In a game with such a wealth of riches, talent-wise, it might seem downright boring to focus on something as fundamental as rebounding.
Yet if you wanted to point to one thing that decided the heavyweight bout Thursday between the two best teams in the WNBA, you gotta go with the glass. Maya Moore and her Lynx outrebounded Diana Taurasi and her Mercury by a handy margin in front of a jazzed-up Minnesota crowd of 9,513.
Phoenix’s winning streak ended at 16, and the Lynx edged closer to the Western Conference-leading Mercury with a 75-67 victory.
Neither team shot well from the field -- 37.7 percent for the Lynx, 36.8 for the Mercury -- and neither of the teams’ respective superstars lit the scoreboard on fire the way they can and have during their careers.
But when the final buzzer sounded on this bruise-a-thon, Moore had the upper hand, and so did the Lynx. Mighty Maya finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, with Minnesota scrapping to a 48-33 domination on the boards.
How big is it for the Lynx to have Rebekkah Brunson back inside? She led the way in rebounding with 12. Seimone Augustus, who also missed time with injury, had 19 points and eight rebounds.
Phoenix beat Minnesota both times when they met in back-to-back games on June 15 and 18. In fact, the first of those games was the start of the Mercury’s just-ended winning streak. The Lynx had Augustus for that game in Minnesota, but not the subsequent game in Phoenix.
With the Mercury’s streak and the All-Star Game being in Phoenix, the Lynx got to take on the wry attitude of, “Oh, don’t mind us, we’re just the defending champs.” Thus, there was much anticipation of which WNBA alpha-dog team was going to bark loudest at Target Center on Thursday.
And it turned out there certainly was plenty of barking, most of it at the officials. Taurasi clearly felt like she’d been hacked all night, and this was one of those games where getting ticked off didn’t bring out her best. She was 5 of 21 from the field, including 0 of 7 from behind the arc, and picked up a technical when she’d finally reached volcano mode.
This night was in no way indicative of the season Taurasi is having; in fact, it was the categorical opposite of her 2014 campaign. Certainly, the primary subplot of this game was the comparison of the MVP front-runners Moore and Taurasi, the UConn uber-legends who are both making this season a personal scrapbook of highlights.
Thursday, Moore had the better of the battle, as she especially came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of her points in the period. And there was that moment when Moore ripped away the ball from Taurasi, much to DT’s irritation. That was a microcosm of how the game went, and you know Taurasi is already aching for the rematch on Aug. 9;
When the Lynx come to Phoenix in a little more than a week, the Mercury fans will give them the kind of “welcome” they typically reserve for the loathed Sparks. It will be another marquee night in the WNBA, the kind of “playoff atmosphere” regular-season game we can truly relish.
And how will that game go? Phoenix center Brittney Griner might be challenged by her coach and teammates to be stronger on the boards. She did a lot well Thursday, scoring 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting and blocking four shots, but her total of five rebounds probably needs to improve.
Candice Dupree did her job for Phoenix with a double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds), but overall, the Mercury are aware they can play better against Minnesota, even as good as the Lynx are.
Now the league’s top winning streak belongs to Minnesota, with eight consecutive victories. Perhaps you could say the chip on the shoulder switches back to the Mercury.
While there was some offensive ugliness Thursday, thanks to two strong defenses -- and players at times then reduced to forcing things offensively -- it was still a very fun game to watch. Especially because we realize how much this blockbuster matchup of teams has to offer us in 2014.