LOS ANGELES — The Minnesota Lynx were frustrated with getting behind early and playing catch-up throughout Friday’s Game 3 loss to Los Angeles in the WNBA Finals. That forces them into a must-win situation Sunday, when they’ll have to beat the Sparks here at Staples Center in order to send the series back to Minnesota for a decisive Game 5.
But being a sports fan, as well as a coach, Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve actually does understand why this series has had such momentum shifts. That tends to happen when two really, really good teams face off.
“Sometimes you’ll say, ‘Oh, we didn’t play hard enough,'” Reeve said. “I told these guys, ‘I’m not killing us about our effort,’ but it just wasn’t good enough to win a WNBA Finals game on the road.
“When we decided in Game 2 what was going to happen, it’s not like L.A. didn’t try. And it’s not like we didn’t try last night.”
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Once they became Sparks teammates, Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike believed they could help each other win a title. Friday, their 45 points put L.A. a victory away from a WNBA championship.
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The 3-pointer is Kristi Toliver’s signature, but there’s a lot more to the guard’s game. And for L.A. to win, she’s going to need to play a major role in every game left of the WNBA Finals.
Lynx defense delivers Game 2 win
The Lynx know their defense jump-starts everything else. And as Minnesota evened the WNBA Finals with a win over L.A. on Tuesday, team defense was the rock that the Lynx have so often relied on.
However, the Lynx just didn’t play throughout the entirety of Friday’s game with the kind of urgency that they needed to.
“If we don’t bring it [Sunday], we know what’s going to happen,” Minnesota guard Lindsay Whalen said. “When you put yourself in a hornets’ nest like we did [Friday], it’s tough. If defense has been your calling card and your backbone for all these years, and it isn’t at a high level, it hurts.
“It’s now do-or-die for us. We have another chance to come out and do what we need to do. We built this thing on a lot of hard work; the Lynx weren’t always at this level. So I think that mentality is in us, but we have to come out here and do it.”
Whalen had 11 points in Friday’s loss, in which post players Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson led the way with 14 points each. The glaring stat offensively was star forward Maya Moore’s nine points.
She averaged 19.3 points per game during the regular season, and her scoring has trended upward in the past month-plus. In her last seven games of the regular season, she averaged 21.6 PPG, and in the Lynx’s five playoff games before Friday, her scoring average was 23.2.
Moore got just seven shots in Game 3, making four, and went to the free throw line just once. But like the rest of the Lynx, Moore thought that the team’s slow start and its lethargy, at times, on defense were the two biggest problems.
“The start of Game 4 will be so intense, just as it should be in the Finals,” Moore said. “We have to continue to find a way to lock in defensively, despite some offensive struggles. The heart of who we are is being a great defensive team.
“In the WNBA Finals, the smallest details separate winning from losing. In a series like this, some of those details can have explosive results for both teams.”
There were moments Friday when then Lynx just didn’t look like themselves. The Sparks flat-out grabbed the ball away from them a few times, and Minnesota was slow to get back defensively on a few of Los Angeles’ transition scores.
Last year, when the Lynx won a five-game WNBA Finals series against Indiana, they took Game 3 on Moore’s buzzer-beater but then were not as aggressive as they wanted to be in Game 4. That sent the series to a Game 5 which the Lynx dominated at home at Target Center.
“We have to continue to find a way to lock in defensively, despite some offensive struggles. The heart of who we are is being a great defensive team.”
Minnesota has been on an incredible run since winning its first WNBA title in 2011. During that stretch though, they haven’t been in a must-win situation on the road during the playoffs very often. This is just the third time, in fact, and they lost the other two: Game 4 of the 2012 WNBA Finals vs. Indiana and Game 3 of the 2014 Western Conference finals against Phoenix.
The Lynx had the best regular-season record (28-6) and the No. 1 seed. They are trying to tie the Houston Comets with four titles and become the first WNBA team to win back-to-back championships since Los Angeles did it in 2001 and 2002. But to keep hope alive for all of that, they may have to play their best game of this series on Sunday.
“We just weren’t as ready as we needed to be [Friday], and that shouldn’t happen in the playoffs,” Fowles said. “We watched some film, and you can see things so much clearer than what you thought it was when you were on court.
“We can’t look at it with a negative attitude, though. Just be positive from here on out. We looked at the things we didn’t do well, and we know they’re correctable.”