Candice Dupree can't wait until SundayMINNEAPOLIS - A fresh butterfly bandage covered the spot on her right arm where Candice Dupree received a postgame IV on Thursday. She stood in a Target Center hallway long after the Phoenix Mercury absorbed a 95-67 beatdown from the Minnesota Lynx in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, and it was fair to wonder what affected her more, a shortage of fluids or opportunities.
A career 20.8 points per game scorer in the postseason, Dupree had been unstoppable in the final two games of the West semifinals against Seattle, running the floor, scoring 49 points on 22-of-29 shooting and sealing the Game 3 victory with a putback jumper with 1.9 seconds to play.
Yet Thursday, nothing. Dupree wasn't feeling great to begin with. "I don't know if it's dehydration, or a touch of the flu," she said. But the Lynx kept the Mercury from getting out on the break, which is the 6-foot-2 Dupree's game.
Dupree had more fouls (five) than points or rebounds (two of each) in 26 minutes. She shot 1-for-6 from the field and picked up her second technical foul of the playoffs with nine minutes to play, shortly after missing a contested shot inside and not getting a foul call. Dupree also had a technical late in Game 3 against Seattle, a game so physical she likened it on her blog to a UCF fight.
This time, she said, she simply was making a request. "All I said was, 'Watch the push,' and I got T'd up," Dupree said. "Hopefully they'll rescind it. The playoffs are costing me a lot of money, man."
Sunday's Game 2 at the U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix can't come fast enough for Dupree. "We'll figure out the things we did wrong," she said. "I'm not sure how much we did right, but I'm sure we'll take a look at that, too. Once we got in the locker room it was kind of like, let this one go, it's time to move on, and let's get ready for the game on Sunday."
The Lynx targeted Dupree in their defensive game plan, along with Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor. They also figured they could get her in foul trouble by attacking the basket and working the ball inside to Rebekkah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who combined for 27 points.
"She's such a great rim-runner," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "Because we weren't turning the ball over early, we were able to take her out of that part of the game. And then putting pressure on Taurasi and Taylor to make plays. I think we made things difficult for them, pushed them out."
Though Phoenix coach Corey Gaines credited the Lynx for great overall defense, he did not think it thwarted Dupree. "I think she did it herself," he said.
Dupree admitted she was frustrated. Her only basket came with 6:16 left in the second quarter and the fast-starting Lynx ahead by 19. She picked up her third and fourth fouls early in the third quarter, after the Mercury cut the deficit below 10 points, and sat for nearly five minutes. Minnesota scored seven straight points after Dupree returned to go up 70-53, and the Mercury never got close again.
"I think a lot of it was us being discombobulated," she said. "We didn't play well together at all. Minnesota is a very good defensive team, and we just didn't execute anything offensively, and I think it kind of carried over to the opposite end of the floor. We couldn't get any stops, and they were knocking back everything."
Forward DeWanna Bonner agreed. "They did a great job taking away our easy buckets," she said. "I think we missed some open shots as well, so we couldn't get going on the fast break. We just got bread-and-buttered. They did a great job on defense and they killed us on the boards."
No team in the WNBA plays the us-against-them card better than Phoenix. From Dupree's blog, it's clear the Mercury thought they were playing eight-on-five in Seattle in Game 3, which explains Taurasi's expletive-filled demonstration when she fouled out with 6:38 to play.
At Thursday's postgame news conference, Gaines, a feisty former NBA player who earned a technical himself, dared reporters to write off the Mercury. That, of course, would be ridiculous. The Mercury also lost a lopsided Game 1 in the Seattle series, 80-61, before coming back, and they didn't win 2007 and 2009 WNBA titles by backing down.
"I got champions, world champions, gold medal holders, NCAA champions," Gaines said. "I don't need to motivate. Champions motivate themselves."
These champions can score a ton of points if an opponent isn't careful. That's the thing that worries Reeve.
"I don't know what we were up [in the first quarter], 15, 17, 19, whatever it was, it never feels like enough," Reeve said. "Even in the fourth quarter with six minutes to go and a 20-plus lead, it never feels like enough. This is the one team in the league that can take advantage of a bad defense and come at you with a quick offense."
That benefits Dupree. Her 29-point Game 2 in the Seattle series set up the body-banging Game 3 at KeyArena, where the Mercury overcame a hostile crowd and Taurasi's foul problems to win in Seattle for the first time in two years.
"After that first series against Seattle, I don't know if anything can match that," Dupree said. "That was like a boxing match.
"[The Lynx] were physical, but we can be just as physical. We don't want it to get dirty or anything like that. But we have to be able to match it, or else we'll get crushed."