Lynx escape Los Angeles as the lone undefeated team, rematch on the horizon for the West foes
Photos: © Lee Michaelson, all rights reserved.
LOS ANGELES – The Minnesota Lynx (13-0) exerted their dominance over the league by defeating previously unbeaten Los Angeles (11-1) Tuesday afternoon at Staples Center, 72-69.
The highly touted matchup had an air of historical significance as it took place exactly 19 years from the date of the first-ever WNBA game when the Sparks hosted the New York Liberty. The Sparks lost that first game and luck was not on their side 19 years later as the Lynx recovered from a one-point halftime deficit to outscore the Sparks in the last two quarters.
“This is what you play for, fun games between two competitive teams,” Minnesota forward Maya Moore said postgame. “It was a fun game to be a part of and so many people were tuning in just because of how well we have been playing to this point. You saw two excellent teams going at it, we didn’t necessarily get the offensive flow as much but we had big moments from different people at different times to where you can really see the determination from everyone on the court.”
Los Angeles won the tip and guard Kristi Toliver was the first to score with a three-pointer. But then it became rocky for Los Angeles as the team settled for jumpers, only 1-3 of which found the bottom of the net. Minnesota went to go an 8-0 run. After a Sparks timeout at 7:13, the Lynx scored right away to increase their lead to 10-3. At the end of the quarter, the Minnesota led 25-21. For the Sparks, it the most points they have given up in the first quarter all season.
Los Angeles began the second quarter on an 11-7 run to tie the game. The teams traded baskets until the last second when Sparks forward Essence Carson made a layup at the buzzer to give her team a 39-38 edge heading into the half. Los Angeles’ 39 first-half points were the fourth-lowest scoring output of the season in the first half for the team.
After the break, the two teams put on a gritty display that showcased why they are evenly matched. There were five lead changes and five ties in the third quarter. The fourth quarter saw six lead changes and four ties even as a few Lynx starters were in foul trouble including Moore, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles.
The teams entered the fourth quarter in a 56-56 tie, only the second time all year that the Sparks have not held a lead after three quarters.
With 28 seconds to go in the game, the teams were tied yet again. The game was still undecided with less than 10 seconds to go. With the score at 69 points each, Lynx reserve guard Renee Montgomery nailed a three-point shot with 2.9 seconds left. During the subsequent Sparks possession, Lynx forward Janel McCarville fouled Candace Parker. Parker failed to make both of her free throws but missed the second on purpose and rebounded her shot. With just 2.1 seconds on the clock, Toliver had an open shot and attempted a trey. The shot went in but her foot was on the line and after officials reviewed those last seconds determined that the shot would not count anyway because the ball was still in her hands at the buzzer.
“Kristi got it off on time, but I saw her foot on the line,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler. “Unfortunately, we had to come down to that.”
Toliver explained what happened in those last seconds.
“When Candace missed the first free throw, I knew we had to get the three, so we made eye contact and executed the plan,” Toliver said. “I positioned myself to the left, and it worked out perfectly. Unfortunately, big toe was on the line, but I am happy that we had a good fight against the Lynx. It was a great game, and competitive game between two best teams of the game, in my opinion. The Lynx brought out the best in us, and vice versa.“
Bench players for both teams key roles during the contest. However, the Lynx reserves held the edge. Minnesota’s bench outscored Los Angeles’ 26-10 led by Natasha Howard with 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Jia Perkins added six while Montgomery finished with eight, including that winning three-pointer.
“We are an older team so we have to utilize our bench a little more, which means some of the rookie players may get an opportunity to play,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve, “but when we go out and play, we just have to play hard.”
Augustus led the Lynx with 13 points. Rebekkah Brunson chipped in 12 points plus nine rebounds. Fowles had 11 rebounds to go along with her seven points.
Toliver led the Sparks with 20 points. Essence Carson scored 11 points. Alana Beard was also in double figures with 10 points plus 4 rebounds. The Lynx held Sparks’ leading scorer Nneka Ogwumike to nine points and six rebounds. Parker also had nine points plus eight rebounds and six assists.
Minnesota and the Los Angeles will square off again on Friday, June 24 at Target Center.
After the loss, Toliver gave her opinion on the game and the upcoming rematch.
“We certainly knew that we were going to compete, night in and night out,” Toliver said. “We learned that we needed to execute better down the stretch in close game. Since a lot of our games haven’t been that close, we should anticipate that competitive actions are expected. We have another opportunity to play the Lynx, and even though it left bad taste in our mouth, we have to replay the game in our minds and apply what we’ve learned.”
Agler had an optimistic view of the loss.
“We are early in the season, and this game allows us to refresh and start over,” he said. “We are grateful for our streak, and it helped us to grow. The most important thing for us is getting better. The streak represented that we were off to the right track as a team.”
By the Numbers
- Points in the Paint: Lynx 36 (18/32), Sparks 26 (13/21)
- Biggest Lead: Lynx 8, Sparks 7
- 2nd Chance Points: Lynx 20 (9/14), Sparks 8 (3/5)
- Lead Changes: 17 Fast Break Points: Lynx 8 (2/2), Sparks 16 (6/6)
- Minnesota’s core four of Augustus, Brunson, Moore and Lindsay Whalen recorded their 100th win together in today’s contest. They have an overall record of 100-25 when all four have played in a game.
- The Lynx outrebounded Los Angeles 42-29. Minnesota has now won 44 consecutive games when posting a double-figure rebounding advantage, dating to the 78-75 home loss to Indiana on June 26, 2011. The Lynx have held the upper hand in each of their last four games.
- Minnesota held a 20-8 edge in second chance points for its second straight game. Its 20 points marks a season-best in that category. The Lynx previous high in second chance points was 17 against Phoenix.
- Seimone Augustus led the team with 13 points, marking the third time this season she has led the
- Kristi Toliver recorded 3+ three-point field goals for the seventh time in 12 games with her 4-for-8 performance on the day.