MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Lynx entered the WNBA Finals with a banner already hanging in Target Center and a loaded roster that had visions of becoming the league’s next dynasty.
The Indiana Fever hasn’t backed down from a fight all postseason, and it’s clear it doesn’t plan to start now.
Erlana Larkins had 16 points and 15 rebounds and the Fever stunned defending champion Minnesota with a 76-70 victory over the Lynx in Game 1 on Sunday night.
“We’ve made it to this point. What’s there to fear?” Larkins said. “We know they’re the defending champions and they’re going to bring their ‘A’ game. … So what, they’re the defending champs? We’re here to take one.”
That’s exactly what the Fever did — take it.
Tamika Catchings scored 20 points for the Fever, playing without leading scorer Katie Douglas because of a sprained left ankle. The Fever scored 15 points off 17 Minnesota turnovers and outscored the Lynx 38-24 in the paint to become just the second visiting team this season to win at Target Center.
“We came in here without any fear,” coach Lin Dunn said.
Briann January added 11 points and six assists and Erin Phillips scored 13 for Indiana.
Game 2 in the best-of-five series is Wednesday night in Minneapolis.
Seimone Augustus scored 23 points and Rebekkah Brunson added 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Lynx, who are looking to become the WNBA’s first repeat champion in 10 years.
Maya Moore had 14 points, but on 4-of-14 shooting, and 10 boards. Lindsay Whalen managed 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting. Now they’ve lost home-court edge and trail in a series for the first time since their title run started last year.
“For some reason we didn’t come out ready to play and they were,” Augustus said.
Indiana led by 10 in the second quarter and withstood a furious opening to the second half by the Lynx. Minnesota looked to take control with an 8-0 run midway through the third quarter that gave them a 54-50 lead and put Indiana on its heels.
The Fever pulled it off without Douglas, who severely sprained her left ankle early in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals in Connecticut and didn’t make the trip. There is some question whether Douglas will be available at all in this series.
The Fever used superior ball movement to find wide open shots on the perimeter and cutters to the basket for easy lay-ups. Indiana opened a 10-point lead in the second quarter and some hard-nosed play had the Lynx flustered.
Catchings leveled guard Monica Wright with a screen and Augustus picked up a technical foul after Wright was called for a foul on the play.
“We are not here to just be in the Finals,” Catchings said. “We are here for a great opportunity, and both teams, we both want it bad. So every game is going to be just like this game. It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be hard-nosed.”
Just the way Larkins likes it. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound center bullied her way around the paint all night, out-muscling the Lynx and keeping possessions alive. Her putback with 3:20 left gave the Fever a 72-62 lead.
Now Indiana has the view from the driver’s seat for the first time this postseason.