Notes on Western Conference Finals, Game 2: Los Angeles Sparks vs. Minnesota Lynx
- Early on it was obvious that the Sparks were going to try to set up Kristi Toliver off the ball more often, with Alana Beard bringing the ball up court and Candace Parker pushing after rebound as usual. Unfortunately, it didn't make their offense any more fluid and the Lynx were up at the end of one quarter.
- By the end of the first quarter, I thought the outcome of this game was pretty clear. When the refs made a bad out of bounds call near the end of the first, the Sparks just seemed to come undone in their complaining with the refs. By that point the refs had admittedly made (or missed) a few bad calls and it just seemed to get in the heads of the home team.
- Commentator Pam Ward mentioned during the second quarter that the Sparks had no fouls in the first quarter, crediting the Lynx defense. No doubt Minnesota played defense well in not committing fouls, but L.A. certainly helped on one of the league's best defenses over the last two seasons by taking quite a few perimeter shots.
L.A. Sparks shot chart for the first quarter in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
Post-game note: Acknowledging that the shot chart above is based on a NBA court, the Sparks weren't entirely perimeter oriented, but did take a number of long twos and threes out of half court sets. So it wasn't quite as bad as I felt it was when first watching.
- There was an obvious problem for the Sparks coming into this series that I alluded to in saying that turnovers would make a difference in this series: they had no way to match up with the Lynx perimeter players. Ok, yeah, I know – who does, right? But the fact that Jenna O'Hea was tasked with guarding Lindsay Whalen for any stretch of time in the second quarter sort of accentuates the point: whoever Alana Beard wasn't guarding was going to torch L.A. in this series.
- I liked Cheryl Reeves's decision to put Erin Thorn in the game in the second quarter and stick her in the corner to spot up for threes: let's be honest, the Sparks have been an inconsistent defensive team this season. Thorn just gave them one more thing to worry about. 2012 WNBA Coach of the Year Carol Ross picked up on that : "We have to know where Moore and Thorn are."
- As I was writing the segment above about Thorn spacing the floor, Seimone Augustus promptly hit a three. This team has so many weapons that it's just unfair.
- Candace Parker is out there doing her thing today, getting herself a double-double in the first half. But while everyone was praising her, it seemed like something was going overlooked: the Sparks were still not particularly good executing in the half court. So as long as the Lynx made shots and could get their defense set, the Sparks would struggle.
- L.A.'s zone defense did indeed prevent Minnesota from scoring on a number of possessions at the end of the first half, but it seemed to be more about the visitors being caught off guard than the home team's defensive intensity. By that I mean that it's rare that you see Augustus pick up her dribble before she should when guarded by a shorter player or Whalen going baseline and just throwing the ball away. Really not trying to take anything away from the Sparks, but I would've been surprised if the Lynx came out in the second half making the same mistakes.
- They flashed up the stats graphic before the second half, but I was somewhat surprised that nobody noted that L.A. had 10 turnovers to Minnesota's 5. Second chance points are great, but they're giving those scoring opportunities right back when they're turning it over twice as often. Post-game note: For further perspective on that, each team had 10 points off turnovers. The Lynx were extremely efficient in transition.
- To the point about the zone defense, the Lynx found two shots in the paint in the first two minutes of the second half.
- To the point about turnovers, in the first two minutes of the second half, the Sparks turned it over once in the first minute as the Lynx were trapping everywhere, Whalen deflected another pass, and the Sparks threw away the ball in transition.
- The refs are making some questionable calls, but it's going both ways.
- I understand the focus on Minnesota struggling against LA's zone, but it's not even near the struggle L.A. is having with Minnesota's defense: the Lynx are getting layups, the Sparks are getting jumpers or hustle points. In any event, neither team can be said to be valuing the ball halfway through the third quarter.
- It's tied at 50 about halfway through the third and if you asked me to bet on which team would win right now, I'd go with the Lynx. Yes, L.A. Is playing hard, but they're scrapping more than executing. The Sparks will have to execute better against the Lynx halfcourt defense to win this game.That said, Brunson's fourth foul – after a...questionable...third foul - might be just the break the Sparks needed.
- I'm not sure who on the Sparks coaching staff drew them up, but the Sparks have run some outstanding inbounds sets after dead balls and timeouts. The missed three point attempt by Toliver after Brunson went to the bench with four fouls was well-executed.
- L.A. played three minutes of great basketball between five and two minutes left in the third quarter when they went on a 15-0 run. They're moving the ball and finding gaps in the Lynx defense where their players can actually score. The point was made that Brunson was out, but Whalen being out was certainly no small part of the Lynx zero part of that equation.
- The Lynx had a timeout at about the two minute mark in the third quarter while down 60-50. Reeve kept emphasizing the need to move the ball and not throw away possessions. Let's see a) if they do and b) if they actually score points.
- And then Whalen traveled out of the timeout.
- Minnesota finally scored with about a minute left in third on a broken play.
- Then Parker hit a three off an inbounds play. I would love to see their points per possession off dead ball plays today (or maybe even this season to see how close to the norm this is). I suspect it's something in the range of outstanding.
- And despite all of that – probably one of the best five minutes of Sparks basketball I've seen all season on both ends of the court – the Lynx are only down 8.
- Carol Ross in the inter-quarter sideline interview: "What's different is that we're actually playing defense – that's a start." Quote of the game.
- This is a MVP-caliber performance from Candace Parker. Her defensive play in the first minute of the fourth – she had a couple of blocks on a single possession – before her assist to Toliver.
- Monica Wright is such a great addition to this team: her ability to get to the basket is simply outstanding and drawing that foul with just over 8 minutes left was exactly the play her team needed after Parker's string of plays.
- Then there's Maya Moore. Didn't Ross mention something about her hitting threes earlier in the game? It is now a three point game. Let's see how the Sparks respond.
- It's 72-71 with just under 6 minutes left after a Whalen layup and this has been a great game: outstanding individual performances, the Sparks playing some of their best defense for about five minutes, and both teams seizing momentum for extended stretches before the other team grabbed a hold of it. The question down the stretch is who will have more energy left to dig in and win this game with championship-caliber execution at both ends.
- Best way to stop Rebekkah Brunson: saddle her with fouls. Thus far in the 2012 playoffs nothing else has been effective.
- I don't think I've seen a defensive scheme stifle Minnesota like this all season: L.A. has stopped them on consecutive possessions with under three minutes left.
- Candace Parker had a prayer answered with 1:32 left in the game. The great tragedy of someone ultimately having to lose basketball games is that great performances like Parker's today often get lost if the team doesn't advance.
Parker's prayer in the fourth quarter is at about the 17 second mark.
- And L.A.'s defense strikes again, leaving Monica Wright wide open for a three out of a timeout (during which Ross implored her team not to give up threes). That's a painful way to go if indeed they go down.
- The Sparks make a stop and their season will come down to one possession. And as well as they've scored off inbounds today, I wouldn't bet against them.
The email spoilers:
- Someone pointed out that the Sparks starters played all 20 minutes of the second half. Indeed they did. And it's hard not to look at that blown defensive play against Wright - or Minnesota's late-game run overall - and wonder if L.A. simply ran out of gas.
- Someone else wondered why Alana Beard was even in the game for that last possession..and I'd like to know more about what the Sparks called at the end of that game. While I'd assume the call wasn't for Beard to take a contested baseline jumper, at the same time everybody else was standing around...so it's somewhat unclear what they were actually trying to do.