LOS ANGELES, CA-- Coming into Sunday night’s show down, the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks split their two previous regular season meetings.
With a week to go in the WNBA 2017 regular season, however, Sunday had playoff implications for both of the league’s top teams, as they battle for top postseason seeding.
Those implications were clearly evident to every member of the Sparks, as they took down the Lynx,78-67.
The Sparks are now only a half game behind the Lynx for the No. 1 overall seed in the WNBA Playoffs.
Los Angeles was clicking on all cylinders, especially on the defensive end. They held Minnesota to 29-of-59 shooting from the field (49.2 percent), and forced the Lynx to turn the ball over 18 times. While they were aggressive, LA also played smart defense, and as a result, Minnesota shot just six free throws all night.
Right in the center of it all, and undoubtedly the catalyst for their performance, was guard Alana Beard.
Beard had the difficult assignment of guarding Minnesota’s Maya Moore for most of the night. As a result of Beard’s prowess, Moore only scored 10 points and was just 4-of-11 from the field. Moore also didn’t go to the free throw line one time during the game.
So, what exactly makes Beard so effective? It’s the fact that she gives 100 percent effort at all times, whether she is on the ball or off of it. The latter is arguably more important when guarding Moore.
Moore is, of course, one of the best scorers in the sport, and can take over at a moment’s notice. Beard was critical in moving her feet and working her way into passing lanes to make sure that Moore touched the ball as little as possible on Sunday night. As a result, Beard also recorded three steals.
The Sparks followed Beard’s lead and intensity; especially in the third quarter when they saw their 14-point lead dwindle to just eight. With Nneka Ogwumike on the bench with five fouls for most of the quarter, Los Angeles fought back and went up by 16 points heading into the final 10 minutes.
Tonight showed just how much Beard can pace this team on that end of the floor, and also showed exactly why she should be at the top of everyone’s list for Defensive Player of the Year.
“Alana Beard sets the tone for us” Sparks head coach Brian Agler said after the game.
“I don't know if I’ve ever coached anybody quite like her that can make so many plays on the ball and off the ball. Whether it’s steals, getting stops, taking charges, blocking shots. She’s just so active defensively.”
Offensively, Candace Parker, who ended the night with a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds, paced the Sparks. Parker shot 9-of-17 from the field, but also pulled in seven defensive boards to limit Minnesota’s second chance opportunities.
Sunday night’s game once again showed why Los Angeles vs. Minnesota is the premier rivalry in the league. As both continue to battle for home court advantage throughout the entirety of the Playoffs, we are no doubt going to be treated to some great games in the final week of the regular season.
“I think it speaks volumes to how much the game has grown, as well as how exciting the Finals were last year,” Parker said after the game when asked about LA’s rivalry with Minnesota.
“A lot of people tuned in to Game 5. They got really into the series. And today, too, what a game to have on ESPN. Staples Center was full. There’s a lot of emotion, a lot at stake today and it was a great game.”