2016 WNBA Finals: Lynx avoid elimination, beat Sparks 85-79 to even up series 2-2

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Video || Quotes || Box Score || WNBA Statement on Missed 8-second Violation in Game 4

LOS ANGELES – The Minnesota Lynx avoided elimination from the WNBA Finals with a scrappy yet composed 85-79 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks Sunday night at Staples Center. The two best teams in the league are tied 2-2 in the best-of-five series.

“I thought it was a hard-fought game,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler. “Both teams competed extremely hard. I thought Minnesota played…with a little bit more poise than we did. Obviously Maya Moore hit some big shots, made some big plays on both ends of the floor. Got a lot of respect for them. They’re a championship team. They’re well-coached. They’ve got great competitors, and they did what they had to do tonight.”

Led by Moore, the Lynx pulled away from the Sparks early in the second quarter after a back-and-forth contest during the first 13 minutes of the game. While the Lynx led 22-20 after the first quarter, the Sparks evened up the score twice early in the second period. However, two layups later from Moore, the Lynx led 26-24 at 7:06 and kept the advantage for nearly the rest of the game. Going into halftime, Minnesota had a six-point lead, 46-40.

Undaunted by their deficit, the Sparks nipped at the heels of the Lynx for the last two periods, getting within one point twice in the third quarter. Minnesota went into the last quarter leading Los Angeles, 65-59.

It was a tense fourth quarter for the teams and fans, as Sparks die-hards stood on their feet for the majority of the period cheering and yearning for the Sparks to overcome their opponent.

The Sparks were relentless in their attempts to regain the lead and even tied the game at 69 all at 6:01. But in their next possession after a steal by forward Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles turned the ball over and Minnesota capitalized with a layup from point guard Lindsay Whalen.

Oguwmike explained some of the reasons why the Sparks faltered down the stretch.

“I felt like we weren’t getting stops,” she said, “and then we had a couple of slip-ups when it came to handling the ball at the end.”

The intensity of play and drama of the close game had fans engaged include several celebrities courtside: Kobe Bryant, Cedric the Entertainer, young actress Marsai Martin, Idara Victor and more.

“This is what a Finals game should look like,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “I think both teams leaving it all out on the floor. I was pleased to see that on both sides.”

Moore finished with a game-high 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Whalen added 13 points plus six rebounds. Seimone Augustus contributed 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Center Sylvia Fowles earned a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Kristi Toliver paced the Sparks with 15 points. Candace Parker scored 14 points. Owumike and Alana Beard added 11 points each. Ogwumike also pulled down eight rebounds.

The teams head back to Minnesota for Game 5. The deciding contest for the title will take place Thursday at 8 p.m. on ESPN 2.



Minnesota Lynx

Head coach Cheryl Reeve

Q. Cheryl, Maya really took over in this game, really first time in the series that she’s stepped up and taken over the game. Very good all-around game, 31 points, rebounds, assists. What did you think of her performance tonight?
CHERYL REEVE: Obviously we needed every bit of what Maya did. It wasn’t easy. You know, I remember more of the turnovers than I do the 31 points. There were two big threes that were memorable for me. But Maya made — Maya just makes plays. I think that, much like Nneka after Game 2 came back in Game 3 and wanted to be more persistent, I thought Maya was more persistent in trying to find opportunities to score. It was in a variety of ways. It was in multiple positions. She was perimeter, post, it was in transition, it was hustle plays. It was executing some stuff out of time-outs. It was getting fouled at times. Obviously it was huge.

Q. In Game 3 you talked about rebounding as a matter of want, Lynx go plus 16 tonight. How would you rate Minnesota’s want-to factor on the boards?
CHERYL REEVE: Well, I mean, anybody that understands what it takes to win games, you know that rebounding is at the top of the list. It’s possessions, and so we got huge effort from Sylvia Fowles. We weren’t necessarily able to figure the rock in decent positions to score, so she found her own way to get involved in the offense, and that was hustle plays on the glass. It was hard. You know, it wasn’t like they weren’t in there trying to keep her from it. It was just — I just thought it was — again, both teams competing, what I would call on 10, just giving it everything that they had. I think for us, when you went on the road, what you remember most is answering runs. There was a huge one there at the end when they tied it, and that was huge. That next possession that was a turnover, I can’t recall exactly what happened, but I just know it was a huge stop, and it was just being able to hang in there and not letting them take a lead because the crowd was obviously amazing. Kudos to the business staff for giving the Sparks such an amazing environment. It was a great show for our league on national television. Yeah.

Q. This has been an amazing series. It seems like when every team might have lost, the next night they come at a different level. What do you expect is going to happen in Game 5?
CHERYL REEVE: Well, as I told Rachel, our Star Tribune reporter that flew all the way from Minneapolis to be with us, I gave her a prediction of what I thought Game 3 was going to be like, and I couldn’t have been more wrong, so she asked me today, and I said, I have no idea. So I will answer to you today, I have no idea what to expect. I know what to wish for, but you have no idea. You have no idea. We’re just going to try to prepare our team and see what we can do.

