MINNEAPOLIS – So much went right in those final 20 seconds for the San Antonio Silver Stars that they couldn't possibly lose again to the Minnesota Lynx.
Until they did.
In a physical game Friday night, San Antonio scrapped and harassed the team with the best record in the WNBA in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal, leaving the Lynx so spent that Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson each missed a pair of foul shots with a one-point lead in the final 10.2 seconds. Two of the teams' four regular-season games had gone down to the last possession, and both times the Lynx hit the final bucket to pull out the win. Now, it was San Antonio's turn.
Becky Hammon recounted the final moments of the 66-65 loss in a voice so quiet a baby could have slept through it. Any number of plays could have won it for the Silver Stars and given them a 1-0 lead in this best-of-three series with the chance to wrap it up at home Sunday.
But rookie guard Danielle Robinson missed a driving layup for the lead with 15.9 seconds to go. Brunson wriggled through to snag an offensive rebound after rookie Moore's second missed foul shot -- something that should not happen. Sophia Young hustled down the long rebound after Brunson missed her two, giving San Antonio seven seconds for the final winning shot.
It never came. On a side inbounds play with four seconds left and the sellout Target Center crowd of 11,891 screaming for a stop, Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen -- who loves to joke about her lack of hops -- deflected Robinson's inbounds pass to Moore, who dribbled the other way until time expired. The play topped a big night for Whalen, who had 20 points, five assists and three steals.
"Had two or three things gone differently, we win that game," Hammon said. "At some point the ball is going to bounce our way. We're so close at times. Give them credit. They closed better than we did."
"We made some tough plays down the stretch," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "I told Lindsay Whalen I think that was the biggest deflection I've ever seen in my life. I told Maya I was glad the rookie of the year voting was already in."
Even at home for Game 2, San Antonio finds itself in tough shape, since the Lynx are the best road team in the league at 13-4.
"It's a very comfortable feeling for us to play in San Antonio," Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes said. "We're not sure of anything. We have to go make it happen."
Hughes can't put together a better game plan than Friday's. He sent Hammon weaving around screens to shed defender Seimone Augustus, who held Hammon to 1-for-20 shooting in their last two meetings. Hammon still didn't shoot great (4-for-13), but all her baskets were 3-pointers in a 16-point night.
The Silver Stars contained forward Brunson and center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who combined for only nine points and provided so little offensively that Reeve played subs Jessica Adair and Amber Harris more than six minutes each in the fourth quarter. Neither scored, but Brunson did grab 14 rebounds -- none bigger than the one at the end.
When Reeve told her defense to challenge the 3-point line after San Antonio's seven first-half 3s, Hughes took advantage of their switching to create mismatches for the 6-foot-1 Danielle Adams down low. Several times the 5-9 Whalen found herself on the wide-bodied Adams, who scored 13 of her 16 points in the second half. Trying to block her shot with 2:28 left and the Lynx ahead by three, Whalen fouled hard, smacking all ball and part of Adams' face. Adams still muscled it in, and made the foul shot.
"People want to see her as one-dimensional," Hughes said. "She's not."
But in the end, the Lynx made one more play. Augustus, who didn't score her first points until almost midway through the second quarter, swung off a Brunson screen for a pull-up jumper with 1:44 left. Hammon hit a 3-pointer, but Augustus lost Robinson with a nifty crossover dribble and nailed an 11-foot pull-up with 53.1 seconds left for the game's final points.
"We expected to get San Antonio's best," said Augustus, who finished with 19 points. "They came out aggressive on the defensive end, being physical with everyone, and we just had to get comfortable getting into the groove of the game."
Said Reeve: "It's kind of interesting. I would have not been able to tell that we won the game in the locker room just now. They're happy that they won but disappointed overall in how it turned out for us after three days of practice. That's always good news for me.
"I know we'll watch video and clean some things up, and we'll see if we can't be better on Sunday. You have to embrace how difficult the game will be. We're the best road team in the league. I have no doubt we will respond."
Hughes, meanwhile, has to keep his team from wondering if they'll ever beat the Lynx.
"We lost six straight games in the [regular] season, and came back to win five out of six," he said. "If that doesn't build some toughness for that type of thing. We were staring down the barrel after losing six in a row. We had to play well to put ourselves in position to be sitting here.
"This is a good group. They stay together well. The key question is, can we turn around and put pressure back on Minnesota? We'll find out how they can handle it."