Los Angeles, CA— “Playoff basketball” is a term used to describe the heightened intensity on both ends of the floor that teams engage in when championships are on the line. And nothing says “Finals basketball” better than the best players in the world— hunched over, hands on their knees, trying to get as much oxygen into their lungs as possible — within the first few minutes of a game.
That is the kind of intensity the Los Angeles Sparks brought tonight on the defensive end. Their frenzied pursuit of 50/50 balls, peskiness in passing lanes, and staunch close-outs on the perimeter meant nothing came easy for what Cheryl Reeve called an “anemic” Lynx offense.
Thanks to their prideful defensive effort, Los Angeles willed themselves to a 75-64 victory and captured a crucial 2-1 series lead.
“We were just talking about that in the locker room—that a lot of the intangible things that happened in these games are just as important as the X's and the O's,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler.
“We had several people chase down long rebounds and loose balls, which helped us quite a bit. I’m just happy that we played the way we did, we competed hard.”
LA Sparks' @candaceparker touches on the key plays that contributed to the team's win tonight and says Sparks need to continue the same efforts if they want to win Game 4 #l4l #instagood #instalike #beautiful #fun #WNBA #crowd #amazing #cool #basketball #love #sports #WNBAFinals #losangeles #minnesota #swishappeal #swag
The snarling Sparks defense determined the outcome of the game in more ways than one. The most obvious of which was their ability to take Minnesota out of rhythm offensively. In fact, they held Maya Moore scoreless in the first half and ultimately held two out of five Lynx starters (Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus) scoreless the entire game.
“A more active LA team and an anemic offense that was not prepared for how hard the game was going to be,” said Coach Reeve on her team’s start to the game. “Our starters didn't compete in the way that we had hoped that we would start the game. LA set the tone on those guys, and we just couldn't get responses from them.”
Aside from setting the bar in terms of urgency on the defensive end, the Sparks defense also fed their offense by creating turnovers. Fifteen Lynx turnovers meant a Sparks arsenal — that can’t be spotted any favors to begin with — was given too many extra looks at the basket.
“They were more persistent,” said Sylvia Fowles. “We weren’t able to get the shots that we wanted on offense, and they utilized it on the other end going the opposite way. I think that was the difference down the line — our turnovers, five-second calls, stuff like that.”
It seemed as if every time Minnesota went on a run—their most threatening of which came in the fourth quarter, when they pulled within one point of the lead with 7:26 to play — the Sparks defense found a way to get a stop.
Without those pivotal stops, the Sparks offense would not have been able to do what they do best down the stretch — put the ball in the hole. Alana Beard’s layup off a wonderful play call by Brian Agler with just over three minutes to play, coupled with Chelsea Gray’s three-point dagger shortly thereafter, swung momentum in Los Angeles’ favor and inched them one step closer to hoisting their fourth championship.
As for the Lynx, they are hoping to force a deciding Game 5 back in Minnesota — a feat they are hoping to accomplish for a second year in a row now.
“We have to win Game 4,” said Fowles. “I’m not even focusing on Game 5 right now…Going into Game 4, it’s going to be hard. That’s what the Finals is about. We can’t make any excuses for ourselves. We just have to find a way to get it done.”
Candace Parker earned final word of the night by posing the million dollar question—one that has two possible outcomes for the Sparks. Option one: be greeted by confetti on Sunday. Option two: accept an ominous plane ticket to Minneapolis for Game 5.
“They are a team that plays well when their backs are against the wall, and we play well when our backs are against the wall,” Parker said. “So how do we play when we’re ahead? I guess that’s the question.”