Minnesota proves its appeal in Game 1 win

MINNEAPOLIS -- If WNBA president Laurel Richie could bottle the energy, passion and genuine enthusiasm the fans in Minnesota have shown for the Lynx, surely she would.

Heck, if she could grab some of their ticket sales to spread around, she'd do that, too.

The Minnesota Lynx opened their first appearance in the WNBA Finals on Sunday night with an 88-74 win over the Atlanta Dream, coming back from a 12-point first-half deficit and riding the wave of one of the loudest, most fervent crowds in recent league history.

More than 15,200 people showed up at the Target Center on Sunday night to root for the Lynx in the first WNBA Finals game ever played in Minneapolis.

It was the franchise's second-biggest crowd ever, larger even than the 14,000 expected. It was the biggest in a season that has seen the seats steadily fill.

It was loud. It was energized. It was a factor as the home team rallied from a tough start to an impressive win.

Seimone Augustus has been playing in this city since being drafted by the Lynx in 2006, and when she came out for warm-ups, she looked around and saw things she'd never seen before.

"It was amazing," Augustus said. "Just to run out and see the white pompoms waving in the air and the seats actually filled, even the upper deck was filled.

"From the tip to the last horn, it was loud, to the point where we had to call our plays two and three times to relay to the team to make sure we got the right calls. It was a great thing."

Guard Candice Wiggins said it made her "almost dizzy."

Guard Lindsay Whalen apparently wasn't surprised to see such an outpouring of affection. She told coach Cheryl Reeve a while ago that this would happen.

"Lindsay told me at the beginning of the season that this is a bandwagon town, and if you win, they will come," Reeve said. "Obviously, with 15,000 here tonight, that came to be true."

Before Sunday night's win -- which gives the Lynx a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series, with Game 2 in Minnesota on Wednesday night -- Richie gave an upbeat, if mildly vague, "state of the league" press conference.

She talked about how she will spend the offseason examining ways that the league can appeal to more fans and entice more fans to buy tickets and sample a great product. She talked as WNBA presidents have for 15 years. Frankly, she was talking about making some of the league's other markets look more like Minnesota, at least the 2011 version.

The Lynx have touched a nerve here; they have been a beacon in a sports town in need of something to cheer about.

It's fall in Minnesota. The leaves are just starting to turn color, and Sunday afternoon, it was 80 glorious degrees. And then the Vikings game ended. This town's No. 1 team lost to the Kansas City Chiefs and fell to 0-4.

On the local TV station, the postgame show commenced and one of the anchors mentioned the Lynx would open the WNBA Finals later in the evening.

"Do the Lynx play football?" another anchor asked. "They would win."

The Lynx have given the community around Minneapolis good reason to embrace them beyond having the best record in the league this season. It hasn't just been what they've done, but how they've done it.

They play high-scoring, ball-sharing basketball. They feature great stories, such as the hometown girl, Whalen, and the wily veteran, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who battled the stomach flu for much of Sunday's game. McWilliams-Franklin tried to get an IV at halftime, but the needle wouldn't get into her arm, yet she still played more than 30 minutes.

The Lynx have a gritty, workhorse forward, Rebekkah Brunson, who broke out for 26 points and 11 rebounds in Game 1.

And a spectacular rookie in Maya Moore.

The crowd never cheered louder than when Moore took a feed on the baseline from Augustus and barreled to the basket, scoring on a highlight-reel reverse layup to tie the game at 42. And the crowd roared as the Lynx went on a 13-0 run to open the fourth quarter and assume control of the game.

"I hope that everybody that paid for their ticket got their money's worth," said McWilliams-Franklin, who has played 13 seasons in the WNBA (counting this season) but just one with the Lynx. "We were happy to have the rafters filled. I'm really happy. I used to come to games here when we played against them and see 2,000 people. It feels great to be a part of the resurgence of the Lynx here."

Wiggins was at the Mall of America on Saturday getting her nails done when a young fan walked past the shop, saw Wiggins inside and started screaming.

"I said to her, 'Do you play basketball?' and she said no," Wiggins said. "I think that's the biggest thing. We have transitioned from just appealing to people who love basketball to people who are coming out who admire and respect what we are doing. I think that's important not just for us, but for women's basketball."

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