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Sparks look to ‘sharpen focus’ in Game 5

Sunday night, the Sparks had a chance to bring home the WNBA Title for the first time since 2002, yet lack of composure down the stretch let that win get away from them. Thankfully for them, they have one more shot still to claim the trophy.

WNBA: Minnesota Lynx at Los Angeles Sparks Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles, CA -- Last night at the Staples Center, the Los Angeles Sparks could almost taste a long-awaited victory and WNBA Championship. With 2 wins against the Lynx giving them the 2-1 series lead advantage going into Game 4, the Sparks had the opportunity to clench their first WNBA Title since 2002 in the span of 40 heart-pounding minutes on their home court.

“I am so hungry to bring home the championship,” said Sparks’ Alana Beard with tears in her eyes before the game against the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday night, “Not just for me, but for my team.”

For Beard and the rest of the Sparks’, this year is the first chance to win a WNBA title in 14 years. 14 years of waiting and working could all come down to the Game 4 final score.

For some players, winning Game 4 and taking the 2016 WNBA Championship could be more than just a trophy. Sparks’ Candace Parker, the first player in WNBA history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same year (2008), as well as MVP in 2013, seems to hold every accolade, title, and honor in book except for a National Championship. However, this year could be her year.

“We’re excited,” Parker said, “It’s an opportunity, and you don’t know when opportunities are going to come around again. We’re going to try and take advantage of it.”

Opportunity finally knocked for the Sparks last night, and all they had to do was answer the door. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, however, the Minnesota Lynx and a very determined Maya Moore, were waiting on the other side, ready to cease their own opportunity of remaining reigning WNBA Champions.

And, after a thrilling, electrifying, and truly hair-raising game, Minnesota would be the team to seize their moment and capture the Game 4 victory with a score of 85-79. Thankfully for the Sparks, though, their door to a WNBA Championship was not forever closed with this loss.

The Winner-takes-all Game 5 will be played on Thursday at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

Although the Sparks did not end the game with a win, their performance last night was not without incredible athleticism and sportsmanship. For instance, Chelsea Gray proved to be one of the best players of the night, carrying the team offensively and scoring 20 of Los Angeles’ 79 points. She was the team’s leading scorer, followed closely by Kristi Toliver with 15 points.

What about the Sparks’ dynamic duo of Parker and Nneka Ogwumike? They scored 14 and 11 points, respectively — and honestly, that’s not enough.

Head Coach Brian Agler assessed his team’s performance to a lack of “poise”, stating, however, that it was a battle well-fought: “I thought it was a hard-fought game. Both teams competed extremely hard. I thought Minnesota played -- probably the difference in the game to me, they played with a little bit more poise than we did.

“Obviously Maya Moore hit some big shots, made some big plays, both ends of the floor. Got a lot of respect for them. They're a championship team. They're well-coached. They've got great competitors, and they did what they had to do tonight.”

So, when opportunity knocks for a second time on Thursday to bring home the coveted tile, how will Los Angeles answer the call?

According to Parker, it will all come down to the rebounds: “Just from a technical standpoint, we have to rebound, that’s all it is. If we rebound, it limits them to just one shot and they’re not getting two and three looks at the basket.”

For Ogwumike, it’s all about the drive, “When it comes to the focus and awareness, we can sharpen up there, and I think that's what we have to do. We have to do just that, just sharpen up the focus and awareness, but we fought. We're going to fight again.”

It is clear that the ladies on the Sparks are not going to go out without a fight on Thursday night. In the words of Chelsea Gray, “It’s not over. That’s why it’s a series.”