Q. Considering the roller coaster this series has been, are you glad there’s almost four days before you play again?
CHERYL REEVE: It doesn’t really matter. I think all of us getting to — all of us, coaches getting another practice, we’re thrilled to be able to spend a little more time together. But I just think maybe for the players to get their legs under them maybe it’s a good idea because this has been intense. Like you said, I told our players this, it’s an up-and-down series, never too high, never too low. We each won on each other’s home court, and that’s not easy to do, when you look at the home court that we have and our fans and you look at what exists here, it’s a tall challenge, so credit to both teams for being able to get that done, and then now it’s Game 5, which is what everybody was asking for, hoping for, and here we are.

Q. With Brunson in foul trouble for most of the game, how pivotal was Howard’s play tonight and Moore’s defense against Parker tonight?
CHERYL REEVE: Well, certainly not an ideal situation. I’m already down a post, losing McCarville last game, so I’ve got three posts left and one of them gets in foul trouble. It was the worst-case scenario. If you had told me before the game that was going to happen, I would have told you we were in big, big trouble. We had already obviously had consideration that Maya was going to have to play there, match up on Parker, so we tried to get her ready for some of the things that she would see.

But I think our stuff is not Maya versus Parker, I think it’s team defensive concepts, the same way it is for LA. I don’t think it was Maya’s individual defense that got anything done. I thought it was more our attention to what they were running and how we could try to prevent the easy ones because I think she got going a little bit early, some of the shots against Howard. But Howard’s minutes were big in that this is a young player that’s on a big stage and kind of got thrust into this place of everything you do matters. Sometimes it was good, and sometimes it was just okay, but I thought Jia Perkins, the play of Jia Perkins was huge in that playing Jia and moving Maya to the 4, that was really helpful to us. Jia gives us an amazing energy on defense and obviously a great mid-range game. She had a huge jumper for us on the help side where we were able to swing it around to her. We just had big plays. When you win on the road like this, it’s — Brunson’s bank that she made, it’s Seimone’s shot along the baseline that she made, it’s Jia’s shot, and answering the run. All of a sudden if you don’t score three times in a row, you’re going to lose the lead, so we had the ability to find a way to at least put the ball in the basket, to answer at some point, to keep a separation.

Q. What, if anything, rattles Maya?
CHERYL REEVE: I think when I sub and take her out. She doesn’t like that very much. She looked at me like, me? I’m coming out? I don’t think a whole lot. I don’t think a whole lot. I think that’s the greatest thing about Maya. She can — she’s one of those players that can do multiple bad things in a row. She’ll turn it over on offense and she’ll miss something on defense, and with Maya you just never know when she’s screwing up, and that’s the greatest thing about Maya, she’s always in that next-play mode, and she believes at all times that she’s going to make a play.

I haven’t seen her be rattled. Beard would rattle me, her defense would rattle the hell out of me. I’d have been turning it over every darned time. So I guess if Beard can’t do it, I don’t know.

Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen

Q. Maya, in the fourth quarter, the Sparks came back and tied it once, twice, two other times they came within two. You guys were able to repel them each time. It was nerve-racking to watch. What did it feel like to be part of that, and what did you see in your teammates’ eyes during those moments?
MAYA MOORE: That’s a great visual because we look in each other’s eyes and we can see and we can feel each other, and we were just talking about this walking up, from about midway through the first, when the came just starts and you’re trying to figure out what’s this game going to look like, I knew we were going to fight. If we were going down, we were going out fighting, and we were able to bounce back and match their runs, and giving ourselves a little cushion to have that edge. When we did come back from their runs, it meant we were getting our cushion back and not tying the game up and playing from behind.

Every possession was so crucial in this game, and we just made more of them.

Q. Maya, speaking of possessions, you were able to get back on the boards tonight, go plus 16. How were you able to adjust after LA really took it to you in the last game, and now that result helps you force a Game 5 on Thursday?
MAYA MOORE: Well, it’s a battle. Everybody remembering what it takes to win on the road, and it absolutely is rebounding. Sylvia has been so huge for us, whether she actually secured the rebound or created a window for us to get a rebound was huge for us. Whay I believe had six rebounds tonight, and so guards owning the boards, as well, and not just saying, good job, Brunson, good job, Syl, go get those boards. We have to help our posts. So when we play team defense like that, getting stops and then securing the rebound, it gives us that much more energy to go run and try to get some buckets in transition.

Q. Lindsay, before Candace got called for that foul, did you think you guys had gotten the ball across the line in time?
LINDSAY WHALEN: I remember I had it at one point, and after that I didn’t really see what happened because I think I was on the floor. It was just kind of a wild play, and luckily we got it — I think she got fouled.

