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Lynx still haunted by WNBA Finals loss, focused on execution

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The Minnesota Lynx are back in the WNBA Finals for the sixth time in the last seven seasons, but see a familiar foe standing in the way of their fourth title. 

2016 WNBA Finals - Game Two Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Minneapolis, MN — For only the second time in league history, we get a rematch in the WNBA Finals, as the top two-seeded teams prepare to face off the 2017 Finals when they begin on Sunday.

“I think it’s good,” Los Angeles Sparks coach Brian Agler stated regarding the rematch. “I think these two teams have proven they might be at the top at this point in the longevity in the WNBA. I think that last year’s series was extremely competitive and multiple games could have gone either way. Last year’s season and playoffs are different this year from the vantage point of what we went through.

“I do think that Minnesota is a really good team and we’re going to have to play well to compete.

Similarities will naturally be present when the same teams make it back to the Finals in consecutive years, but this best-of-5 series is all about execution.

To say the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks are familiar with each other is an understatement. Both teams were the one and two-seeds respectively last season and this season, and have a combined score of 848-835 in their 11 meetings in 2016 and 2017. With at least three more games coming up against each other in the Finals, that is a lot of high-tension minutes on a basketball court together.

“I knew from a long time ago that it would probably be us two back in The Finals,” said WNBA MVP Sylvia Fowles. “Just from how both teams stood out throughout the season and we’re similar in a lot of areas. I kind of had a feeling that we would meet the Sparks again in The Finals.”

The Sparks have won only one more game against the Lynx in their last 11 matchups, including a Finals win last season, that came down to a closely-contested Game 5 on Minnesota’s home court. These teams have proven being the home team has little meaning on who will win.

Over the past two seasons, four of Los Angeles’ six wins against Minnesota came on the road, while three of the Lynx’s five wins came away from home. In addition to the Sparks winning on the road in Game 5 of the Finals last season, they also stole Game 1 of the 2016 Finals in Minnesota on an Alana Beard baseline jumper at the buzzer.

For the second year in a row, the WNBA Finals begin in Minnesota, where the Lynx will indeed be focused on protecting home court. Minnesota split the two home meetings against the Sparks in the 2017 regular season, showing a confidence both teams seem to have on the other’s court.

Three of the five Finals games last season were decided by a combined nine points, as two came down to buckets in the final seconds. In those three games, Minnesota won only one of them (Game 4), and shot a combined 6-for-22 from three.

The Lynx failed to make a single three in Game 1 of the Finals last season, and still only lost by two. Minnesota attempted the fifth-fewest threes this season, showing the deep ball is not something they rely on to win.

On the other hand, the Lynx had the most field goals made this season, which is important if you’re not going to take or make a lot of threes. The Sparks and Lynx lead the league in field goal percentage during the regular season, shooting 47.9 and 47.8 percent, respectively.

The goal is always to put the ball in the basket, but there is definitely more than one way for teams to accomplish that. Both Los Angeles and Minnesota use their size and versatility to not only score in the paint, but also force turnovers. The Sparks and Lynx are also one and two respectively in forcing opponent turnovers, which definitely plays a huge role in the finalists both finishing in the top four in scoring.

Giving players like Los Angeles’ Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike or Minnesota’s Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles easy buckets is never going to make it easy on your defense. One of the keys will be which team can limit their turnovers, while forcing their opponent into miscues that can easily be converted into two points on the other end.

A new face for the Sparks in this year’s Finals is Odyssey Sims, who has boosted Los Angeles’ backcourt. Sims adds another scoring option as well as another ball handler. The Lynx have a bigger question mark next to one of their standout backcourt players.

Lindsay Whalen returned in Game 1 of the Semifinals against the Washington Mystics from a broken hand after missing 12 games, and never saw more than 22 minutes in any Semifinal game. The Lynx are a very different team with Whalen in the lineup, not only because of how talented she is, but also because it allows players like Renee Montgomery to come off the bench with the second unit.

“Every game is important,” said Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen. “So we have to come out here and be ready to go from the tip. We have to work hard and execute like our coaches want us to.”

Both the Lynx and Sparks have won three WNBA titles, and are each looking to become just the second franchise to have four Finals wins, tying the Houston Comets who won the first four Finals in league history.

The 2017 Finals will definitely be one for the record books, and will come down to which of these two star-studded teams makes more key plays in “winning time.”