Found October 18, 2012 on Fox Sports North:
MINNEAPOLIS Anywhere else, she would be a star. The star, even.She's won two WNBA championships and started an All-Star game. She's a three-time All-Star, in fact, and was named to the league's All-Defensive First Team last season. She was one of the 21 players in consideration for a spot on the 2012 women's Olympic roster, and on any other team, all that would likely earn her the fanfare of a franchise face.Not in Minnesota. Not for Rebekkah Brunson.Brunson, a 30-year-old forward, has played for the Lynx since 2010. Before that, she won a championship in Sacramento, and in recent years, she's blossomed into one of the league's best defensive players. She's part of what is arguably the WNBA's best roster, and only there, only with that kind of talent, could she blend in.So Brunson has taken a backseat, at least in terms of publicity, to Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen, the Lynx's Olympians and public faces. This season, she averaged 11.4 points and 8.9 rebounds, the latter number good for fourth-best in the league. Looking back, of course she stands out, for those numbers if nothing else, but while watching the Lynx, it's sometimes easy to forget about Brunson.At least, it was.Since the playoffs began, the forward has been the most productive and consistent player on the Lynx's roster. Augustus has been the dominant scorer, but Brunson has been the presence, doing the little things that can mean a win in such close, physical games. She's averaging 12.4 points and 10.3 rebounds, including four double-doubles, but those numbers hardly do her justice. It's been on defense and in the paint that she's shone."At this point, if voting ended today, the MVP for us through playoffs has been Rebekkah Brunson," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said last week. "She was really good in the regular season. She, post Olympic break, took her game to another level. I really think it's because of the rest she got during the Olympic break."Brunson suffered from a strained left calf before the Olympic break, which caused her to miss two games against Tulsa on July 10 and July 12. After the break, though, she returned with a vengeance, averaging 16.0 points and 12.2 rebounds (10th-best and best in the league, respectively) in six games in August.The playoffs have been no different. The first two rounds were characterized by gritty, defensive play, especially the three games against Seattle, in which Brunson averaged 11.7 rebounds per game, nearly double that of the team's next-best rebounder, Moore. Against the Fever in the Finals, she's been slightly less of a presence than in the first two series, averaging 8.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. But don't count Brunson out. Odds are she'll prove crucial in one of the remaining games, and even when her presences hasn't been reflected in numbers, it's been felt, through her dogged defense, size, and ability to take things away from her opponents."I don't know what's been different," Brunson said. "I'm just trying to play with a lot of energy and a lot of intensity. Both series, the teams that we played were defensively tough, and it took away a lot of stuff from our guards, so that just gave me an opportunity to do some things on the offensive end. And as far as defense is concerned, I just try to play hard, try to crash the boards and get some rebounds."On the season, the Lynx were the WNBA's best scorers, averaging 86.0 points per game. Their defense was solid, too, giving up an average of only 76.2 points per game. That led to the league's best point differential 9.8 per game but it was often offense that fell into the spotlight. Conventionally, offense is more exciting. There are beautiful three-point shots and dazzling assists, game-winning jumpers and speedy layups.Brunson's play, especially in the playoffs, calls all that into question. Defense has been much more the focus against the league's most dynamic teams, and it's been Brunson who's stolen the spotlight. She's seemed much larger than her 6'2", 184-pound frame as she prowls the court. (She's a Lynx. How appropriate. How clever. But seriously, she prowls. Watch her.) It's hard to imagine any opponent not being intimidated, and it seems like every time a rebound is possible, Brunson appears instantly to corral the ball. Maybe it isn't glamorous. Maybe it's not the first statistic we look to after games. But goodness knows, where would the Lynx be without Rebekkah Brunson?"Every day Rebekkah plays the game, she rebounds the ball, and the way she approaches her business is one with great intensity," Reeve said. "She only knows one way. That's to go full speed, and it's been huge for us."She may not be an Olympian. She may not receive any honors from the league. But don't forget about Rebekkah Brunson. Opponents know that. If they did, she'd make them pay even more than she already does.Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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