Los Angeles, CA - No, we did not go back to the WNBA Finals from one year ago, but this year’s Finals are shaping up the exact same way the 2016 Finals did. Through four games, both teams have taken one game away from home, and it once again comes to down to a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Los Angeles was the latest team to lose on their home floor, falling in Game 4 to the Minnesota Lynx Sunday night, 80-69. For much of Game 4, the Sparks looked flat in front of what was a great crowd at Staples Center. Not being able to consistently hit the deep ball also didn’t help.
The Sparks only made one of their first 13 threes and finished connecting on five deep balls. This poor shooting not only made them easier to defend, but also kept the crowd from ever really being able to get into the game until it was too little too late.
“I thought our shot selection in the first half was not very good,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said. “I thought we panicked offensively when we were sort of falling behind. I thought our shot selection could have been much better. I thought we settled for a lot of mid-range jump shots.”
Not a single Los Angeles player had a positive plus/minus Sunday night, meaning no one saw more points scored by their team than their opponent while on the court. While that is obviously not a good stat, the MVP of the entire league made life difficult for the Sparks.
Sylvia Fowles had her handprints all over the Game 4 win for the Lynx, posting a 22-point and 14-rebound stat-line. Fowles only had two blocks but they were both memorable and tone-setting. Her ability to protect the rim was key, and swatting a Candace Parker and Alana Beard layup reinforced her presence in the paint. Los Angeles couldn’t get to the rim, and couldn’t buy a shot from three, not leaving many options open on offense.
Folwes’ six offensive rebounds were the difference for Minnesota, who pounded the Sparks on the glass. The Lynx out-rebounded Los Angeles 48-28, including a 16-to-7 edge on the offense backboards.
“I think throughout the series we kind of understand that rebounding is key,” the Lynx’s Rebekkah Bruson said. “It’s a huge part of both teams’ identities, and we know that we wanted to set the tone with that.”
The Sparks’ inability to secure possession was backbreaking and crippling. Even after picking up their defensive intensity in the fourth, none of that matters if you don’t secure the rebound.
Los Angeles won the turnover battle, and will certainly need to do that again in the winner-take-all Game 5 if they want history to repeat itself. Hitting shots from behind the arc will come, but Fowles will still be at the rim waiting for anyone Sparks player who is attempting to score. The 2017 MVP has the ability to take over this series if she has as much of an impact in Game 5 as she did in Game 4.
Parker and Nneka Ogwumike shot a combined 10-for-24 from the floor, so Game 4 looks more and more like a bad night all around for Los Angeles. They will definitely need more than seven points from their bench on the road in Game 5, but limiting the Lynx’s second-chance points just might be the most critical focal point to becoming back-to-back WNBA champions.