LOS ANGELES, CA — The Minnesota Lynx drew on their championship experience to extend the series to Game 5, defeating the Los Angeles Sparks 85-79.
The first quarter looked like it would belong to the Sparks, who took a fast and aggressive lead with back-to-back shots by Alana Beard and MVP Nneka Ogwumike. Slowly but surely, though, the Lynx proved they were not going down without a fight.
“I knew we were going to fight,” Minnesota’s Maya Moore said. “If we were going down, we were going out fighting, and we were able to bounce back and match their runs, giving ourselves a little cushion to have that edge.”
Moore found her rhythm at the three-minute mark with a three-for-three run, and the Lynx gained their first lead of the game. Moore and the Lynx held onto both this rhythm and lead for the remainder of play.
“Maya just makes plays,” Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve said. “She was more persistent in trying to find opportunities to score. It was in a variety of ways. It was in multiple positions. She was perimeter, post, it was in transition, it was hustle plays. It was executing some stuff out of time-outs. It was getting fouled at times. Obviously, it was huge.”
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Los Angeles’ leader Candace Parker, on the other hand, finished the quarter with a solo point picked up at the line. Her frustration was evident.
Parker remained scoreless from the field until two minutes into the second quarter. She finished the half with five points.
The Sparks second quarter fight was spearheaded by Chelsea Gray, who led her team through the first half with 11 points, two rebounds and a steal. Gray’s efforts were not enough to propel the Sparks back on top, and the Lynx closed out the half, 46-40.
Minnesota earned its largest lead of the game in the third quarter, sitting at 10 points ahead.
Los Angeles regained some of its first quarter composure and energy with three minutes remaining in the quarter after a pair of jumpers from Ogwumike and Beard to close the gap to just four points.
What followed was a battle from beyond the arc. Gray and Kristi Toliver sunk back-to-back threes from the line, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Moore, then, wanted in on the action sinking one for herself.
Gray answered with another three, proving her fire was just heating up, but Moore got the last word, netting another three for Minnesota to keep the lead, eventually ending the quarter, 65-59.
Jantel Lavender opened the fourth quarter for the Sparks with a jumper to close the gap to just two points.
Parker, who could taste her first WNBA championship, took matters into her own hands, tying the game with five minutes left of play.
The Lynx’ championship experience became apparent, though, as they remained in control to pull ahead by seven points.
With just over a minute left, Gray sunk a three-pointer followed by a Beard layup, keeping the hope of a clinch alive.
Los Angeles, trailing by two points, got the ball with thirty seconds left in the game. Staples Center could feel the long-awaited victory, but the possibility of a clinch literally slipped through Parker’s hands on a heart-breaking turnover.
As if that wasn’t enough, the referee’s decisive call of Parker’s block as a foul sealed the deal, and the Lynx finished on top, 85-79.
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Moore finished with a game-high 31 points, a huge improvement from the nine points she was held to in Game 3. Gray led the scoreboard for the Sparks with 20 points off the bench.
The Minnesota Lynx tie the series, extending to a final Game 5 on Thursday back in Minnesota.
The deciding factor in Los Angeles’ defeat can be summed up in one word: poise.
“We didn’t lack desire to win or a will; we just have to put that back together and with more poise,” Los Angeles Head Coach Brian Agler said. “We had opportunities; it’s just the ability to play with poise down the stretch.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how we competed. We just have to partner that with poise and execution.”
Both Toliver and Ogwumike echoed Agler and promised a fight to the finish in hopes of earning Los Angeles’ first WNBA Championship since 2002.
“We will replay in our minds tonight and just know that we have to play with a little bit more poise down the stretch,” Toliver said. “We have to be aggressive, assertive and decisive, and I think in those last minute and thirty seconds we weren’t that, and that’s going to be the difference.
“Game 5 is going to be exactly like Game 4—it’s going to be a dogfight, physical. Hopefully, we will learn from this experience today and go and close out the series.”
“We fought today. When it comes to the focus and awareness, we can sharpen up there, and I think that’s what we have to do,” Ogwumike echoed. “We fought. We’re going to fight again.”