ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Lynx rushed out to another big lead Friday night. And every time the Phoenix Mercury began to chip away, Maya Moore pushed them aside.
Moore scored 26 points, all in the first three quarters, and the defending WNBA champion Lynx beat the Mercury 96-86 on Friday night to take a 2-0 lead in the semifinal series.
Coming off a record-setting 113-point outburst in Game 1, Minnesota shot 61 percent in the first quarter and took a 35-24 lead. Moore scored 12 points in a three-minute flurry to close the quarter.
“She’s a very difficult person to guard because you can’t necessarily script what she’s going to do,” said Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve, honored as the WNBA coach of the year Friday. “Maya’s got a good feel for the game in terms of moving without the basketball.”
Lindsay Whalen scored 12 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter for Minnesota, playing at the Xcel Energy Center — home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild — for the second straight game because of a scheduling conflict at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
The Lynx missed their first five shots of the second quarter, but Moore stole an outlet pass and hit a 3-pointer to push Minnesota’s lead to 12.
Phoenix cut it to 63-57 midway through the third quarter. Moore answered with one of her four 3-pointers on the night and the Mercury didn’t come within six again until the final 30 seconds.
In the end, the Mercury paid for their poor first quarter.
“To let them score 35 points, that was the ballgame,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “You can’t play with the Lynx for 30 minutes. They’re too good of a team.”
Still, with Moore’s scoreless fourth quarter fresh in her mind, Reeve said the Lynx need more out of their former league MVP.
“I know that the stat line says she was really, really good, but I think overall Maya Moore is a better player that what we saw tonight,” Reeve said.
Rebekkah Brunson added 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Sylvia Fowles had 14 points and nine rebounds for the top-seeded Lynx. Fowles was honored Friday as the league’s defensive player of the year.
Diana Taurasi had 31 points for the eighth-seeded Mercury. Penny Taylor added 16, and Marta Xargay had 10.
“We did a much better job of matching their intensity and their toughness,” Taurasi said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t bring it in the first quarter and that was probably the difference.”
The teams combined for 54 fouls, including 17 in the first quarter. Phoenix center Britney Griner was especially hampered by the barrage of whistles. She picked up two fouls in the first 1:41 and was pulled from the game. Griner returned with 3:23 to go in the first quarter, but picked up her third foul with 50.8 seconds left in the quarter. She played just 4:13 in the first half.
The offenses took advantage of the numerous trips to the line. The teams combined to make their first 25 free throws and made 63 of 68 from the line on the night.
Mercury: Center Kelsey Bone missed the game because of a strained left elbow. She was injured in the second half in Game 1 on Wednesday night. … The Mercury have played four consecutive road playoff games. They won the first two, single-elimination games at Indiana and New York, before losing two straight in Minnesota.
Lynx: Minnesota has won its first playoff game in each of the last six seasons. … Jia Perkins had 12 points. … Minnesota played without guard Anna Cruz and center Janel McCarville, both sidelined with back injuries.
Game 3 is Sunday in Phoenix.