It was no surprise that the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks once again squared off in the WNBA Playoffs on Tuesday night.
The surprising part was just how early the two rivals met for the fourth consecutive postseason.
In typical fashion, Minnesota and Los Angeles – who have met in the last two WNBA Finals, both of which went to five games – took Tuesday’s game at STAPLES Center down to the wire in a win-or-go-home, single-elimination playoff game.
The team that got the last laugh was Los Angeles, which took the game 75-68 to advance to the second round and ended Minnesota’s shot at defending its WNBA title from a year ago.
— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) August 22, 2018
Minnesota’s loss in the first round of the playoffs is the first time that it has been bounced in the opening round since falling to Seattle in 2004.
The loss also marks the end of the legendary career of Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen – who announced her retirement at the conclusion of the season – with many questions about the direction of the franchise looming.
In the first quarter of Tuesday’s game, the Lynx struggled on the offensive end of the floor, committing unnecessary turnovers that allowed the Sparks to go on a run midway through the opening frame. Minnesota woke up late, finishing the quarter on an 8-2 run to grab a 16-15 advantage over Los Angeles. The late push by the Lynx was led by Sylvia Fowles, who scored a team-best six points in the final two minutes of the quarter.
To round out the first half, Minnesota started the second quarter where it left off in the first, going on a 12-4 run to lead by as many as 11 points. The rest of the half was all Los Angeles, which finished the quarter on a 19-4 run to carry a 40-37 lead into halftime.
What worked well for the Lynx in the first quarter – getting the ball in the hands of Fowles and Maya Moore – became non-existent in the second quarter which gave the Sparks a window to strike and retake the lead.
— WNBA (@WNBA) August 22, 2018
In the opening quarter of the second half, it was a quarter of runs for both teams. Los Angeles opening the third on a 14-4 run to take a double-digit lead. In the closing minutes of the quarter, though, the Lynx went on a much-needed 9-1 run to cut the Sparks lead to just 58-52.
The Lynx continued to battle back in the fourth quarter, cutting the Sparks lead down to as little as three with a late charge by Whalen and company, but Minnesota couldn’t catch up to Los Angeles.
— WNBA (@WNBA) August 22, 2018
Fowles led the Lynx with 18 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. Temi Fagbenle had a career night for Minnesota, making endless timely hustle plays and finishing with 15 points and four rebounds off the bench.
Finishing behind the two Lynx posts was Moore with 14 points, four rebounds and three assists, Whalen with nine points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals in her final game and Seimone Augustus with five points and three rebounds.
Although Candace Parker was held to just two points on 1-of-6 shooting, Chelsea Gray and Nneka Ogwumike were too much for Minnesota to handle defensively. Gray led Los Angeles with 26 points, six assists and five rebounds, while Ogwumike added 19 points and five rebounds.
With the win, Los Angeles advances to play No. 3 Washington at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the second round of the WNBA Playoffs, which is another single-elimination game. In the other half of the playoff bracket, No. 5 Phoenix – which beat No. 8 Dallas 101-83 on Tuesday – will take on No. 4 Connecticut at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the second round.
It’s the end of an era in Minnesota, with Whalen’s retirement just the first domino to fall for the Lynx.
Where the team and franchise goes from here is the main question and something will no doubt be addressed in the offseason. But what’s not in question was the impressive run and dynasty that was built in Minnesota over the past decade, which has resulted in four WNBA championships.