Los Angeles, CA—When Candace Parker left the floor on Friday night, following a Game 3 Sparks win, she said, “It’s not over.”
Intimately familiar with the foe standing between Los Angeles and their fourth championship, Parker knew what was coming in Game 4. Only a team so similarly wired—in regard to veteran leadership, competitive desire, pain tolerance, and heart—could truly understand the depths of the Lynx arsenal.
So what Parker was saying is that 40 minutes in the ring with a gritty Minnesota squad, might as well be an eternity. And tonight’s dominant 80-69 Lynx victory vindicated that sentiment.
“We were prepared to do whatever was necessary,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “I think our hustle plays were the story of the game. Getting them on the glass, making our own breaks, that’s what we’re about. We finally got that done today.”
The deciding factor in the game was the hunger and ferocity Minnesota showed on the boards. They owned a staggering 48-28 advantage in rebounds and ravaged the Sparks in second chance points, 21-5. In fact, Sparks head coach, Brian Agler, attributed the difference between Games 3 and 4 to the battle on the glass.
“We rebounded better [in Game 3]. To me, that was a huge difference. I thought defensively once we got into the possession, we did some good things. But I thought they were really thorough on what they wanted to do, and when you give somebody a lot of second opportunities, they’re going to score on you.”
Just as strong starts have been crucial in this Finals series, rebounding has also been a primary indicator of success. Aside from Game 1—when LA pulled out the win despite being out-rebounded 35-34—the superior rebounding team has won each of the remaining games.
“I think throughout this series, we kind of understand that rebounding is key,” said Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson. “It’s a huge part of both teams’ identities, and we knew that we wanted to set the tone with that.”
Brunson was part of an unstoppable Lynx frontcourt that kept the game out of reach for Los Angeles. She and Sylvia Fowles earned double-doubles, snatching 13 and 14 rebounds respectively.
A stacked stat sheet aside, it was the tenacity they showed in pursuing every board that proved catalyzing. It was clear they took possessions personally—if the Sparks wanted a fresh shot-clock, they were going to go through one or both of them.
“They have this fire in their belly that is second to none,” said Coach Reeve. “You follow their lead, and it’s a group that has so much confidence in each other, belief in what we’re doing, and belief in our identity.”
Doomed by the discrepancy in rebounding, Coach Agler will be looking to make the boards a primary emphasis on Wednesday evening in a decisive Game 5.
“To compete with Minnesota, you have to stay in the game with them with the rebounding,” said Coach Agler. “They were the most aggressive team. There wasn’t any question. They got themselves to the free-throw line, gave themselves opportunities, and gave themselves second-chance points off offensive boards. We just didn’t play the way we needed to play to have success against them.”
So staring hard into the face of elimination, Minnesota gave it a respectful, yet casual nod as if to recognize its presence. But then proceeded to dismiss it with resolve and poise—showing why they’ve been mostly impervious to pressure for a good part of the last seven years.
“The only thing that mattered at this point was the 75 possessions we were about to play,” said Coach Reeve. “Whatever happened in Game 1, whatever happened in Game 2, whatever happened in Game 3, just had no bearing on what was about to happen. We had to pour everything we had into the coming 75 possessions, and I thought we did that.”
Pressure only has the power to affect teams who grant it permission to do so. So what Candace was really saying when she said, “It’s not over,” is that the Lynx aren’t one of those teams. She knows they play on their terms. They only let in what they choose to let in.
The “war of wills” continues in Game 5—where either Minnesota will hoist their fourth championship in seven years or Los Angeles will become the first team to repeat as champions since Lisa Leslie’s Sparks did it in 2002. Tipoff is set for 8pm ET on Wednesday, October 4.