Lynx defense stops Sparks in Western Conference Finals openerOctober 6, 2012
Just two nights after winning a tough contest to the Seattle Storm by one point to make it out of the Western Conference Semi-Finals, the Minnesota Lynx faced a well-rested Los Angeles Sparks in the first game of the Western Conference Finals. The Sparks, who knocked off the San Antonio Silver Stars in two games and had not played since Sept. 29. It was the Lynx who continued their winning ways in the series’ first game, defeating the visiting Sparks 94-77 in front of 8,513 at Target Center Thursday night.
The first quarter was a defensive grudge match as both teams tied four times in the first five minutes before the Sparks were able to obtain a five point lead. The Lynx came storming back to end the quarter with a one point lead in what appeared to be a low scoring contest. The score was 16-15 in favor of the Lynx after the first period. Minnesota guard Lindsay Whalen and Los Angeles guard Alana Beard each netted six respectively in the quarter to lead all scorers.
The second quarter belonged to the Lynx, who jumped out to a 20 point lead by halftime and led 48-31 when the intermission buzzer sounded. Minnesota center Taj McWilliams-Franklin and guard Seimone Augustus each had eight points in the quarter.
After a series of small runs in the contest’s third frame, Minnesota was able to stretch their lead to as many as 24 before the Sparks slowly cut the deficit down to 13. Los Angeles center Candace Parker netted 12 point on 5-of-8 shooting during the quarter.
Neither team could gain an advantage in the final frame. Los Angeles guard Kristi Toliver, who entered the game with a 26 points-per-game average in the post-season was held to two points in the first three quarters. She added 10 in the fourth period to finish the game with 12. Minnesota guard Maya Moore went a perfect 5-for-5 including two three pointers to finish the quarter with 12 points and ended the game with 20.
Parker was the game’s high scorer, finishing with 25, while Moore’s 20 was the high water mark for the Lynx. Parker also led the game with 11 rebounds and forward Rebekkah Brunson led the Lynx with 10.
“I was really proud of our team. The first thing I told them was there were a lot of excuses that were built into this game that they could have signed on to and they didn’t,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “We had a tough three-game series with Seattle and had to turn around and get right back into the gym yesterday. I was really impressed with our team today.”
Los Angeles head coach Carol Ross was disappointed in the outcome but knew the game would be tough.
“They are the defending champs and they didn’t get worse in the offseason, they actually got better. There is no surprise. We played them four times. They come at you in waves and they’ve got the ability and talent to bring offense from a variety of different places. They are what they are. They are extremely good and they played like champions today,” said Ross.
When asked about what it would take to get through the Lynx defense, she added, “I’m probably the last person you should be asking because clearly I don’t have an answer. They are a very good team and very tough, physical and well coached. We could not match the physicality and we paid for it.”
Typical of Minnesota-Los Angeles contests, this game was a battle in the paint. Minnesota had 46 points in the paint while the Sparks netted 34. The Lynx out-rebounded the Sparks 37-25 but held Los Angeles to only four offensive rebounds and two second chance points. Candace Parker and Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson battled for rebounds all night long.
“It was tough, but it was to be expected. I think we knew what she was going to bring to the table. We knew what type of energy she was going to have. So we just went there and I just tried to work as hard as I could to put myself in a good position to be successful,” said Brunson.
Parker said, “We’ve been playing together for awhile, so I knew that she’s athletic and can run and jump and move. So I think that we know that we have to go in the paint and box her out on every possession. I think we did an alright job, just her offensive rebounds came at a bad time. I think we can do a better job doing that, but you know she had been playing well during the Seattle series. I think going forward we can do a better job of finding her on the rebounds and making things a little tougher for her.”
The best of three series now moves to Los Angeles for a 2:30 p.m. CT (12:30 p.m. PT) matchup on Sunday.
How will the Sparks answer in Game 2?
“We have to go back to the drawing board and relook at things. Look at the people, how we are playing personnel and what schemes we are playing defensively,” said Ross. “We have to be much better offensively. We have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.”
Sparks guard Alana Beard said, “What you can expect on Sunday is a better showing by the Sparks. Tonight we had a lot of breakdowns on both ends of the floor, and when you’re playing against a team that is loaded like the Minnesota Lynx are, and are defending champions like they are, you are going to put yourself into a world of trouble. We made a lot of mistakes tonight that they capitalized off of, and we have to give them credit because they did just what they were supposed to do – make baskets out of our mistakes and punish us for every one of them.”
She added, “But on Sunday, we’re definitely going to be a much more mentally prepared team. We’re going to have to really take an individual look at ourselves as individuals and as a team and not necessarily go back to the drawing board completely, but just check yourself and check what you’re bringing and check how you prepare for the game mentally so that you can bring forth a better effort on Sunday.”
The game was Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s 59th career postseason game, moving her past San Antonio Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon for the most in league history. Including regular season and playoff contests, McWilliams-Franklin has now appeared in 499 WNBA games. Only Tangela Smith (515) and Tina Thompson (507) rank ahead of her in that category.