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It's Rebekkah Brunson who sets the tone for Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- Cheryl Reeve made her pitch to a few companies with a product to sell. The Minnesota Lynx coach has a new face for you. She'll set up the meeting.

"Band-Aid, Cure-Aid -- something," Reeve said. "Because there is not a bigger Band-Aid than what we just experienced tonight with Rebekkah."

Brunson was the edge in a grind-it-out game with big ramifications. Aggressive and opportunistic, it was the tone-setting play of the 11-year veteran forward that pushed Minnesota to a 67-60 win over Phoenix in the opening game of the Western Conference playoffs at Target Center on Thursday night.

The series moves to Phoenix on Sunday, where the Lynx stand one win away from their fourth trip to the WNBA Finals in the past five years.

"I just wanted to do whatever I could for us," Brunson said, utterly understating her impact on the final result.

While all eyes before the game were on the matchup inside with Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles, Brunson demanded attention. She literally played all but one second of the game, coming out for an in-bounds play and returning immediately after a quick foul.

The 33-year-old Brunson finished with 19 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end, to make her the leading offensive-rebounder in league playoff history, passing former teammate Taj McWilliams-Franklin. None was bigger than her rebound on a missed free throw by Fowles with 37.5 seconds left and the Lynx clinging to a 64-60 lead.

"Brunson was a beast tonight, but that is what she does," Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said.

Brondello said the late offensive rebound by Brunson is the kind of play that "can't happen. You need those possessions. Sometimes you can be hanging in there and one possession decides it."

For good measure, Brunson scored 13 big points (for the 10th playoff double-double of her career), including a put-back at the halftime buzzer that gave the Lynx a 35-32 lead going into the locker room.

"They want me to be a little more aggressive offensively, so I'm just going to take what I can get," Brunson said. "That is something I work on. [The 15-foot jumper] is something I'm comfortable shooting and it was available tonight."

Reeve isn't a gusher, by nature, but the compliments were flowing toward the player that has been the glue for this franchise since she arrived in the dispersal draft after the folding of the Sacramento Monarchs in 2010. On a team whose marquee got only more crowded with the addition of Fowles, Brunson might look like a supporting player. That's never the way she has been viewed in Minnesota. A knee injury last season limited her to 11 games and the Lynx can legitimately wonder if they might have been able to get past Phoenix and get back to the Finals if she'd been at full strength a year ago.

"Rebekkah was unbelievable," said Reeve, whose team moved to 19-2 all-time at home in the postseason. "She was so engaged. Oh my goodness, she gave us such a lift. She is so darn hard to play against. She listens to what was available to her and she just went out there and took it."

Brunson provided the energy and impetus for the Lynx to rebound from a slow start, quickly down 21-12 in the first quarter with seven early turnovers.

"Phoenix is a team that comes out aggressive and things weren't really going our way, so I tried to do what I could to lift us," Brunson said.

Defensively, she contributed to the shutdown of the Mercury's two best interior players -- in fact, two of the best interior players anywhere.

Griner and Candice Dupree struggled to contribute offensively for Phoenix. Griner, guarded largely by Fowles, finished 3-of-7 for nine points and six rebounds, all on the defensive glass. Dupree was 3-of-7 from the floor for eight points.

Minnesota out-rebounded Phoenix 44-30.

"Man, they killed us on the boards," said DeWanna Bonner, who was Phoenix's only scorer in double figures with 21 points. "Brunson, in particular. She just goes to get the ball, and we have to box her out better. She pursued the ball. At that point, it started to get frustrating.

"Rebounds. That's why we lost the game."

Brunson said she knows that's what she has always brought to this team, her strength and persistence on the glass.

"It's something that makes my role special," she said. "I tried to be aggressive and I try to get as many as possible. Whatever I can do to keep us in the game when we are having lows, I'm going to try to do."

Brunson said she got no motivation from the fact that the conversation before the game was focused elsewhere.

"It's not about me," Brunson said. "It's about team and how we go out and perform as a unit."

This was not a pretty game, not one for the highlight reel. Both teams shot less than 40 percent -- Phoenix at 32.8 and Minnesota at 39.7.

For the Mercury, the point total was a season-low.

Playoff basketball? Cheryl Reeve said no.

"It's these two teams," Reeve said. "We are the best two defensive teams in the Western Conference. It's no secret."