BY SPNW Staff 08:58PM 09/28/2012

Bench valiant in close Storm playoff loss to Lynx

An icy cold Storm settled in Minneapolis’s Target Center Friday, and it froze out Seattle’s chances for a dramatic upset win in its WNBA playoff opener.

The Storm missed its first eight shots and never overcame the start, giving the Minnesota Lynx a wire-to-wire, 78-70 triumph and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series that moves to Seattle for the second game Sunday.

Behind a stout effort from the bench, the Storm closed to within six points three times in the fourth quarter, but never closer. The game finished with Sue Bird on the bench for the final five minutes after one of her poorest postseason games.

In 28 minutes, Bird had eight points, five turnovers and three assists, continuing to be limited by a strained hip flexor muscle.

Lauren Jackson had a strong first half with 11 points but in her longest stint since the Olympics (27 minutes), faded in the second half with just one point and one rebound. Rookie Shekinna Stricklen led the Storm with 13 and Katie Smith joined Jackson with 12.

Another offensive straggler was Tanisha Wright. Although she had seven assists and five rebounds, she missed eight of 10 from the floor. The Storm shot 40 percent, missing on 17 of 24 treys. The Storm was 13 for 23 from the free throw line.

Although the Lynx ran out from a 33-27 halftime lead to a 17-point margin in the third period, Storm reserves picked up for their limping stars. Stricklen, Ann Wauters and Tina Thompson combined to outscore the Lynx bench 26-5 to keep things close and cause some unease for the 9,213 in attendance.

With two minutes remaining and the Lynx up 71-63, Stricklen drove the baseline, scored and was fouled. But she missed the free throw and the Lynx held on from there.

The defending champs were led by their big three: Lindsay Whalen had 20 points and six assists, Seimone Augustus had 19 and Maya Moore 16.

After the flight back to Seattle, the quick turnaround for the Storm’s seasonal do-or-die game is 6 p.m. Sunday at KeyArena.


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