There was no smile from Seimone Augustus as she walked alone through the bowels of Target Center. Her shoulders were slunk, her head was down. It took all the gas remaining in Augustus tank and in her surgically repaired left knee just to make it to the Minnesota Lynxs locker room.
With one more victory, she can rest.
Augustus was a one-woman wrecking crew Wednesday night at Target Center, matching Dream standout Angel McCoughtry nearly shot-for-shot as the two superstars traded haymakers, carrying their respective teams through a 56-foul slopfest. Augustus ultimately earned the decision, scoring a career playoff high 36 points in Minnesotas 101-95 victory, which pulled the Lynx within one win of the franchises first WNBA title.
The best individual performance Ive seen in the playoffs, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. Shes a warrior, she is hurt, and shes tough.
McCoughtrys WNBA Finals record 38 points following a record-setting 19-point third quarter in Game 1 were for naught.
Augustus came just three points shy of her career high, hitting a whopping 11 of 14 shots and draining 13 of her 16 free throw attempts. She sank five of her last six from the charity stripe as chants of M-V-P rained down from the sellout crowd of 15,134.
Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings was named the 2011 regular season MVP, but Augustus let slip that shes at least aware theres a second MVP trophy to be had when a WNBA champion is crowned.
I just want to get the title, thats whats in front of me right now, Augustus said. The MVP award is over with and done. You can talk about the WNBA Finals MVP, but thats not of my concern. I want the title.
Concerned or not, the three-time All-Star has staked her claim to the hardware with 58 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in two contests, edging McCoughtry by virtue of win-loss record thus far. Augustus scored 14 points in the second quarter alone, preventing the Dream from extending a lead that peaked at 10 points. Then came the fourth quarter, when she reached the free throw line 13 times and scored 15 points including 10 during Minnesotas decisive 16-2 run.
That three-minute, 28-second stretch gave the Lynx a 97-87 advantage and included six of Atlantas 33 fouls a total that left the Dream seething and McCoughtry despondent despite her WNBA record.
I dont care about that I want to win a ring, McCoughtry said. Dont you want to see us play and battle it out? It should be between us and Minnesota. Let us scratch and claw to the end.
If we all come out bloody, we all come out bloody. Let us play.
Augustus wasnt outwardly any worse for the wear after taking a brunt of Atlantas hacks, but was mildly annoyed after the game that coach Cheryl Reeve let it slip that Augustus is dealing with a bum knee.
Why did coach tell you all that? Augustus said. Thats not important. Just some swelling in the knee I had surgery on. It wasnt going to stop me from playing.
It certainly didnt slow her down in crunch time while Augustus was working her fourth-quarter magic on offense, she was also holding McCoughtry to 1-for-7 shooting. The Dreams star wing missed her final five shots, her four points in the final 2:09 all coming from the charity stripe.
Augustus did it all with only sporadic assistance, and may not get help from starting center Taj McWilliams-Franklin in Game 3. The veteran left in the second quarter with an injured right knee and was still hobbling after the final horn. As the Lynx made their way to the locker room postgame, McWilliams-Franklin yelled ahead to Reeve and looked dejected as she shook her head and said no when her coach turned around. Asked about the injury and if shed be available for Game 3, McWilliams-Franklin refused comment and limped away.
The Lynx could use more from rookie Maya Moore, who played less than 16 minutes Wednesday due to foul trouble. Minnesota did get timely contributions from Lindsay Whalen and Jessica Adair, who both chipped in 13 points and three-point plays in the final seven minutes. But it was Augustus who carried her squad from start to finish, and Augustus wholl be asked to shoulder the load in Atlanta on Friday.
Im just glad we were able to at a few points in the game step up for Seimone and take some of the pressure off her a little in the third quarter, Moore said. Shes got so much heart. I cant speak to how much players like that want it and wont let their team lose.
Augustus spoke to it, but didnt need to. Her play said plenty.