It’s starting to look a lot like 2016.
Minnesota Lynx find themselves facing an elimination game this upcoming Sunday in Los Angeles. A year ago they were able to pull out a victory in this situation to force a game 5 in the 2016 WNBA Finals. After winning 70-68 at home Tuesday, Lynx lost 75-64 Friday in Los Angeles.
In game 5 defense helped the Lynx keep things close before the game unraveled in the last two minutes. One thing that was missing this game was production from their core players as three starters went scoreless in the first half in Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus. Both Whalen and Augustus went scoreless the entire game.
“Our starters didn’t compete in a way that we had hoped,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said during the post game interview. “Its hard to win WNBA Finals games without your stars.”
In a tightly contested match up, Sparks look to exploit any disadvantage Lynx may face.
“We just try to make things difficult for them and live with the results,” Candace Parker said during the post game press conference.
Early in the fourth quarter Sylvia Fowles brought the Lynx within one. Lynx weren’t able to get shots to fall and consistently kept trying from the perimeter. Eventually, Sparks Alana Beard hit two free throws under four minutes remaining. The momentum helped Los Angeles sustain a comfortable lead to secure a game three win.
“We’re fortunate to have fought off their charge in the third and fourth quarter,” Sparks head coach Brian Agler said at the post game press conference.
Being in this position last year, the three time WNBA champion knows what it takes to win an elimination game on the road to force a deciding series game.
“Just do what we know what to do, start to finish,” Moore said during the post game interview. “Its a 40-minute game. A lot of time to make mistakes, a lot of time to get in a rhythm.”
Through three games the team that’s taken command early on has won. In game one it was Sparks opening the game 28-2, in game two it was Lynx taking a 20 plus point lead and in game three the Sparks led early and sustained the lead.
“The team that punches first sets the tone for the game…next game’s do or die….there is no adjustment, you play like it’s your last game,” Lynx Renee Montgomery said.
But it won’t be an easy task on offense.
“They pressure the ball, they’re very active,” Montgomery said of the Sparks defense.
With the talent across both teams there’s another element that comes into play that win games in this series, and its not necessarily offense or defense, Agler says.
Its “a lot of the intangible things that happens in these games,” Alger said. With Sparks hustle plays “I’m happy that we played the way that we did.”
This Sparks vs Lynx rivalry is great for the game of basketball, Sparks owner Magic Johnson said during a halftime interview on ESPN’s WNBA Finals broadcast.
“Its two of the best players in the league. Maya Moore and Candace Parker,” Johnson said.
It reminds me of current NBA rivalry Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers or the 80’s Lakers versus Celtics, Johnson said.
As Johnson brought the Sparks organization last year he’s seeking “back-to-back” titles much like when he won back-to-back titles during his playing days as a Laker in 1987 and 1988. While Sparks are one win away from repeating and have an opportunity to close out the series in Los Angeles Sunday, that’s the furthest thing on Parker’s mind, she claims.
“I think this team is mature enough to learn to play form possession to possession. You can’t go out there and try to swing a home run,” Parker said. “There’s a team that plays great when their backs are against the wall, we’re a team that plays great when our backs are against the wall. So how do we play when we’re ahead, I think that’s the question.”
By Gino Terrell