MINNEAPOLIS – Visiting teams won the first three Game 1s in the WNBA conference semifinals on Thursday and Friday.
The Storm, facing probably the toughest task Friday night, failed to make it 4 for 4.
Playing the league’s best team in a building where it hasn’t won in more than three years, the Storm could not stop the Minnesota Lynx from pulling away in the second half for an 80-64 win in the opener of this best-of-three Western Conference semifinal at the Target Center.
With KeyArena unavailable due to a scheduling conflict, the Storm must beat the Lynx in Game 2 on Sunday at the Tacoma Dome to force a deciding Game 3 back here Tuesday night.
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When these teams met in last year’s conference semifinals, a 86-79 double-overtime victory by the Storm in Game 2 set up a classic Game 3 at the Target Center, won by the Lynx, 73-72. But that Storm team had Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird. This one, without them, has lost all five games to the Lynx this season.
“We need to put together 40 minutes against this team,” said Tanisha Wright, who had 13 points. “They’re a talented bunch, but they haven’t seen us play for 40 minutes yet.”
Friday, it was more like 20 minutes — the first 20. The Lynx, running on almost every Storm miss, pushed a four-point halftime lead to 22, 80-58 with 2:18 to play.
Minnesota’s Maya Moore, after shooting 1 for 9 from the field in the first half, sank 5 of 6 in the second to finish with 17 points. Seimone Augustus had 19 points and Rebekkah Brunson 18 for the Lynx. Temeka Johnson led the Storm with 14, with Tina Thompson adding 10 points and eight rebounds.
Counting last year’s conference semifinals, the Storm has lost 10 straight to the Lynx here since a 73-71 victory on July 17, 2010.
“What they do to you is, when you turn the ball over, they can score on you quick,” Storm coach Brian Agler said.
Agler liked the way the Storm hung in through the first half, despite committing 10 turnovers and being outrebounded 9-1 on the offensive glass. Johnson’s length-of-the-floor drive for a layup with 1.2 seconds left annoyed Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, who emphasized defense at halftime.
“We just got a three-point play (from Lindsay Whalen), and we let Temeka Johnson go coast-to-coast on our defense, having a foul to give,” Reeve said. “Possession after possession we missed assignments defensively. We talked about how it was going to be our defense that was going to win us this game, and we needed to do it better.”
Minnesota did. The Storm managed only 28 points in the second half on 37.9 percent shooting. Moore scored nine points in the third quarter, finishing with a top-of-the-key three-pointer over Thompson with 1.8 seconds left as the Lynx took a 62-48 lead into the fourth quarter.
“That was a heck of a shot,” Agler said. “Tina had good pressure on her, and she jumped up and knocked it down.
“We did a solid job on (Moore) in the first half. In the second half, she separated herself, and it doesn’t take much of a mistake. We have to be disciplined and focus to stay in place with her.”
The Storm may only have one more chance to get it right. If not, the retiring Thompson’s storied WNBA career will end in a building where she has never played.
“They’ll be just as unfamiliar with it as we are,” Thompson said.