Professional Basketball

Sparks Take WNBA Finals Game 3

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From the opening tip until the closing seconds, the Los Angeles Sparks had control of Game 3 of the 2017 WNBA Finals and defeated the visiting Minnesota Lynx 75-64 in front of 15,330 at Staples Center Friday night.

Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore drives past Los Angeles Sparks forward Alana Beard during Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. Moore scored 16 second half points to lead the Lynx scorers in Game 3 at Los Angeles on Friday. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike and guard Odyssey Sims each scored 16 points to give the Sparks a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. If the Minnesota Lynx don’t force another series tie in Sunday night’s Game 4 in Los Angeles, which would bring the series back to Minneapolis, the Sparks will become the first team since 2002 to win the championship in back-to-back years.

The Sparks began the game with intensity which paid immediate dividends. They led by as much as 11 points in the first quarter as Minnesota struggled early. Lynx forward Maya Moore sat the second half of the quarter after being called for two quick fouls just 13 seconds apart. The quarter ended with the Sparks leading 17-8.

The Lynx eight points in the first quarter is a tie for the fewest first quarter points in Finals history, while the combined 25 first quarter points is the third-fewest first quarter points in Finals history.

A more active LA team, an anemic offense that was not prepared for how hard the game was going to be,” said Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve. “Our starters didn’t compete in the way that we had hoped that we would start the game. LA set the tone on those guys, and we just couldn’t get responses from them.”

Both teams played even during the second quarter, but Moore picked up her third foul with 8:34 left in the quarter, forcing her back to the bench for the remainder of the half. Minnesota cut the deficit to two points when rookie guard Alexis Jones hit a three-pointer with 2:03 remaining the in quarter to make the score 28-26. However, Los Angeles extended their lead on the next possession with a pull up jump shot by guard Odyssey Sims to make it 30-26.

Jones made her first Finals appearance and finished with nine points on 3-for-10 shooting including 3-for-5 beyond the arc.

“My teammates just trusted me to knock down shots. They passed to me when I was open and they trusted in me to knock down shots when I’m open,” said Jones.

Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike scores on a layup past Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles (r ) and guard Seimone Augustus (l) during Game 2 of the WNBA Finals. Ogwumike scored 16 points in Friday’s Game 3 at Los Angeles. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Maya Moore scored her first basket of the game just 17 seconds into the third quarter, but it was answered by a layup by Sparks center Candace Parker, making the lead 34-28.

Los Angeles went on a run, having forced turnovers and taking advantage of Minnesota missed shots. The Sparks were leading 47-34 with 5:59 remaining in the third quarter before both teams went into a scoring drought. Neither team scored for the next 2:27 when Moore hit a pair of free throws.

The Sparks were leading 56-48 when the fourth quarter began. It was not enough to put the game out of reach. Moore led a small run with her five points early in the period, and guard Renee Montgomery hit a running pull up jump shot with 7:33 left on the clock to put the Lynx within a point, 56-55.

Ogwumike went to the line for two free throws, Lynx center Sylvia Fowles hit a hook shot, and then the Sparks went back to the free throw line and scored the game’s next three points to extend their lead to 61-57 with 4:45 remaining.

“I think most of the fourth quarter it was five fouls to zero, so they were shooting free

throws every time. Some of our mistakes in fouling happened, so the free throws helped separate them, and you know, toward the end there with some of their screens, getting their guards open for a three ball or an unforced turnover here and there, so those things are what we can’t give up if we want to get our runs back,” said Moore.

Minnesota made one final run with Fowles putting back a layup, and then a three-pointer by Moore with just under a minute left in the game, but now both teams were battling the clock. After two free throws by Odyssey Sims with 57.5 seconds left, Minnesota got hit with a five-second inbound turnover, which allowed the Sparks to pull out a 75-64 victory in front of their home crowd.

“I think the play of the game was Alana Beard when Nneka [Ogwumike] got hit and Sylvia [Fowles] had the ball and Alana took it from Syl and she was on the floor, and we called time-out and got that possession and then came down and Chelsea hit a three. I think that was the play, and those are the type of plays we have to make,” said Parker.

Los Angeles Sparks guard Odyssey Sims drives against Minnesota Lynx guard Renee Montgomery during Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. Sims scored 16 points in Friday’s Game 3 at Los Angeles. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Ogwumike and Sims led Los Angeles with 16 points, as did Moore for Minnesota, who scored all of her points in the second half. Fowles led all rebounders with 11 and Ogwumike pulled down 10 boards to lead the Sparks.

“A lot of the intangible things that happened in these games are just as important as the

X’s and the O’s,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler. “You know, we had several people chase down long rebounds, loose balls, which helped us quite a bit. You know, it’s just happy that we played the way we did, competed hard. I thought it was a hard-fought game.

Both teams competed hard. I think we’re fortunate to have fought off their charge there in the third or fourth quarter.”

The Sparks now hold a 2-1 edge in the best-of-five series which stays in Los Angeles for Game 4. The defending champions will have a chance on Sunday to win a championship on their home court.

“You have to take it moment by moment. Right now we’re focused on getting rest and coming in tomorrow to have a good practice and watching some video. It’s really just a moment by moment type of thing,” said Ogwumike.

However, the Lynx know that their backs are up against a wall and that they could force a decisive Game 5 on their home court if they win on Sunday.

“Win and take it back to Minny [Minneapolis]. That’s the only thing I’m thinking about – how we can get this win here in Game 4 and take it back home,” said Fowles. “Going into Game 4, it’s going to be hard. That’s what the Finals is about. We can’t make any excuses for ourselves. We just have to find a way to get it done.”

WNBA Finals Game 4 takes place at 8:30 p.m. CT on Sunday at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

 

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