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Lynx’s bite is just as dangerous as their roar

With the threat of going home empty-handed for the second year in a row on their horizon, the Minnesota Lynx responded to the pressure, erasing any doubts that they are past their prime.

WNBA: Finals-Minnesota Lynx at Los Angeles Sparks Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles, CA -- For the second year in a row, people counted the Minnesota Lynx out.

And for the second year in a row, the Lynx proved the people that they were wrong.

With their cages rattled and their backs against the wall, Minnesota, led by the “twin towers” of Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles, took the Los Angeles Sparks to the limit, forcing a winner-take-all Game Five with a decisive 80-69 victory.

From the beginning, the Lynx stormed the Staples Center with something to prove. After an embarrassing Game Three loss where guards Seimone Augustus and Lindsey Whalen were held scoreless, the Lynx knew they would have to assert their will physically, and that they did.

The Sparks got on the board first, going on a quick 6-2 run, but the tide turned at the 8:17 mark, when a flagrant foul by Whalen seemed to start the fire in Minnesota’s belly. The foul, which left Sparks guard Odyssey Sims on the court for several minutes, hushed the Sparks crowd.

When asked about how the foul changed the course of the game, Fowles made it clear that Whalen didn't mean any harm, but definitely set the tone.

“It's just the heat of the moment. If you know Whay, she don't mean any harm. She's very dramatic, and that's how she gets us going. If that's what it took, then that's what it took. I mean, I think it was positive energy after that, and she got us going.”

From that point out, Minnesota charged back, tying the game at 10 with 3:49 left on a Brunson layup. After that, the Lynx went on an 11-6 tear to end the first with a 21-16 lead.

Brunson started the second quarter off with a nice hook shot to inch the Lynx further away, then the rest of the group followed suit. Every time a teammate would miss, another Lynx player was right there to mop up the glass. In the first two minutes of the second quarter, the Lynx had FIVE offensive rebounds in a row.

With 5:41 to go in the second, Minnesota looked to start putting the Sparks away. A Sylvia Fowles layup was followed up by an Augustus rebound and an Alexis Jones three-pointer to give the Lynx a 16-point lead -- their biggest of the night up to that point.

The Sparks, led by Nneka Ogwumike, began to make a small comeback, but ended up going into halftime with a 43-31 deficit.

The third quarter was all Sylvia Fowles. After only scoring eight points the entire first half, she came alive scoring four of her eight third-quarter points in 10 seconds. Nothing that the Sparks did could extinguish Fowles’ fire, as she made it to the basket and to the line at will.

A cutting layup with 2:40 left gave the Lynx their biggest lead of the game (19), and essentially put the game out of reach for Los Angeles, ending the third with a 61-44 advantage.

Los Angeles guard Odyssey Sims looked to stop the bleeding for the Sparks, going on a personal 7-2 run in the opening minutes of the fourth. However, her teammates didn’t do much to take advantage of Sims’ hot streak, making uncharacteristically sloppy plays, including a lost ball by Candace Parker after an Alana Beard steal.

With both Parker and Sims in foul trouble with four apiece, the Lynx took advantage. A three-pointer by Plenette Pierson in garbage time sealed the deal for the Lynx, clinching at least one more game for them.

For the game, the Sparks went 5-of-22 from the three-point line, with Sims making four of those. Head coach Brian Agler was left scratching his head after the game when asked about the team’s poor shot selection.

“I thought our shot selection in the first half was not very good. I thought we panicked offensively when we were sort of falling behind,” Agler said in their postgame conference. “Second half, you know, we had to be more aggressive, so the decision-making there was a little bit different.”

“But I thought in the balance of the game in the first half, I thought our shot selection could have been much better. I thought we settled for a lot of early mid-range jump shots,” concluded Agler.

The Lynx also not only beat Los Angeles in second-chance points (21 to 5), but also had a huge rebounding advantage, finishing with a 48-28 difference. Brunson, who finished the game with 13 rebounds of her own, recognized just how important the rebounding advantage was in terms of who had the upper hand.

“I think throughout this series, we kind of understand that rebounding is key. It's a huge part of both teams' identities, and we know that we wanted to set the tone with that.”

The Lynx had four starters (Augustus, Brunson, Fowles and Maya Moore) score in double figures, with Brunson (18 pts, 13 reb) and Fowles (22 pts, 14 reb) each putting up a double-double. Odyssey Sims was the leading scorer for Los Angeles tonight with 18 points, while the dynamic duo of Candace Parker (11 pts, only two shots in the third quarter) and Nneka Ogwumike (17 pts, five fouls) were not as effective as usual.

After the game, Ogwumike reflected on the push-and-pull emotions of this series, trying to not put too much emphasis on the loss.

“I think right now there's a lot of emotions going on, but we can't dwell there. You know, you can feel it, respect those feelings, but tomorrow is a new day. We'll push forward from there.”

As for now, the Lynx are relishing the opportunity of being able to potentially close out the series and claim their fourth championship at their temporary home, the Williams Arena. Guard Seimone Augustus made no secret of just how much their home crowd is like a secret weapon.

“I want to get back there. Our fans built a home environment that is tough for anyone to play in,” Augustus said. “The Barn is a different atmosphere where the fans feel like they are sitting on top of you as opposed to the Target Center.”

“It’s going to be amazing in that gym, it’s going to loud and our fans are going to have fun and we’re going to enjoy being in that atmosphere.”

The winner-take-all Game Five will take place Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. ET. on ESPN.