MINNEAPOLIS — Rebekkah Brunson doesn’t get the most headlines on the Minnesota Lynx. Still she’s a key reason the team still has a chance to defend its WNBA title.
Brunson just missed her third straight double-double with 16 points and nine rebounds and the Lynx held off the Seattle Storm 73-72 Tuesday night to advance to the Western Conference finals.
Seimone Augustus scored 21 points and Maya Moore had 20 to help Minnesota bounce back from a double-overtime loss in Game 2 and win the best-of-3 opening round series.
Minnesota will host Los Angeles in the opener of the West finals Thursday night. The Sparks swept San Antonio in their series.
“Survive and advance, baby. Survive and advance,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve.
Sue Bird scored 19 points and Camille Little had 17 for Seattle, which won the championship in 2010, but lost in the conference semifinals for the seventh time in eight years.
The Storm had a chance to win it in the final seconds, but Lauren Jackson’s turnaround jumper went off the rim.
“She makes those all the time,” Bird said. “When it went off her hand I was hoping.”
Jackson, the 6-foot-6 center, was watched by Brunson on the final play, just as she has been for much of the series. Jackson finished 10 of 36 from the field in the three games and had just 23 rebounds — 14 of which were in Game Two.
“Nobody’s going to be able to stop here, you just want to make everything tough,” said Augustus. “Our post players did a great job of making her job harder.”
Reeve called Brunson the team’s MVP for the series. “Without her, we would have really struggled.”
Brunson, who averaged 11.4 points and 8.9 rebounds in the regular season, shrugged off the compliment. “I’m trying to do whatever I can to put my team in the best situation to win. It’s not about me. I think we played an amazing three games together collectively.”
She scored 10 of the team’s first 11 points in the final quarter.
“She has worked hard and developed into not just being a rebounder, but into the ability to score in one-on-one situations,” said Seattle coach Brian Agler. “There was a point during the course of this game where she hit multiple shots, jump shots away from the rim, and hit big baskets for them, and at the same time, still played to her main strength which is rebounding and getting them second opportunities.”
After Lindsay Whalen missed a leaner for the Lynx with 10.4 seconds to play, Seattle appeared to be running a final play, but Agler saw that Minnesota’s defense had hustled back, so he called a time out with just 3.3 seconds to play.
“We’re not surprised that it came to that,” Bird said. “We knew that we would have a chance.”
With Minnesota leading by one point midway through the final period, Brunson and Whalen hit jumpers 33 seconds apart around a missed 3 by Bird to make it 69-64. Bird then answered with a 3 to pull the Storm to within two with 2:47 to play.
A baseline drive by Augustus put the Lynx up by four 30 seconds later, but Katie Smith answered with a long jumper. Taj McWilliams-Franklin scored in the paint to put the Lynx up 73-69 with 1:37 to play.
Both teams missed 3s before Bird, who shot 2 for 6 from beyond the arc, made one to pull the Storm within one.
Whalen was limited for much of the game after falling on her left wrist in the first quarter. She had the wrist heavily taped for the second half, but clearly favored using her right hand.
“Lindsay in one of our franchise players and she makes things go, so it was challenging,” Reeve said. “She’s a warrior. … She’s tough as nails.”
Augustus scored eight of the first 11 Lynx points to start the second half to give Minnesota a 47-41 lead, but Minnesota couldn’t build on its margin. A jumper by Smith got the Storm to 56-52 at the quarter’s end, and she hit a 3 to start the fourth.
Minnesota, which was just 6 for 30 from the field in the fourth quarter and two overtimes Sunday, shot 64.3 percent in the first quarter.
Moore scored 10 points during an 18-4 run to give the Lynx a 20-12 lead late in the opening period, but Minnesota started just 1 for 12 in the second.
Seven straight points by Little put the Storm in front 26-25.
Moore made a 3 with 20 seconds to play in the half to give the Lynx a 36-32 lead, but Tanisha Wright answered from beyond the arc just before the buzzer to get Seattle to 36-35 at the break.
“Having to grind out a win is what playoff basketball is all about, especially championship basketball,” Augustus said.