Professional Basketball

Parker, Ogwumike Fuel Sparks to Game 3 Finals Victory, LA Takes Series Lead

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The Los Angeles Sparks took a 30-8 first quarter run to build an insurmountable lead over the Minnesota Lynx during Friday night’s WNBA Finals Game 3, which propelled them to a 92-75 win at the University of Southern California’s Galen Center in front of an announced crowd of 8,093.

Sparks center Candace Parker and forward Nneka Ogwumike combined for 45 points in the effort, giving the Sparks an edge in the best-of-five series and put the defending champion Lynx in a must-win scenario when play resumes on Sunday. They combined for a crucial 2.5 minute stretch in the first quarter when they combined for 12 straight points including consecutive three-pointers from Ogwumike to give them a 21-6 lead.

“That was a product of me being nonexistent in every game we played Minnesota this year. I went back and watched film, and my presence wasn’t there. We had a game plan of just going to the basket and trying to be aggressive,” said Parker.

The Sparks were up 30-8 with 1:58 left in the first quarter when Parker scored her 10th point of the game on a turnaround hook shot before the Lynx battled back.

Sparks guard Chelsea Gray fouled Lynx guard Lindsay Whelan, who converted one of two free throws, and then Lynx guard Seimone Augustus scored her first points of the night on a pullup jumper with 1:29 remaining in the quarter to narrow the score to 30-11.

Augustus and Whalen each hit three-point shots to help begin a Lynx rally and the quarter ended with Los Angeles up 32-17.

“You know, I think it was, more than anything, L.A.’s sense of urgency, taking the ball out of our hands. You know, just the idea of when someone is being pressured, how to handle pressure,” said an irritated Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.

The Sparks opened the second quarter with a 6-0 run before Minnesota responded when Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson scored on a cutting layup and was fouled by Sparks center Jantel Lavender. After Brunson’s free throw, the score was 38-20 in favor of the Sparks.

Brunson, along with guards Jia Perkins and Renee Montgomery off the bench, helped ignite a rally during the remainder of the quarter. Brunson scored nine points during the quarter while Perkins and Montgomery netted four each. Their effort cut the deficit to eight at halftime, 48-40, thanks to a 10-0 Minnesota run. Lynx center Sylvia Fowles recorded five blocks by halftime, three in the first quarter and two in the second.

“I haven’t seen many teams score 120 something points in a game. So you’re not going to sustain that,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler. “But I also think a lot of that had to do with Minnesota. They adjusted their lineup. They went with — they just experimented there for a

while, and they finally got a group that was working, and they stayed with that. They’re a deep team. They’re a good team, and I think a lot of that had to do with how they played.”

Neither team got the offense moving in the third quarter, which became a grudge match of trading baskets. Los Angeles led by as many as 14 during the quarter, which ended with the Sparks on top 70-58. Minnesota cut the deficit to as few as eight during the frame.

“We were able to get to some loose balls, try to mix it up a little bit, and just create some momentum in our direction, and we were able to do that. We were able to get some ball movement, tried to get in the paint and share the ball. That second quarter we were really able to fight, cut it to eight, and the second half was pretty much even. That third quarter we were pretty much even. I think we lost that quarter by two,” said Minnesota forward Maya Moore.

The fourth quarter continued on the same even nature of the third, with Parker and Ogwumike seeming to answer every time the Lynx scored. The Sparks were also aided by forward Essence Carson, who hit two of her four three-pointers during the fourth quarter, which helped put the game out of reach. When the final buzzer sounded, the Sparks preserved a 92-75 win and the chance to win their first WNBA championship since 2002.

“We felt fortunate to have a chance to cut it to eight, and I’m disappointed from there that we didn’t do some things that we were trying to get done. Credit, obviously, L.A. for backing up their words,” said Reeve. “They won the persistency battle. We didn’t rise to the occasion. You know, we were soft. We were feeble, and didn’t rise to the occasion. Did I see that coming? No, absolutely not. It was disappointing to say the least.”

Parker led all scorers with 24 and Ogwumike added 21 for the Sparks. Minnesota was led by 14 each by Fowles and Brunson. Los Angeles shot 54.9 percent in field goal shooting and converted 7-of-15 three-point shots. The Lynx made 48.2 percent of their shots including 3-of-11 from beyond the arc. Ogwumike and Parker each grabbed a game-high nine rebounds while Moore pulled down seven boards for the Lynx.

“A lot of good effort from L.A. posting guards, just crashing the boards more often and frequent, and that was something different from last night into tonight,” said Fowles.

Agler concedes that his team hasn’t won anything yet and that Game 3 is just another chapter in a long series.

“I think people, these teams, because of their maturity, they’re going to regroup and come out and make changes, make improvements, watch film, and it’ll be another dogfight on Sunday. That’s about the extent of it,” he said.

The Sparks can smell the champagne flowing in their locker room already.

“We want it very badly. I think both teams want it very badly. But at the same time, we just have to worry about taking care of ourselves. We definitely are prepared going into each and every game, but it’s about transferring that preparation into the game,” said Carson. “When it’s

game time, when the lights come on, when it’s show time, about making things happen, making plays, making defensive stops, putting it all together for an entire 40 minutes, and if it happens to go to overtime, 45. But we definitely do want it very badly.”

Reeve knows that her teams has to bounce back if they are going to have one more shot at winning their fourth championship in six years back in Minneapolis.

“It’s a want-to thing. There’s nothing tactical. It’s just they want the ball, and whoever does it in Game 4 is going to win,” said Reeve.

The Sparks lead the best-of-five series 2-1. Game 4 will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

NOTES:

The WNBA announced the results of the 2016 All-WNBA Team voting. Each player will receive a trophy designed by Tiffany & Co., plus $10,000 awarded to each member of the First Team and $5,000 to those on the Second Team.

All-WNBA First Team awards went to Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, New York Liberty center Tina Charles, Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore, Chicago Sky forward Elena Delle Donne and Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird. Making the Second Team honors are Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry, Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi and Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd. No players from the Dallas Wings, Indiana Fever, Washington Mystics, San Antonio Stars or Connecticut Sun were selected.

 

 

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