If the gloves weren’t already off, Chelsea Gray of the Los Angeles Sparks made sure she let the Minnesota Lynx knew they were.
Fresh off an opening where Gray’s heart-stopping game winner delivered the best overnight rating EVER for a WNBA Finals opener, the Minnesota Lynx and defending champion Los Angeles Sparks will go at it again for tonight’s Game Two at the Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
For the Sparks, it’s simple: win game two, and they come home to Los Angeles to set up a clean sweep on Friday night. For the Lynx, they have one of two options:
1) They win tonight, and they go to Los Angeles with a 1-1 tie and potentially finish the Sparks off on their home court as revenge for the Sparks winning on theirs last year.
2) They lose tonight, and face the daunting task of having to sweep the Sparks in Los Angeles, then come home for a winner-take-all Game Five.
Let’s take a look at how each team is bracing for tonight’s crucial game.
On Sunday afternoon, the Lynx got stomped right out the gate, down as much as 26 points in the opening quarter. Eventually, they woke up and began to play to their potential, but the frustration was apparent on the face of Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve.
At yesterday’s media presser, Reeve didn’t mince words when asked about what she saw in game one.
“We didn’t play at a championship level, period. Certainly, disappointing is the word I come up with most. Mind-boggling. I read the players quotes, and I see no rhyme or reason,” Reeve said.
“It just suggests to me that either being in The Finals is something that they take for granted or suggests to me that we’re playing against a team that wants to win more than us. Those are answers that I’m looking for, and that I will get today when we meet with our team.”
Even though the team battled back from the 26-point deficit, Reeve took no comfort in that, expressing that the Lynx shouldn’t see any positives from that.
“No. People say you battled, but that’s what the hell you’re supposed to do,” Reeve said. “You’re competing for a championship. You’re supposed to battle. So what is the good of that? We did what we were supposed to do in the 32 minutes. You guys can focus on that if you want to. That’s loserville, that’s what that is.”
Some players, like 2017 WNBA MVP Sylvia Fowles (22 pts, 13 rebs), chose to take a somewhat less harsher tone. Commenting on the first few minutes of the game, Fowles said this:
“I can’t tell you what happened. It wasn’t like we weren’t playing or anything. I mean L.A came out hot. We weren’t getting any stops. We weren’t getting the ball in the basket. We kind of put ourselves in a tough spot.”
However, after a similar result last year, the Lynx did bounce back to win game two. When asked about that, Fowles tried not to put too much emphasis on it, saying that this is a whole different series.
“I think it’s a clean slate. I try not to look back at last year. Last year didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out. So, I try not to focus on last year,” Fowles said.
“I definitely do see ourselves bouncing back. We showed that we can do it in the last 32 minutes (of game one). I think we’ll be focused.”
LOS ANGELES SPARKS
After a red-hot start on Sunday, the Sparks come into Tuesday’s game with an apparent advantage both momentum-wise and mentally. However, the team, as they normally do, aren’t looking at it as any sort of serious indication of victory.
Candace Parker (15 pts, 12 rebs, 3 stl) thought that while they started off great, there was still a lot of areas where they could have done better.
“We played pretty good basketball, but we played five minutes of great basketball. We won two quarters, and we lost two quarters. I feel like we can build off of that, but we have to learn to adjust throughout the game, not going back after Game 1 and going back to the film and adjusting, but as individuals on the court.”
When asked about the foul trouble that almost cost them the game (17 fouls, five of them from Parker), she admitted the Lynx frustrated them a little bit with their resilience.
“Obviously it was a different story a little bit because we had three of our starters at halftime with 10 fouls, so it was a little bit more than adjustments. I hope we don’t put our team in that position, but at the same time we have to change the way we do things under pressure.”
Los Angeles head coach Brian Agler, while agreeing with Parker to an extent, expects the Lynx to be a much different team than they were in Game One. When asked if he expected Minnesota to come out full force in Game Two, he made it no secret what he thought.
“I don’t anticipate anything less that. We just have to look at the game as we outplayed them in the first five minutes, and they outplayed us in the last 35. There are a lot of areas we can get better at; we have to get better at and hopefully we will,” Agler said.
However, he has the utmost faith in what you could call the Sparks’ secret weapon: Chelsea Gray. Gray, who led the league in three-point shooting this season (48.2 percent), had 27 points, including the game-winner. Agler says that her strength comes from not being the primary focus.
“Chelsea is a good player. Against Minnesota, when you have to give so much attention to Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles, then someone like Seimone Agustus can really hurt you,” Agler said. “It’s sort of similar because we have other good players around. When Minnesota is paying attention to Nneka [Ogwumike], Candace [Parker] and Odyssey [Sims] then Chelsea gets some opportunities.”
Gray, who was coming off the bench this time last season, was just ecstatic about being given the opportunity to have that game-winning shot. Asked if she likes having the ball with the game on the line, Gray gave the answer all humble athletes do.
“Yes, it’s amazing. I think a lot of athletes dream about that time and space when you are able to contribute in that way, but there were a bunch of plays my teammates made up to that point. That was just the end of the game.”
Look for more sneaker-slapping action tonight when the Sparks and Lynx tip off tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST on ESPN2.