Professional Basketball

Lynx Outlast Sparks, Take WNBA Finals Game 2

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MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Lynx used a 17-3 run in the second quarter to propel them to a 79-60 win over the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals in front of a loud sellout crowd of 12,832 at Target Center.

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Minnesota Lynx center connects on a three-point shot over the outstretched arms of Los Angeles Sparks center Jantel Lavender during Tuesday night’s WNBA Finals Game 3 at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

The Sparks won the opening tip and Los Angeles guard Alana Beard, the hero of Sunday’s Game 1, was fouled just 23 seconds into the contest by Lynx guard Seimone Augustus. Beard missed the first free throw and the crowd erupted into their familiar “Whose House” chant between free throw attempts. She made the second attempt for the game’s first score.

“I want to commend our crowd. I thought from the jump, their energy was just simply awesome, so I’m really, really proud of our fans. Gave us the lift that we needed,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.

Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen responded with a 14-foot jumper to make the score 2-1 in favor of the Lynx, but the two teams spent the rest of the first quarter battling with close margins. There were two ties and three lead changes in the quarter, which ended with Minnesota up by four points, 18-14.

Both teams were hit with Delay of Game penalties for not getting onto the court in time to start the second quarter. Minnesota extended their lead to six points when guard Anna Cruz hit a 16-foot jumper with 9:13 remaining in the half, but that lead was erased when Sparks guard Chelsea Gray scored on a two-foot driving layup and two layups by forward Nneka Ogwumike, all within the next minute of play.

Neither team could get anything going for the next three minutes, save for jump shots by Augustus and Sparks forward Candace Parker, which tied the score at 22 each with 4:50 remaining in the half.

Then Maya Moore got the hot hand.

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Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike grabs one of her 12 rebounds during Tuesday night’s WNBA Finals Game 3 at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Lynx center Sylvia Fowles fed the ball to Moore who drilled a three-pointer as the shot clock expired. Then Sparks forward Sandrine Gruda was called for traveling, which led to a Moore layup and a 27-22 Minnesota lead.

After Moore picked off a pass from Gray on the next possession, it looked like the Lynx were going to strike again but Fowles was called for an offensive foul as she was driving to the basket with 3:05 remaining in the half. Officials Michael Price, Roy Gulbeyan and Billy Smith reviewed the play and tagged Fowles with a flagrant foul which sent Ogwumike to the foul line where she hit two free throws.

Minnesota used the flagrant foul as a motivating factor as forward Rebekkah Brunson joined Moore, Whalen and Fowles in pushing the lead up to 14 points. The Lynx finished on a 17-3 run

and led 39-25 at the half. Price hit Sparks guard Kristi Toliver with a technical foul after the clock expired.

“I think we always spark our runs when we can get stops in a row,” said Moore. “We were able to rebound the ball and there was a stretch where they did get a few O-boards, but for the most part we were able to secure most of the defensive rebounds and go.”

Moore scored eight points in the quarter, which was matched by seven from Ogwumike. Minnesota shot 47.2 percent in the first half on 17-for-36 shooting compared to the Sparks 31.3 percent on 10-for-32 shooting.

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Los Angeles Sparks guard Ana Dabovic pushes the ball up the court while being defended by Minnesota Lynx guard Anna Cruz during Tuesday night’s WNBA Finals Game 3 at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

“I thought we were playing with flow, when you can get stops,” said Reeve when asked about the 17-3 run. “I thought we got stops, defending without fouling, so you can take the ball off the rim and you can go, so I thought we had good flow. I thought we had set really good pace. I think our execution on offense was good. We executed the game plan defensively.”

When play resumed, Augustus went to the foul line and hit the free shot from Toliver’s technical foul and then hit a 17-foot fast break jumper 1:30 later to push the lead up to 17 points.

Los Angeles was not giving up. With the score 44-27 with 7:26 left in the third, Brunson fouled Beard, who hit the free throws. Then she hit a three-pointer after two Sparks misses to get her team back into the game. Ogwumike, Parker and Toliver led the Sparks on a 14-0 run while the defense shut out Minnesota over the next three minutes. Parker scored a layup with 4:18 left in the quarter which cut the Sparks deficit to three, 44-41 before Minnesota could regroup.

“I thought we were getting good ball pressure. I thought both teams really came out a little bit soft maybe and turned it over, both teams, and then all of a sudden I thought we started getting some stops and scored in transition. I thought that gave us a chance to get back in. We moved the ball well, got a couple second shots, got a couple transition baskets. I thought that was how we got back in the game. But then, you know, I thought that the tide turned there,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler.

