St. Paul, MN — Having to watch the Los Angeles Sparks hoist a trophy on their home court following a dramatic Game 5 last season had to represent one of the darkest moments for the Minnesota Lynx. These painful memories become indelibly etched in any athlete’s memory, but they also serve as one of the most potent sources of motivation.
Coming into the night, the Lynx had absolutely dominated the competition, sprinting out to a 12-1 record and leading the league in both points per game and points allowed to opponents.
But the question remained: how would the Lynx fare against the second-best team in the league and their nemesis, the LA Sparks? Sylvia Fowles and a deep Minnesota bench provided the resounding answer as the Lynx captured a compelling 88-77 victory.
Minnesota came out with a chip on their shoulder, feeding off one another’s energy and the frenzied crowd at Xcel Energy Center early. Their fast start was a product of Fowles’ presence on both ends of the floor. Fowles repeatedly drew three and four defenders, collapsing the LA defense and leaving the Lynx sharpshooters open on the perimeter. Minnesota took a 15-8 lead midway through the first frame.
A pesky Lynx defense forced 10 first quarter Sparks turnovers and kept LA completely out of rhythm offensively. Renee Montgomery hit two daggers from beyond the arc, and Minnesota’s 7-0 run to end the period handed them a 25-14 lead at the end of the first frame.
A key difference maker early was Minnesota’s aggressiveness inside. Through the first 10 minutes of action, the Lynx got to the line 10 times while LA attempted zero free throws.
Early in the second period, the Minnesota bench continued to own the night with Renee Montgomery leading the way. Her 11 points off of 4-of-4 shooting stretched the Lynx lead to 14, and it would only get worse for LA. Seimone Augustus’ back-to-back buckets gave the Lynx a 19-point lead midway through the second quarter as part of a dominant 19-4 Minnesota run.
Los Angeles responded in defending champion worthy fashion, putting together a 14-2 run in the final four minutes of the second quarter behind a monster performance from Nneka Ogwumike. She helped shrink the deficit to just six points with 0:31 remaining. Frustrated by their second quarter complacency, the Lynx went on a 4-0 run in the waning seconds to take a 46-36 lead at halftime.
The deciding factor in the first half was a deep Minnesota bench that accounted for 20 of their team’s 46 first half points. Most striking of all was their ability to build a sizable lead with both Maya Moore and Fowles posting modest scoring totals of six points each.
“The bench was huge, and that’s exactly what we asked of them before the game—to make sure they were ready to contribute today because we needed them,” said head coach Cheryl Reeve.
Finding themselves in a familiar position after having trailed the Washington Mystics this past Sunday by 17 at halftime, the Sparks and their star of the night, Ogwumike, got right back to work. Midway through the third, a Chelsea Gray three-pointer and Candace Parker’s first basket of the contest pulled them within four points. Suddenly, the highly anticipated rematch was living up to the hype.
While Ogwumike continued to gash the Lynx, the Sparks bench, namely Essence Carson and Odyssey Sims, helped keep the deficit within single digits. Yet, each time LA would appear to garner some momentum, Fowles had the answer. She halted a 7-0 Los Angeles run and maintained a six-point Minnesota lead midway through the third quarter.
The action reached a frenetic pace in the waning seconds of the third as Riquna Williams, known for sinking big three-pointers lately, hit a desperately needed one with sixteen seconds remaining to cut the gap to four points. Renee Montgomery, not to be outdone, proceeded to hit her fourth three-pointer with less than a second on the clock to send Minnesota into the final period leading 68-61.
“This is why you play basketball,” said Montgomery on her clutch shooting night. “When you are putting in extra work, going to the gym when nobody’s there…you’re getting shots up for those moments.”
In the fourth quarter, Minnesota’s bench continued to put on show, featuring a Montgomery finish at the rim and baskets from Plenette Pierson and Jia Perkins. Taking the 12-point lead their bench gave them with seven minutes remaining, Augustus hit huge shots down the stretch, and Fowles played closer.
She punctuated the long awaited 88-77 Lynx victory with a beautiful design play inside with just over a minute to play. Parker had a quiet night, accounting for only two points and three rebounds.
Despite Ogwumike’s relentless spirit in the game’s final minutes and tremendous 27 point, 14 rebound performance, Fowles’ 20 points and 13 rebounds combined with a Minnesota bench that came up with big shots at crucial moments proved too much to overcome.
Tonight’s MVP award undoubtedly was a group accolade belonging to a Lynx supporting cast that outscored LA’s bench 33-19 and was praised by Fowles as ‘everything for us’ after the game.