The focus, inevitably, was on Brittney Griner, the 6-8 rookie center for the Phoenix Mercury who has been anointed as the WNBA’s Next Big Thing.
Apparently nobody told Amber Harris. And, perhaps, the Lynx has not been informed that the Mercury was the preseason league favorite. Or, maybe, that’s all they’ve heard.
For whatever reason the Lynx (2-0) hit the Target Center court Thursday at 100 miles per hour in a 99-79 victory over Phoenix (0-3) that wasn’t as close as the final score might indicate. It was a one-sided, to-the-woodshed victory in which just about everything the Lynx did, they did well.
And it started with Harris.
The team’s backup center had a career night. She played 30 minutes, mostly against Griner, mostly getting the better of the Mercury rookie. Harris pulled Griner to the perimeter on offense, scoring a career-best 18 points to go with six rebounds, three assists and three blocks — two of Griner shots.
“She was the key to the game,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Early on I told her, I don’t want her to go just straight up. I want her to go compete, go block her shot. She had a nice one in front of our bench, and she kind of looked at me [as if to say], ‘Like that?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, just like that.’ ”
Harris is in her third season. She entered training camp confident after a strong winter overseas. She has been given more minutes with Taj McWilliams-Franklin retired, and she has taken advantage of it.
“I just went out and played hard,” Harris said. “It feels good to finally get out there and contribute, help my teammates.”
Griner had 16 points and five rebounds. But she didn’t get a block, misfired on a dunk attempt and had a late dunk attempt broken up by Janel McCarville on a hard foul that McCarville actually got the worst of, taking a nasty hit to the face.
“We weren’t having it,” said McCarville, who had four points, four rebounds and three assists. “I got a busted face. My lip’s a little jacked. But it was worth it.’’
While Harris and McCarville were winning their battles, the Lynx were taking care of business everywhere else. Maya Moore had another strong start, scoring 19 of her 22 points in the first half. Seimone Augustus had 19 points, Monica Wright 11. Lindsay Whalen had 10 assists.
The Lynx offense was absurdly efficient. The team tied franchise records for most assists (30, on 36 field goals made) and for fewest turnovers (six).
“It’s so fun to play like that,” Moore said. “It builds everybody up.”
And it started early. The Lynx finished the first quarter on a 20-7 run to lead 32-16. That lead was at 27 by halftime and grew to 35 early in the third quarter. After that Reeve started clearing the bench.
“We have been embracing the notion that when you play hard great things happen to you,” Reeve said. “Tonight was a product of that.’’
The message was different down the hall. The Mercury had a postgame meeting that ran more than 40 minutes past the game’s end. After the doors finally opened, guard Alexis Hornbuckle called her team’s effort embarrassing, and star guard Diana Taurasi (21 points) didn’t disagree. “There is a laundry list of things we need to figure out,” she said. “We will get better.”