The Minnesota Lynx defense stood their ground and forced two Los Angeles Sparks turnovers in the final 13 seconds of a 70-68 win over the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals at Williams Arena on Tuesday.
“You have to make your own breaks,” Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said. “We were far harder to play against at the end of tonight’s game than the end of Sunday’s game.”
With her team trailing by two points, Sparks guard Alana Beard was unable to inbound the ball to a teammate, giving Minnesota the chance to add to its lead.
“It was disappointing,” Los Angeles Sparks head coach Brian Agler said. “I felt like we had a play, but we just didn’t execute it.”
Beard, who hit a game-winning shot to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead in last year’s Finals, shared her coach’s frustration.
“I didn’t see anyone open,” Beard added. “With that being said, it is my responsibility to get the ball inbounds and that didn’t happen.”
Beard and the Sparks were bailed out just a second later, when Lindsay Whalen’s pass went out-of-bounds after teammate Seimone Augustus got tripped up and lost her footing.
With a chance to deliver yet another dagger to the heart of the Lynx, Chelsea Gray’s pass was deflected by Rebekkah Brunson and caught by Maya Moore, who passed ahead to Lindsay Whalen to dribble the clock out and secure the victory and even the series at 1-1.
“We just had to continue to fight,” Moore said. “All we can do is try to anticipate what is going to happen and shut it down.”
For Los Angeles, leaving Minnesota with a split was a goal, but it feels like things could have gone better.
“Going into the series, you know you have to win a game on the road,” Agler said. “But once you get into the series, you have to think about the moment. The moment just happened and we have to get better.”
“Now it is a three-game series and we have home-court advantage, but last year that meant nothing,” Sparks forward Candace Parker added. “I think both teams have proven it does not matter where we play, it’s going to be a difficult series.”
The one common denominator amongst everyone at the podium after the game was that it is no surprise that each of the first two games have been decided by a single possession.
“Everybody on the court is such a threat,” Whalen said. “This is what it’s all about. This is why we are all still playing.”
Dating back to Game 1 of last season’s finals, four of the seven games between the two teams have been decided by two or fewer points.
“We know how special this series is,” Moore said. “Taking a few moments to realize how special this and using it as fuel to keep going is important.”
Much like Sunday’s Game 1, the entire game was not as close as the final score indicated. This time, it was Minnesota who owned a 20-point lead and the Sparks fought their way back.
The Lynx closed the opening quarter on an 11-1 run to take a 28-10 lead into the second quarter.
“It did not shock me that Minnesota came out with that aggression and urgency from the start,” Agler said. “I wish we could have hung around a little closer.”
The Lynx led by as many as 20 points, and 45-26 at halftime, but were held to just 25 points in the second half.
“No lead is safe and you are never out of the game,” Parker said. “In the first half, I feel like if you would have told us we could take a couple possessions back because it would be two-point game, I know I would have done a lot of things differently. In the finals, you cannot have that. Every possession is important.”
One possible turning point could have been found late in the second quarter and early in the third quarter. Moore picked up an offensive foul — her third — in the final minute of the third quarter and quickly tacked on a fourth foul, causing her to head to the bench for the remainder of the third quarter.
“She’s one of the best in the world,” Agler said of Moore. “When you take her off the floor it impacts Minnesota.”
The other difference between halves was the scoring for Sparks stars Nneka Ogumike and Parker. The duo combined to score just three points on 0-of-11 shooting in the first half before getting back on track for 14 points in the third quarter.
“They really asserted themselves in the third quarter,” Reeve said. “They got very persistent throwing it inside and they had some success.”
Parker scored all of her game-high 17 points in the second half.
For Minnesota, Whalen set the tone early, by scoring seven points in the first four minutes to help the Lynx build a quick 17-7 lead.
“Whalen took a lot personally from Game 1. She realized she wasn’t aggressive enough,” Reeve said. “She came out and really established herself. Lindsay set the tone and if you know her, you would have expected her to do that.”
Whalen, who had just five points on 2-of-5 shooting in Game 1, finished tonight’s game with a team-high 14 points and three assists.
“Coach and I talked about me being aggressive,” Whalen added. “I tried to get in the lane and push the pace a little bit. It worked out for the most part.”
All five starters scored in double figures for Minnesota, while Renee Montgomery scored all seven of the team’s bench points.
Regular season MVP Sylvia Fowles posted a double-double in the first half and finished with 13 points and a WNBA Finals record 17 rebounds.
“She does so many things for us,” Moore said of Fowles. “I’m just glad she is able to show out on the biggest stage and get recognized for it.”
Game 3 will be at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Friday at 8 p.m. on ESPN 2.