St. Paul, MN — Every league has its heated rivalries, for the WNBA, it’s the Minnesota Lynx and the LA Sparks. These two consistently see each other throughout the regular and postseason. Each time, the battle is more intense, more heated than the last.
Tonight was no different.
It was a close first half between the Lynx and Sparks. Both teams came out with tremendous passion and an attack “go-to-the-hoop” mindset.
The half ended tied at 36 and equal across the boards. Both squads had 16 points in the paint, two fast break points, and several lead changes, each never being ahead by more than six.
“When both teams are going so hard, it’s definitely a gut check, as far as what team can physically execute the game plan on both sides of the ball,” said Minnesota’s Maya Moore.
How both teams executed in the hard fought first half was polar opposites. Los Angeles, in the words of LeBron James, was top heavy, with Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray having the majority of the points for their team, combining for 25.
Minnesota, meanwhile, was like a Swiss army knife, carving up the Sparks’ defense with tremendous precision — point production was evenly spread, as no starter reached double-digits.
But it was almost Déjà vu for Minnesota, reminiscent of their Game 5 issues in the last year’s WNBA Finals, as they struggled offensively in the second half, missing numerous, easy layups, which began to add up negatively.
And while the Lynx were stuck in a quagmire, on the flip side, Los Angeles turned it up another notch — and seemed even quicker off the dribble, showcasing a newfound explosiveness with every move to the basket, and with every steal on the other side of the ball. These two dynamics, left Minnesota in a true rut, producing the lowest-scoring period of the season — a mere 8 points.
“They are a very physical team, but that’s one of the things we have to do is match them. We have to be just as physical and just as intense as they are, and if we do that, then we’ll be successful. There were moments when we didn’t do that, and we didn’t match their energy, and I think that was part of our issue tonight,” said Lynx Forward Rebekkah Brunson.
Even though the third quarter was an utter disaster for Minnesota, Los Angeles was a huge success. Something definitely snapped for second best team in the WNBA, they caught fire, seemingly hitting every shot, and making every hustle play, capitalizing on 50-50 balls, it was as if any loose ball was their long lost treasure, and theirs for the taking. The 21-8 run by the Sparks put Minnesota in a quandary, as the Lynx spent the rest of the game trying to recover.
“That’s what we’re working towards, is to get our defense as sound as possible going into the playoffs, because you saw what happened in the third quarter, and when we’re able to get stops and get out in the secondary that’s when we’re dangerous,” said Parker.
“We were staying in plays with people, Maya, Sylvia they are great scorers; I think we just tried to have them take the toughest shots possible,” said Gray who ended the game leading the Sparks with 23 points.
However, the Lynx had one roar left, and made a strong push, bringing the game within 3 with under a minute left in the fourth. With the biggest crowd the Xcel Energy Center has seen all season, the Lynx were definitely feeding off of the home court advantage, trying to hedge the deficit created by the Sparks third quarter siege.
It wasn’t enough though; Los Angeles held their lead, and Minnesota quickly ran out of time.
The Sparks grasped the victory they needed, flying to its next game in the Big Apple with a 70-64 win over their Midwest rival.
“Tonight you’ve seen a little glimpse of what it’s going to be like in the playoffs,” said Los Angeles’ Odyssey Sims. “I mean it’s going to be no fouls called; you’re going to have intentional fouls, technical fouls. It’s going to be a lot of emotions, more so on the competitive side, [and] nobody wants to lose.”
With playoff energy beginning to fill the air, the Lynx are looking to overcome this loss in a few weeks (Aug. 27) as they take on the Sparks one last time before post-season play.
“Having played them for the second time, it’s like a 3-game playoff. You want to get that advantage, so it’s 1-1,” said Moore. “We have more time to go out to them before the regular season’s over, and whichever team loses I’m sure wishes they could play again the next day, so we’ll be ready when that day comes.”