MINNEAPOLIS -- So this was the game we were waiting for between Phoenix and Minnesota. The one that felt like a collection of future Hall of Famers trying to out-do each other. The one that had the fans on their feet, screaming their heads off, while the folks watching on television probably felt like they were right there in the thick of it, too.
This is what we thought these Western Conference finals -- between the two best teams in the WNBA -- would be like. That Friday's game really wasn't like that is a tribute to the Mercury. That Sunday's game did live up to that billing was a tribute to both teams.
But in the end, it was the defending champion Lynx who said, "No, no, no ... you're not getting rid of us that easily." Led by two of the most sublime shooters in women's basketball -- Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus -- the Lynx fought their way back with a gritty and glorious fourth quarter and beat the Mercury 82-77. That tied the best-of-three series at one game apiece and sends it back to Phoenix on Tuesday night, with a trip to the WNBA Finals at stake.
"It's our playoff lives on the line," said Augustus, who had 23 points and five assists and -- like Moore -- seemed to find another gear in the final period. "Basically, you had to lay it all out there. What are you saving it for?"
Moore, who had a season-low nine points in Minnesota's 85-71 loss at Phoenix, responded Sunday the way you would expect from an MVP in the prime of her career. She killed it, though it did take until the second half for Moore to truly find her groove. She finished with 32 points and added nine rebounds.
"Anytime I don't feel like I played to my potential, it's obviously extremely frustrating," Moore said when asked if she was frustrated after Friday's struggles. Then she added with a chuckle, "I try not to let that happen a lot."
It happens almost never, actually. Sunday's output was the 13th game this season in which Moore has scored 30 or more points.
In the first half, though, neither she nor the rest of the Lynx made a 3-pointer. Minnesota was 0-of-8 from long range. That was a big problem for the Lynx, because in this matchup they have to be able to score from outside the arc.
Phoenix was so good inside -- the Mercury outscored the Lynx 40-20 in the paint -- that Minnesota needed to win via jump shot. That's tough to do against the length and quickness of the Mercury, but the Lynx got it done.
In the first half, it was point guard Lindsay Whalen who was able to keep the Lynx offense going with mostly perimeter shooting, as she made 6-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from the foul line for 15 points. She finished with 17 points and seven assists.
While the other Lynx shooters were still finding their range -- and trying to find spots to breathe against Phoenix's defense -- Whalen's scoring was critical. The thrilling second half couldn't have happened without that.
"Because we've been kind of slow making shots that we normally make, Whalen's kind of kept us afloat," Augustus said. "And people tend to play off Whalen a lot -- they go under screens. It somewhat feels disrespectful because she is a player that can step up at crunch time in games. But for whatever reason, people continue to give her those shots."
It's really not so much a matter of defenses lacking respect for Whalen's shooting as it is that they are -- understandably -- worried about containing Moore and Augustus.
In the fourth quarter, those two played like the superstars they are. Moore sank all three of her 3-point attempts in the final period. She finished 5-of-9 from behind the arc, and Augustus also hit a 3-pointer. The 18 points the Lynx got in the second half from long range -- after being shut out there in the first half -- were key in loosening Phoenix's defense.
It was a Moore-Augustus connection that finally gave the Lynx the lead in the fourth quarter after they'd been chasing the Mercury since the first minute. Moore zipped a pass inside to Augustus for a layup with 6:20 left to put Minnesota up 66-65.
After that, it was like a thrill ride, with Phoenix taking the lead once more and the score tied four times. At 75-75, it was Augustus who had the pivotal basket off a feed from Whalen. She was fouled and made the free throw.
That prompted pandemonium from the Target Center crowd of 10,513, as the fans didn't want to say goodbye to the Lynx for 2014.
The Mercury didn't score for the final 30 seconds, save Diana Taurasi's putback at the buzzer after Minnesota's celebration had already begun. Taurasi led the Mercury with 23 points, but her 2-of-11 shooting from long range was a problem for Phoenix. So was the fact that DeWanna Bonner and Penny Taylor -- who combined for 32 points in Game 1 -- had just 10 points between them Sunday.
Phoenix center Brittney Griner had 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, but only two of her points came in the pivotal fourth quarter. Griner had picked up a technical in the third quarter after protesting a foul against her, and that seemed to take away some of her aggressiveness.
Still, the Mercury didn't look upset after the game. To the contrary, they seemed pretty confident, as if to say, "Let's just go home and finish it off." Phoenix has lost only one game at US Airways Center this season, and that was back in May.
"I thought we played well for most of the game, we just didn't execute down the stretch," Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. "They responded well, Maya got her shooting touch back, and they made big shots when they needed to."
The Lynx did, indeed. Now it's a matter of which side can make more of those shot Tuesday. The West finals turned into the series worthy of the participants Sunday. That this is going to Game 3 just feels like what was supposed to happen.