MINNEAPOLIS -- In the third quarter of Sunday's opening game of the WNBA Finals, Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry ran right into a screen set by Minnesota's Janel McCarville. The Dream star hit the deck, then sat for a second shaking her head, trying to figure out who had just constructed a wall in the middle of the court.
That's kind of what it felt like for the Dream most of the game, actually. Minnesota delighted the home crowd at the Target Center with an 84-59 victory. After a loss in the opening game of last season's WNBA Finals to Indiana, the Lynx made a very strong statement in this game.
But it's not like the Lynx were totally consumed with thoughts about that loss to Indiana last season in a series that the Fever eventually won 3-1.
"We let the past go when we turned into the new year, but we understood that we had home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and how important that was," said Minnesota's Seimone Augustus, who had 19 points Sunday. "We didn't harp on it, though, like 'Game 1. Remember last year?' It was just getting ready for this game."
And, wow, were they ready. The Lynx were up 24-16 after the first quarter and led 44-25 at halftime. You might say the Dream had a slight chance at closing the gap in the third quarter, but, realistically, it was a lot like the sign one Lynx fan held up during the game: "Dream on, Atlanta."
This game belonged to the Lynx and, at times, showcased the Western Conference champions at their very best.
"We started a 200-minute series exactly the way we wanted to," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said.
Of course, if the Lynx play this well for the next two games, this is going to be a 120-minute series. That was the case two seasons ago, when the Lynx swept the Dream in the WNBA Finals.
But don't be bringing up that sweep stuff around Reeve or the Lynx. They are not going to look even a second ahead, no matter how well they played Sunday. A title slipped away from them last season, and they know that -- as improbable as it might seem in the immediate aftermath of their dominance in Game 1 -- that the Dream could come storming back.
"It will be amazing how different Game 2 is versus Game 1," Reeve said. "It's all about adjustments."
OK, we'll see. But the Dream are going to have to adjust a whole heck of a lot to get a different outcome. Sunday, Atlanta had 44 points in the paint … but only four outside the paint. Add in 11 free throws, and that's a sub-60 scoring night that didn't come close to making this a competitive contest. The Dream shot 31.2 percent from the field, including 0-of-15 from 3-point range.
"I don't even want to talk about it; I feel like I'm going to jinx it and they're going to hit them next game," Augustus joked about the success of Minnesota's perimeter defense. "But it was just solid defense, and that was one of the keys to the game. They like to get to the basket, so defending without fouling too much was also a key.
"They still ended up getting 16 offensive rebounds, though, so we've still got to clean that up."
Indeed, the Lynx were very aware of what they didn't do Sunday and ways they were less than perfect.
"That's the common denominator on the championship teams I've been on -- you're never satisfied with where you're at," said Minnesota's Maya Moore, who led the Lynx with 23 points. "Well, it's actually not 'never satisfied,' because we do celebrate our victories. You have to have that balance. But we always have that hunger to want to be even better. It's fun. We have a locker room full of players like that, so it gives you a chance to get a championship."
If you were a Lynx fan, what was your favorite part of this? There could have been several. How about super-sub Monica Wright coming off the bench for 20 points and helping hold McCoughtry, who had 17 points, to 6-of-24 shooting?
There was the smooth scoring of Moore and Augustus, who were a combined 19-of-31 from the field and 4-of-6 from 3-point range.
Or what about McCarville, who has been dealing with back pain/spasms which kept her out of recent practices and actually made it hard for her to walk in the days before the game? She still gritted through her first appearance in the WNBA Finals, getting 7 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and setting some of her trademark screens, such as the one into which McCoughtry ran.
Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen played with McCarville in college at Minnesota and against her in the WNBA when McCarville was in New York. Whalen was asked if she'd ever slammed hard into a "Big Mac" screen at any point, either in practice with the Gophers or when she and McCarville were WNBA opponents.
"Thankfully, no," Whalen said. "I'm usually the one coming off her screens. When she was with New York, I was always aware of where she would be. She is a great screen setter, and she uses her body well."
McCarville's body feels a bit battered now, but in her first season with the Lynx, she just wants to do whatever she can to help. Asked how her back felt after the game, McCarville said wryly, "It's there. It's still attached to my body, so I can't complain too much.
"At times, it was OK.At times, it was difficult. To bang with [Erika] de Souza inside is no easy task. I set a couple of good screens where I got rocked and probably felt it just as much as they did. Gotta rest up, do some treatment, get some ice and get back to it on Tuesday."
McCarville hit the floor a few times in the game and joked, "Some of it was hustle, some of it was un-coordination. If I was going to be on the court, I was going to go hard. I gave Coach a signal a couple of times to get me the hell out of there, and she did pretty rapidly."
By the fourth quarter, when the Lynx led by as much as 31 points, the Dream were surely ready to get the hell out of the Target Center, regroup, and look toward Tuesday's Game 2.
Will it be any different, though? The Dream vowed it would be, and they do have their dramatic turnaround in the Eastern Conference semifinals as evidence they can flip the switch from a terrible game to a strong one. That's what they did against Washington between Games 1 and 2.
However … that was against the Mystics. This is against the Lynx, the best team in the league all during the regular season and undefeated so far in the playoffs.
"Well, we still have some things to improve on," Augustus said. "We don't want to peak yet, but as long as we keep this vibe, we'll be good."