Fowles and Moore combined the offensive-defensive firepower for the remainder of the quarter to push the Lynx lead back to double-digits. Minnesota led 54-46 as the quarter ended.

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Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore scores an easy layup during Tuesday night’s WNBA Finals Game 3 at Target Center. Moore scored a game high 21 points. Photo by Abe Booker III.

“We made it less difficult than in Game 1 for them to get what they wanted,” said Ogwumike. “When you get tired, when things are muddled and you’re not focusing at what you’re doing, a lot of times confusion can – confusion can seep in, and I think that’s kind of what happened.”

The Sparks went on another small run, but fouls by center Jantel Lavender, Gray, Beard and Ogwumike put the Lynx in the bonus and on the free throw line early in the quarter. Fowles scored a layup with 5:28 remaining in the game to lift the Lynx to a 68-55 margin and Los Angeles ran out of steam. Minnesota won Game 2 by the score of 79-60.

“We got in the bonus early in the fourth quarter. I don’t know how we only shot 14 free throws on the game when we were in the bonus so early in the fourth quarter, but that’s the way it went today,” said Reeve.

Moore led all scorers with 21 points, pushing her WNBA Finals total to 289 all-time and 40 for this series. Augustus netted 14, Fowles 13 and Brunson 10 as the other double-digit scorers for the Lynx. Los Angeles was led by 14 from Ogwumike and 13 from Beard. Fowles led all rebounders with 15 while Moore and Ogwumike each grabbed a dozen.

“I thought they were very hungry. They handily outplayed us. I liked how we fought back after half. But yeah, we couldn’t break them. I was impressed with how they played tonight, and so we’ll go back and we’ll regroup,” said Agler.

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Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker attempts a three-pointer during Tuesday night’s WNBA Finals Game 3 at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Said Reeve, “I’m proud of Syl. She didn’t always keep her cool, but I guess maybe now I know how Shaq [Shaquille O’Neal] felt in the NBA because she hung in there through what I thought was a really, really, really physical game for her. I thought today was a good game for her in terms of a lesson that you’ve got to keep your cool and you’ve got to keep playing.”

The best-of-five series will now revert to Los Angeles, with Game 3 on tap for 8 p.m. CT at the University of Southern California’s Galen Center. With the series now tied 1-1, it guarantees that Game 4 will be held on Sunday at Staples Center.

“You know, I’m glad we won a game,” said Agler. “Our focus right now is to win one more game. That’s what we want to do. We want to win one more game, and then we’ll see where we stand and we’ll go from there.”

Augustus knows her veteran team has been in this position before, pointing to last year’s WNBA Finals when they split the series in Minnesota and traveled to Indiana.

“We have a lot of confidence. If we keep improving coming into Game 3, we’ll put ourselves in a better position to pull off another win,” said Augustus. Friday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

NOTES:

Sunday’s game was the most watched WNBA Finals Game 1 ever on ABC. According to Nielsen, it had an average audience of 597,000 which earned a 0.4 household rating and peaked with 693,000 viewers and a 0.5 rating between 4:45 – 5:08 p.m. ET. The top five local markets were Minneapolis (2.1); Nashville (1.4); Hartford-New Haven (1.3); Louisville (1.0); Charlotte (0.9) while Los Angeles delivered a 0.4 metered market rating.

This is the Minnesota Lynx fifth trip to the Finals, a WNBA record. The Detroit Shock (2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008) and Houston Comets (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000) each have four appearances. This is the fourth appearance for the Los Angeles Sparks, having played in 2001, 2002 and 2003 finals series.

With her appearance in the 2016 WNBA Finals, Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker ends her streak of most postseason games without a Finals appearance at 28. Among active players, Washington Mystics guard Leilani Mitchell is next in line with 20.

Minnesota Lynx players Rebekkah Brunson, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore hold down four of the top six positions in number of WNBA Finals games played. Tuesday’s game was Brunson’s 26th, making her the all-time leader. Whalen has played in 23, Augustus and Maya Moore each have played in 17, which ties for third place with former teammate Taj McWilliams-Franklin. If all four players are in Friday’s Game 3, they will hold the top four spots. Indiana Fever guard Briann January is the closest non-Lynx active player with 14 Finals appearances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Kelly meidinger

    October 12, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Great job lynx! Great coaching job and awesome teamwork.