Los Angeles, CA — It was a foregone conclusion for many, and it would seem, that the Sparks subtly might’ve believed that looming premise hovering over the women’s basketball world, even if they didn’t say it publicly: the Minnesota Lynx’s reign was over, done, finished and whatever other word you want to say.
However, the Lynx had other plans, and they essentially punked the Sparks at home, similar to last year. Los Angeles looked like they were stuck in a quagmire of sorts, almost as if, they thought Minnesota wouldn’t throw one last punch, after getting knocked down 2-1. The defending champs seemed shell-shocked early in the first quarter and went into a state of panic.
“I thought we panicked offensively when we were sort of falling behind,” said Los Angeles coach Brian Agler.
Not only did the Lynx throw a punch, but they also threw a flurry of combinations, which had the Sparks taking a standing eight count from the outset.
“We didn't like how Game 3 ended for us,” said Sylvia Fowles. “And we just wanted to come out and set the tempo and set the tone, and for the five that was out there, we wanted to make sure we had high energy, and I think Brunson set the tone from the start, and we pretty much just followed her lead.
While the Lynx were up for the heavyweight bout — especially Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson (I’ll opine on them more later), this game came down to character and heart. This game was about a players’ tangibles, it was all about sheer will and fight.
The Sparks’ lack of toughness and physicality was evident from the outset, as Minnesota swung a haymaker early — and Los Angeles just took it on the chin. While the Lynx were being assertive, vigorous and ferocious, the Sparks came out, honestly, too cool — very laid-back.
What was so alarming about this for the Sparks, is that they went through this same scenario last year, up 2-1 with a chance to win a championship at home, but as the axiom states: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
And Los Angeles was doomed.
Because the Lynx put down the gauntlet early, as if they had heard the doubters. And while many had written the obituary for the Lynx, figured that it was time for their dynasty to be put out to the proverbial pasture.
But, they had another thing in mind, as every Lynx player had a steely look in their eyes because it was as if, they knew something that most didn’t: hit Los Angeles in the mouth — especially Candace Parker — and they will fold.
Brunson, a true enforcer, set the tone early, being forceful, relentless and downright mean (and it was a good thing). Don’t think for a second; she didn’t want to make up for her abysmal Game 3 performance, better yet, you know her teammates heard the same verbiage alluded to them as well: “LA is better, and the Lynx’s championship run is over.”
To coin Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”
Once Brunson set the tone, her tag team post counterpart tagged in, and she went to work. The 2017 MVP was interminable, authoritative and downright dominant. Whether it was an offensive rebound, sealing great position in the paint, or using her Velcro hands to swat away any shot within a mile of her reach, Fowles was here to play.
While Minnesota’s stars came out with a vengeance, Los Angeles’ stars — mainly Parker — came out passive. The most talented player on the floor — by a mile — was noticeably frustrated all night, and lacked aggressiveness.
Case in point: late in the game, with Odyssey Sims willing the Sparks back in it, Parker got the ball in transition, pushing on a fast break, and it looked like she was going to be able to facilitate a layup. But Parker had an awful turnover, as Maya Moore caught her from behind and back-tapped the ball away from her. That turnover, and her body language immediately thereafter, summed up the night for Parker — and the Sparks.
If Parker had played with the same fire as Sims, Los Angeles might be celebrating right now on Rodeo drive, but instead will have to go the Barn in Minnesota to repeat — once again.
What’s so perplexing about Parker’s play tonight, is she has great acuity. She knows what’s required to hoist a championship trophy, there’s a formula and blueprint for it — and Parker knows it all too well.
As she has stated, the late great Pat Summitt would tell Parker all the time, that rebounds were the key to championships. Well, Brunson had 13 rebounds, Fowles had 14, while Parker had just 8 total. Ironically, both Fowles and Brunson had more rebounds individually, than Parker had points (11).
The Lynx were +20 on the boards, too.
“I think throughout this series, we kind of understand that rebounding is key,” Brunson said. “It's a huge part of both teams' identities, and we know that we wanted to set the tone with that.”
Here’s the bottom line: Minnesota is ready to fight, is Los Angeles?