Professional Basketball

Lynx Tie WNBA Finals Series, Force Decisive 5th Game

on

The Minnesota Lynx staved off elimination in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals by defeating the Los Angeles Sparks 80-69 in front of 13,500 at Staples Center Sunday night. In doing so, the Lynx foiled the chance for the defending champion Sparks to win a championship on their home court, and force a decisive Game 5 in Minneapolis on Wednesday.

Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen and Los Angeles Sparks guard Odyssey Sims during Game 1 of the 2017 WNBA Finals. Whalen’s Flagrant 1 foul against Sims early in Game 4 sparked a large Lynx run Sunday night to force a decisive Game 5 in the championship series. Photo by Abe Booker III.

The Lynx took Saturday off from practice following Friday night’s Game 3. It may have been a major factor in Sunday’s game as the Lynx looked fresh and the Sparks looked haggard. They were exhausted as early as the first quarter.

The Sparks led early as forward Nneka Ogwumike, for the second straight game, hit the opening basket to give Los Angeles an early 2-0 lead just 15 seconds into the game. Then guard Chelsea Gray drove in for a layup with 9:11 left in the quarter to give the home team a 4-0 lead. After Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson hit two free throws after being fouled by Sparks guard Odyssey Sims, the key moment in the game happened.

Sims was driving in for a fast break layup with 8:17 left in the first quarter when Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen made a move towards the ball to prevent the layup and was called for a Flagrant 1 foul. Sims rubbed her aching left shoulder, and hit her two free throws. After that, it was all Minnesota as the Lynx went on a 35-15 run to take a commanding lead which they held for the rest of the game.

“I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but I think it goes both ways. I think each team has a mindset that you just don’t want to give your opponent anything easy,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve regarding the flagrant foul call on Whalen. “We have this new term of

‘unnecessary.’ Well, that’s kind of subjective. We thought it was necessary that she not get the lay-up off. But the new rules and the world that we live in was it deemed as unnecessary.”

Minnesota lead by as many as 16 points in the second quarter and took a 43-31 lead into halftime. Brunson led all scorers in the first half with 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in the effort to keep her team in front.

“I thought our shot selection in the first half was not very good. I thought we panicked offensively when we were sort of falling behind,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler. “I thought in the balance of the game in the first half, I thought our shot selection could have been much better. I thought we settled for a lot of early mid-range jump shots.”

Los Angeles Sparks center Candace Parker drives against Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore during Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. Parker scored 11 and grabbed 8 rebounds during Sunday’s Game 4 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Both teams are veteran teams with great coaching staffs so it can be expected that adjustments would be made at halftime. The Sparks continued to trail in the third quarter as Minnesota continued to grind their opponent down by driving in the lane and forcing Los Angeles to foul. The Lynx extended their lead to 19 and settled for a 17 point lead when the quarter ended.

“I thought we were incredibly focused because of Lindsay [Whalen], Seimone [Augustus], Rebekkah [Brunson] and Maya [Moore]. They’re a group — and Syl [Sylvia Fowles],” said Reeve. They have unbelievable confidence in themselves, and they have this fire in their belly that is second to none, and you follow their lead. It’s been a group that has so much confidence in each other, belief in what we’re doing and belief in our identity.”

With just 10 minutes to go in regulation and Minnesota holding a 61-44 lead, the question on most people’s minds was whether the lead would hold or if the Sparks would be able to beat the Lynx and the clock to pull out a come-from-behind victory, reminiscent of the first two games of the series.

Sparks head coach Brian Agler had already implored his team to be patient, not rush shots and play better defense. It was a matter now of seeing how his team would respond.

Sims, who was the recipient of the Flagrant 1 call against Whalen earlier in the game, took heart and tried to will her team to victory. She scored 10 points in the quarter and the Sparks outscored the Lynx 25-19 in the final frame, but despite cutting the deficit to eight points, it was not enough to secure a win.

“I’m just taking what the defense gives me, but right now it’s not about me, it’s about my team,” said Sims. “Collectively we have to do better, and we all know we have to do better.”

Lynx center Sylvia Fowles scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, both game highs. Brunson added 18 points and 13 rebounds. Combined, they were one rebound shy of the Sparks total, as Minnesota led the rebounding battle 48-28 overall and a 16-7 edge in the offensive rebounding category.

“I think throughout this series, we kind of understand that rebounding is key. It’s a huge part of both teams’ identities, and we know that we wanted to set the tone with that,” said Brunson. “I absolutely felt like I needed to bring more energy tonight, and I was hoping that my team would be able to feed off of that. I think that I just need to continue to go out there and be aggressive and play hard.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson shoots a jump shot during Game 2 of the 2017 WNBA Finals. Brunson led the Lynx surge with 13 first half points in Game 4 Sunday at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Los Angeles was led by 18 points from Sims and 17 points from Ogwumike. In rebounding, both Ogwumike and center Candace Parker had 8 boards each.

“To compete with Minnesota you have to stay in the game with them with the rebounding, and obviously that was a wide margin tonight. But they were the most aggressive team. There wasn’t any question. They were a lot more aggressive, got themselves to the free throw line, gave themselves opportunities, gave themselves second-chance points off offensive boards,” said Agler. “We just didn’t play the way we need to play to have success against them, and they did the things they needed to do to have success against us.”

Minnesota shot 42.4 percent from the field on 28-for-66 shooting with five three-pointers, but went 19-for-30 from the charity stripe. Los Angeles went 40.6 percent from the field on 26-for-64 shooting, also hit five three pointers, but went 12-for-16 from the free throw line in the effort. The Lynx held a 21-to-5 edge in second chance points.

Minnesota held an 18-17 edge in assists. Gray led all players with 9 assists while Whalen led the Lynx with 8 dimes.

After Game 2 when the series was tied 1-1 and moved to Los Angeles, Parker claimed that it was a “three game series and we have home court advantage.” Now after Game 4 with the series tied 2-2, it comes down to one game, Wednesday night at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena, known locally as ‘The Barn,’ in Minneapolis at 7 p.m. CT.

“We have to put that energy out there. It’s great for basketball, for women’s basketball. People are just admiring our game at this point and everyone is tuning in to see what’s happening,” said Lynx guard Seimone Augustus. “I want to get back there. Our fans built a home environment that is tough for anyone to play in. ‘The Barn’ is a different atmosphere where the fans feel like they are sitting on top of you as opposed to the Target Center. It’s going to be amazing in that gym, it’s going to loud and our fans are going to have fun and we’re going to enjoy being in that atmosphere.”

“Last year was last year,” said Beard. “We won a championship there but this is a new season and it will come down to who wants it more.”

Minnesota has won one of their three championships at home, back in 2015 against the Indiana Fever. Los Angeles won last year’s championship at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Now, the 2017 WNBA Finals comes down to one game with two evenly matched competitive teams, making this series one for the ages.

NOTES:

Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore entered the game tied for first place in postseason field goals made. She increased her total to 364, claiming sole possession of the top spot.

After playing 28:20 minutes in Sunday’s Game 4, Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen passed Tamika Catchings for the most minutes played in WNBA Playoff history. Whalen finished with four points while dishing out 8 assists, her most since tallying 11 on Aug. 21, 2014 vs. San Antonio.

 

Recommended for you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *