January scored 11 points with six assists.

But the one-woman wrecking crew was center Erland Larkins, who scored 16 points and had 15 rebounds, one off the WNBA finals one-game record. Larkins was the reason why the Lynx was out-scored 38-24 in the paint, why Indiana led the Lynx in second-chance scoring.

Asked if her team was ready for Larkins, Reeve said, "Obviously not."

Minnesota got 23 points from Seimone Agustus, 14 from Maya Moore, who found herself in early foul trouble, and 12 from guard Lindsay Whalen. But those three combined for 2-for-13 shooting in the crucial fourth quarter.

It was the Fever that was calm with the pressure on, not the defending league champs.

"We are not here just to be in the finals," Catchings said. "We are here for a great opportunity, and both teams want it bad. So every game is going to be just like this game."

That isn't necessarily good news for a Lynx team that struggled in the half court Sunday and stumbled to a 25-for-64 (39.1 percent) shooting night.

"Everything they did tonight is what we expected," Augustus said. "We practiced it all week. For some reason we didn't come out ready to play, and they were."

Minnesota seemed out of synch for much of the night. But, down 46-40 early in the third quarter, the Lynx went on a 14-4 run - with Augustus scoring seven and Moore five - to grab a 54-50 lead. Minnesota still held a 56-54 lead entering the fourth quarter when things unraveled for the defending champions.

On defense the Fever clamped down. At the other end Indiana made the shots - and the free throws - to keep the Lynx at bay, leading by as many as 10 points late.

"We have a defensive scheme and we stick with it," Phillips said.

And now it comes down to adjustments. Certainly, at least, for the Lynx. If this is going to be a gritty series, the high-flying Lynx need to roll up their collective sleeves and dive in.

"We're just going to have to get tougher and execute a little better," Moore said.

Notes: The Lynx are looking to become the first back-to-back WNBA champions since Los Angeles in 2001 and 2002. ... Fever guard Katie Douglas, who sprained her ankle Thursday in the Eastern Conference Finals, did not travel with the team to Minnesota. Dunn said Douglas would only join the team Wednesday if she was ready to contribute as a player or as a spectator, should Douglas be ruled out of the series. Larkins' 15 rebounds was one off the finals record set by Taj McWilliams-Franklin back in 2005.
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