MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Playing strong close to the basket has the Minnesota Lynx one win away from a return trip to the WNBA finals.
Maya Moore scored 20 points, Rebekkah Brunson had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and the Lynx beat the Los Angeles Sparks 94-77 Thursday night in the opener of the Western Conference finals.
Seimone Augustus added 16 points for the defending champion Lynx.
Candace Parker scored 25 points and had 11 rebounds for Los Angeles. Alana Beard added 16 points, but Kristi Toliver, who came in averaging 26 points in the playoffs, was held to 12.
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Sunday in Los Angeles, where the Lynx are 4-21 all-time.
“It was a really good team win,” Moore said.
Minnesota held a 37-25 rebounding edge, outscored the Sparks 46-34 in the paint and held a 20-2 advantage in second-chance points to improve to 19-1 at home this season.
“We did not answer or match their physicality and we paid for it,” said Sparks coach Carol Ross. “We ended with four offensive rebounds, just one at halftime. You can’t survive that way.”
Parker had 11 rebounds for Los Angeles, but only one other Sparks player had more than two – reserve Nicky Anosike with four.
“We really have to put a lot of our focus on our effort and what we do once the ball is shot and it hits the rim,” said DeLisha Milton-Jones. “They cannot get second-chance points, because it puts us in a world of trouble.”
Besides Brunson, who has 46 rebounds in four playoff games, including three double-doubles, Augustus had six rebounds for Minnesota, Moore had five, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Amber Harris each had four.
“We just kept going. We never gave up. We never gave in. We knew that was going to be key for this game, to limit their second chance points. They crash the boards pretty hard,” Brunson said. “We really locked in. We focused in. We did a great job.”
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was especially impressed by the 42-year-old McWilliams-Franklin keeping rookie Nneka Ogwumike in check. The latter was averaging six boards a game.
“Ogwumike is just so impressive athletically. She has a lot of fast-twitch muscles and Taj doesn’t have any, but Taj has intelligence and she plays on angles. And like she said, `Coach, I may not get a rebound, but I will block her out.'”
Minnesota, which averaged a WNBA-best 86 points during the regular season – just two more than Los Angeles, took control in the second quarter, outscoring the Sparks 32-16 for a 48-31 halftime lead.
As part of a 14-2 run, the Lynx scored six points on the break and added another down low before a 3-pointer by Moore finished the surge. After Milton-Jones missed a long jumper for the Sparks, Harris scored her first postseason points with back-to-back layups for a 38-23 lead.
A 3-pointer by Candice Wiggins, steal and layup by Monica Wright, and a 3-pointer by Augustus put the Lynx up 46-26. After Parker scored five straight points for the Sparks, Lindsay Whalen scored on a putback at the buzzer.
Playing with a broken left ring finger and a bruised left wrist, Whalen finished with 12 points.
“She plays with so much heart and it’s contagious,” Moore said.
Minnesota increased its lead to 24 in the third quarter before Parker, who is averaging 27.3 points in the postseason, began to find success down low. She scored eight points during a 16-5 run that got the Sparks within 66-53 late in the quarter.
“This team didn’t wait for us to wake up,” Parker said. “For three-fourths of the game we laid down and took it.”
Los Angeles pulled to 73-63 midway through the fourth, but the Lynx answered with back-to-back 3-pointers by Moore and Wright.
Moore was 5-for-5 from the field in the final quarter.
“She was tremendous. She hit back-breaking shots,” Ross said. “She wants the ball and knows what to do with it when she gets it.”
Toliver was quiet through three quarters, with just two points and no assists, before getting 10 points in the final 10 minutes.
“One thing I know about Kristi is that she’ll come back stronger in the next game,” Parker said.
McWilliams-Franklin set a league record by playing in her 59th career playoff game.