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Sparks melt down, get taste of own medicine in Game 2

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For the second-straight game in the 2017 WNBA Finals, the result came down to the final minutes and the last few plays. The Minnesota Lynx held on to Game 2, as the Los Angeles Sparks failed to do a couple things that helped them snatch Game 1.

WNBA Finals - Game One Getty Images

Minneapolis, MN — After a huge comeback fell short in Game 1 of the 2017 WNBA Finals, Game 2 saw another fantastic finish, as one team once again almost overcame a double-digit deficit. This time, it was the Minnesota Lynx who came out hot and were able to fend off the Los Angeles Sparks, 70-68 — after nearly seeing a 20-point second half cushion disappear.

Early on it looked as if we were on our way to yet another blowout win by the Lynx to even the Finals at a game apiece, after Minnesota took Game 2 in last year’s Finals against these same Sparks by 19. The Sparks began this year’s Finals on a 12-0 run, but it was the Lynx’s turn to get off to a hot start in Game 2.

Los Angeles seemed discombobulated for much of the first quarter on Tuesday night, and starting 4-of-13 from the floor definitely did not help. Minnesota was able to deflect a ton of passes, disrupting the Sparks on the offensive end. Poor shooting, and an ineffectiveness on offense allowed the Lynx to open up a 28-10 lead through the first 10 minutes.

Turnovers were a problem in the first half for Los Angeles, specially in that rough first quarter. The Sparks committed six turnovers in the first 10 minutes to the Lynx’s two.

“In the first half, I feel like if we could take a couple of those possessions back and we could be told at the end of the night it would be a two-point game, I know I would do a lot of things differently, and in the Finals you can’t have that,” Candace Parker said. “You should play every possession because every possession is important.”

The second quarter was more even, neither team committed more than three turnovers. This helped Los Angeles cut the lead to single digits early in the quarter, before the Lynx got back on track taking a 19-point lead into halftime, 45-26.

Lindsay Whalen was a very different player for Minnesota in Game 2. Not only is she a great point guard who makes her teammates better, but she had a desire to attack the basket and get her own shot throughout the game. Whalen started out red-hot, scoring more points in the first quarter of Game 2 (7) than she did throughout Game 1 (5).

Her aggressiveness creates another matchup that is difficult for any team to defend, and that was apparent for large portions of Tuesday’s game.

“Whalen took a lot personally from Game 1, and she realized she wasn’t aggressive enough,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “She came out and really established herself, and I thought it created openings for us. Then you’ve got to step up a little bit, so the bigs were running free a little bit.”

“I thought Lindsay set the tone, and that’s what Lindsay Whalen does. If you’re around her, you would have guessed she was going to come out that way to help lead this team with a level of aggression that was necessary,” Reeve concluded.

Much of the struggles for the Sparks came in the first half, when their two stars were unable to put the ball in the basket. Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike were a combined 0-for-11 from the floor in the irst half for just three points. Anytime a team’s two best players are struggling to score, being down only 19 to a Lynx team of this caliber in their building may have been a blessing.

Ogwumike finished with a quiet 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting, but Parker significantly picked up her play after halftime, scoring nine of her 17 points in the fourth quarter. The Sparks got back to running their offense through Parker, taking advantage of her exceptional ability to attack defenses with her passing.

Consistent play from Ogwumike and Parker will be needed throughout Game 3 on Friday night.

Balanced scoring was key to Los Angeles’ attack in Game 1, as each of their starters reach double-figures. Minnesota flipped the script in Game 2, seeing their starters each reach double-digits in the scoring column. Both games were close and came down to a couple plays down the stretch, but because of the talent level of both teams, whatever team gets help on the offensive end from their secondary role players sees their chances of winning improve dramatically.

The Lynx were the better team Tuesday night, taking Game 2 to even the 2017 WNBA Finals. As the series shifts to Los Angeles, both teams have played stretches of dominant basketball through the first two games, while also relaxing at times only to see their opponent erase a lead to make it a game in the final minutes.

Turnovers and execution will always be keys for both teams, but balanced scoring and the play of Lindsay Whalen were too much for the Sparks to handle in Game 2, and will be things to keep an eye as the series continues.

“Now it’s a three game series,” Parker said. “We have home-court advantage, but at the same time, last year that meant nothing. This year I think we’ve proven it doesn’t really matter where we play. It really doesn’t. I think it’s going to be a difficult series.”

“No lead is safe, and you’re never out of the game,” Parker said.