The Minnesota Lynx needed more all across the board.
In Game 3 of the WNBA Finals, the Los Angeles Sparks appeared to have them figured out on both offense and defense. Three starters went scoreless in the first half, and a good effort from the bench wasn’t enough. They came out rejuvenated Sunday, with a dominant stretch of defense and rebounding early in the second quarter giving them a lead that they would never relinquish. They finished off Game 4 with a vital 80-69 win, pushing the WNBA Finals back to Minnesota for a decisive Game 5 for the second straight year.
The start of games has been critical to every game result in this series; while early big leads have not always remained, the team that started hot in each of the first three games wound up with the win. Game 4 started relatively evenly, with both teams getting a few buckets to get into the game.
Crucially for Minnesota, both Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus got on the board early after weak performances in Game 3. Brunson, in particular, was key to the Lynx’s early performance, leading the team in scoring at the half with 13, bringing a similar aggression seen in Minnesota’s Game 2 win.
The Sparks had their opportunities in the first quarter, and while the shots didn’t drop, they were from dangerous positions that could have really punished Minnesota. The Lynx took a 21-16 lead into the second quarter, but leads have never been safe in this series. Still, the beginning of the second quarter pushed the Lynx into overdrive. For the first time in Los Angeles, they looked like the more energetic and more prepared team as both offense and defense fired on all cylinders. The run in the first 4:38 was 14-3 to Minnesota, and the lead was 16.
Part of what keyed the Lynx’s dominance was five offensive rebounds, and the edge on the glass was one of the most important things to sustaining the lead at around ten points. For comparison, in the first three games, the differentials were Minnesota +1, Minnesota +7, and Los Angeles +7.
The Lynx finished this game up big on the boards, and their 48 rebounds were twelve more than the highest total by any team in any other game of the series.
For that difference to happen, the Sparks had to take – and miss – a whole lot of shots. Those inviting looks from the first quarter? They didn’t really stop happening, and even with a few shots falling early in the fourth quarter to put the fear into Minnesotan fans, the Sparks just shot really poorly. They finished the game at 40.6 percent after remaining below 40 percent for most of the night, and were a paltry 22.7 percent from three. The interior defense was a step up from the Lynx, yes. But the Sparks could have punished the perimeter had they hit their shots.
After the starting lineup’s scoring issues in Game 3, it was reassuring to see all five starters scoring, and all but Lindsay Whalen were in double figures. Reigning MVP Sylvia Fowles had arguably her best game of the series with a massive 22-point, 14-rebound performance, to go along with Brunson’s equally impressive totals of 18 points and 13 boards.
The Lynx bigs were necessarily excellent, and while Maya Moore’s 15 were also nice (a couple critical buckets late iced the game while the Sparks were trying to mount a comeback), this victory was all about the interior.
The Finals shift back to Williams Arena in Minneapolis for Game 5 on Wednesday evening. The Sparks will come ready, but there may be concerns about their starters’ workload. All five Los Angeles starters played at least 35 of the possible 40 minutes tonight, with Odyssey Sims leading the way at 37:16. And while their defensive energy at the end was still terrifying, that workload doesn’t seem sustainable. Two days off will help, and Game 5 is for all the marbles.
A Game 5 victory for Los Angeles would be only the third time in league history that a team has won back-to-back titles, and the first time since the Sparks did it in 2001-02. For the Lynx, this would be their fourth title in the last seven years, continuing their tradition of winning every other year since 2011. It would be another piece in the greatest dynasty since the WNBA’s inception in 1997. Both teams have won a close game, and both teams have won a blowout.
This has been an incredible, close series, and Game 5 will no doubt be an amazing basketball spectacle.