Lindsay Whalen took a stand after getting pushed around early by the San Antonio Stars, giving the Minnesota Lynx the boost they needed to come back.
Whalen had a career playoff-high 31 points and Minnesota rallied for a 94-89 victory over San Antonio on Saturday, advancing to the Western Conference finals and ending Becky Hammon's playing career.
Seimone Augustus scored 21 points, Maya Moore had 16 and Janel McCarville 10 for Minnesota, which will face the winner between Phoenix and Los Angeles after sweeping the first-round series.
"Offensively, we call (Whalen) the bully," Augustus said. "She just kind of puts her head down, goes to the basket and looks for contact.
"If she gets a call, she gets to the free throw and knocks it down, but if not, she plays through it. And that's been her mentality the entire year, just be aggressive.
"Tonight it was just contagious, once she got going, myself got going, Maya got going, J-Mac got going. All of us had that aggressive mentality that she had."
The Stars had no answer for the defending WNBA champions' offensive depth. After attempting to stall Whalen's drives, Minnesota allowed Augustus and Moore to close out the game.
Whalen's aggressive play was reminiscent of Hammon's career, which she started with the New York Liberty before being traded to San Antonio in 2007.
Hammon, who is retiring after 16 seasons in the WNBA, had 12 points and four assists in her final game. She received a standing ovation and received warm wishes from Minnesota's players, especially Augustus.
"I just congratulated her and said that I love her," Augustus said. "Thank you for everything you did for women and sports."
Hammon will become the first woman to serve as a full-time NBA assistant coach, joining the San Antonio Spurs in their quest for a championship repeat.
Kayla McBride had 25 points, Danielle Adams added 23, and Jia Perkins had 17 for San Antonio.
The Stars appeared ready to extend Hammon's career by getting off to a fast start and stifling the Lynx defensively.
"Physically, we weren't there, but mentally we knew it," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. "We just didn't respond. They did exactly what we thought. For two games they played great."
The Stars scored the game's first seven points and went on to a 22-4 lead. The early run included a turnaround jumper and a 3-pointer by Adams.
"It was a shame to start the game that way and then just kind of trail off," Hammon said. "We know they are a great team and have tremendous scorers. To do what we did in the first quarter and for them to still ring up 90-plus points, they really put it on us from second quarter on."
Minnesota rallied midway through the second quarter, sparked by Reeve's frustration with the officiating crew.
After her pleas for a call from official Amy Bonner weren't answered, Reeve turned to WNBA chief of basketball operations Renee Brown and said, "Adams is in the lane (defensively) for 10 seconds and they are not calling it."
Brown was in attendance to give Hammon the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award prior to the game.
"It never is (a way to spark the team) for me," Reeve said. "I know people say that, but I think that's the biggest myth there is. That gives me too much credit that I'm able to think like that."
Instead, Reeve credited Whalen's aggression.
The Lynx closed the first half on an 18-8 run to cut the Stars' lead to 44-40.
Whalen scored 12 points in the second quarter, hitting 4 of 5 shots and making all six free throws.
"Lindsay got us going in the second quarter when she had enough of the way we were playing," Reeve said. "She was contagious in such a positive way."
A pair of 3-pointers by McBride were the only points for San Antonio in the final minutes of the first half with the exception of a pair of free throws by Danielle Robinson with 0.5 seconds remaining.
Moore's 3-pointer gave Minnesota its first lead at 46-44 with 8:39 left in the third quarter.
That came seconds after Hughes received a technical foul.
The technical gave San Antonio a temporary spark that turned into a 59-53 lead, but Minnesota closed on a 14-5 run for a 67-64 lead entering the fourth.
"I thought the game got really physical," Hughes said. "I think they literally tried to own the paint and we didn't resist it well enough. We got ourselves in foul trouble trying to do that. You have to start with giving credit where credit is due. They are just a very good team."