The Minnesota Lynx trounced the Phoenix Mercury in Game 1 of the WNBA Western Conference finals Thursday night in Minneapolis, making the most of home court advantage.
The team hasn't been to the playoffs since 2004 and hadn't won a playoff series until Tuesday night. They had never played in the Western Conference finals. So it was no wonder the game started with shooting arcs of fireworks, and a few anxious looks among team members as NBA network cameramen scuttled around, zooming in for close ups.
Within three minutes they had three baskets.
Maya Moore, Minnesota's first pick in the draft this year, scored 13 of her 15 points in the first quarter.
Up in the stands, Bet McRae of Minneapolis was at the game with her girlfriend and young son. She was giddy.
"I played basketball in junior high and high school. And my hope as a young person was to get to the WNBA," she said." But I had a couple of really bad knee injuries and my parents didn't believe in surgery so my basketball career was over. So yeah, I'm living vicariously through all of them."
McRae has been a devoted Lynx fan for years, and she says it feels a little strange that everyone's getting around to talking about the team now. She says it's like discovering a song that you love, but it's played so much on the radio, it becomes everyone's favorite.
"I kind of feel like that about the Lynx," she said. "I always knew they were always destined for greatness. It was just a matter of when they were going get there. And they're here now. So it's really great."
Samuel Goldsmith of St. Louis Park is one of those relative newcomers. He's followed many Lynx players since high school, but he's paid closer attention recently.
"I've been waiting for a team to celebrate. Some type of team -- hockey, football, basketball, and the Lynx look like they're the only ones headed in that direction," he said, alluding to recent lackluster records among Minnesota's other pro sports teams including the Twins, Vikings and Wild.
Goldsmith says that, unlike other Minnesota teams of late, the Lynx members work together and play with heart and soul.
"It takes a team, like a village," he said, adding that he was pretty confident the Lynx would make it to the finals.
Then Phoenix started to make its move on the court.
"You gotta watch Phoenix. Phoenix has pulled off some fantastic finishes," he said.
The Lynx stayed at least six points ahead the whole game. As the fourth quarter began, their lead grew into the double digits. Yet when Phoenix called a time out, Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve kept urging her own players on, scribbling notes of a clipboard in the huddle as Lynx staff launched dozens of balled-up T-shirts into the stands.
Later Reeve said she thought Phoenix could come back at any time, despite Minnesota's lead.
"It never feels like enough. Even in the fourth quarter with six minutes to go, it never feels like enough," against Phoenix, she said. "They're the one team in the league that can really take advantage of bad offense and run it at you with their quick offense."
But the Lynx' lead did turn out to be enough. The game ended 95-67.
Afterward, in the team locker room, Lynx forward/center Taj McWilliams-Franklin sat calmly while ice dripped off her knees. As the oldest player, Franklin says she sets the tone for the team. Right now she says she's setting a tone of calm determination. She says the Lynx must earn attention from fans.
"They've had the Vikings here all the time," in the Twin Cities, she said. "They've had the Twins here all the time. Normally it's the Timberwolves. And I think they were just waiting to see what's going to happen. And then finally we're in the playoffs and they're calling up, calling up, calling up trying to buy tickets. It's great. We accept anyone. Bandwagon, 13th year, season ticket holders, who ever it is, we appreciate and love you and are happy you're here. Enjoy the game."
The second game of the Western Conference finals is in Phoenix on Sunday night. A win there would mean the Minnesota Lynx' first trip to the WNBA finals.