Q. Maya, obviously a great team win for you guys, but it seemed like you channelled your inner Mamba, especially with Kobe on the sideline. How was that just mentally coming from Game 3 into Game 4 knowing what was at stake?
MAYA MOORE: You know, this is The Finals. You can’t dwell too much on the past mistakes or past struggles. You have to just stay in the moment, and that’s what I tried to do, being aggressive. Whalen is always encouraging me to be aggressive, take it to the rim and create. Just tried to do that. A lot of times we just have to just have that feel in the moment, and finding that rhythm, and eventually those moments happened. Any way that I can help my team, whether it’s getting offensive rebounds or getting steals, all those things create momentum and create rhythm for me. I never get too down because I know I have the ability to get myself back into a rhythm, especially when I think defense first.

Q. It seems like in this series every time a team lost, the next game they came with a different energy. What kind of energy do you think the Sparks are going to bring, and what do you have to do to match it in Game 5?
LINDSAY WHALEN: I think both teams will come with a lot of energy. Like you said, it’s Game 5, so that’s what it all comes down to. Obviously it’s been a great series, lots of ups and downs, and two great teams battling it out. There will definitely be a lot of energy for both sides on Thursday.

Q. Maya, you went 11 for 12 from the free-throw line tonight. Lindsay, you went 5 of 6. In your case it’s almost twice the margin of difference in the outcome of the game. How much of your time do you spend practicing free-throw shooting?
MAYA MOORE: I include it in my just general rhythm of getting shots. It’s not something that I spend hours and hours after practice. We’re at a point in our careers to where free throws are more mental than physical. Stepping up to the line is more about your head space. Your muscle memory is there already. That’s more of what it takes is just having the right mindset when you step up to the line. And obviously experience in those pressure situations helps, but at the end of the day, you still have to step up and knock it in. Just, again, happy that our team had that flow, had that energy, had that connection to give me the confidence and comfort to know we’re in our rhythm, we’re in our groove, let’s knock them in and move on to the next play.

Q. Lindsay, did you get a poke in the eye there? At what point did that happen?
LINDSAY WHALEN: I don’t really remember. You know, it’s just — that’s part of it, part of the game. I think everybody on both sides of the floor probably has something. They got hit or whatever, and that’s two teams competing. That’s what the Finals is all about. Just two teams fighting hard and wanting to win every possession. You know, that’s what it takes.

Q. Now going into Game 5, is this sort of an example that the new plan format is pretty good?
LINDSAY WHALEN: Yeah, I mean, I think this is — like I said, it’s two teams, a lot of good players on the floor and competing hard at a really high level. Two years in a row we’ve had Game 5s, and this year worked out that us and LA were able to get the first two seeds, and it worked out that we’re in the Finals. You know, we’re just happy we’re here. We have another day. That was our main focus going into tonight.

Q. Maya, what rattles you?
MAYA MOORE: What rattles me?

Q. Yeah.
MAYA MOORE: Well, sometimes I get rocked on screens. That rattles me a little bit. No, I know what you’re saying. That’s the name of the game. You have to be able to just mentally lock in and let things go. You know, if you hold on to things too long you don’t have time to focus on what you need to do in the next play, in the next few possessions. Strength of our team is something I try to lead in is next play, next play, and not get rattled.

But at the end of the day, I just want to leave it all out on the floor. No regrets. That’s probably when I feel the worst, if I feel like there was something left that I didn’t give or something that we didn’t quite do that we know we can do. That’s probably the worst feeling as an athlete, when you end a game and you know you could have been so much better. I guess that’s the best way I can answer that question.

Los Angeles Sparks

Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver

Q. Whether it was end of the third and even at the end with some free throws, it seemed like Maya had an answer when you guys were pushing back into it. Did it feel like that, and also, what was the biggest challenge about trying to slow her down?
NNEKA OGWUMIKE: I felt like we weren’t getting stops, and then we had a couple of slip-ups when it came to handling the ball at the end. You know, when they went down with Janel, we knew that they were going to go small, and we have to be prepared for that. We matched up all right, but we need to be more aggressive, and I think that’s kind of what got us down in those times in the second half.

Q. Nneka, Minnesota resumed their rebounding game in Game 4 and ended up getting plus 16 on you. What do you have to do to keep that from happening in Game 5?

Q. In the prior games you dominated the points in the paint 52-30 but tonight not so easy. Can you tell us why it was not so easy to get points in the paint tonight?
KRISTI TOLIVER: Yeah, we were being aggressive. I can’t say that we were completely being passive. We wanted to establish an inside game. They kind of pushed us out a little bit, more short corner than us getting catches on the block. That’s an adjustment we have to make. We have to be tougher, more assertive getting in the right position, but also taking what the defense gives, and I think we made plays. Obviously we want to establish points in the paint more, but I think at the end of the day, it was rebounding. All five of us got to get a body on people. That’s what’s going to win a championship, and that’s what we didn’t do today.

Q. Kristi, when you tied the game at 69, did you think collectively, finally, we’re going to overcome that mountain we’ve been trying to climb the second half?
KRISTI TOLIVER: Yeah, obviously to tie the game up is something we had to do in order to get what we wanted. We put ourselves in a good position. I think down the stretch we’ll replay this game in our minds tonight and just know that we have to play with a little bit more poise down the stretch. We have to be aggressive, assertive, decisive, and I think that in those last 1:30, we weren’t that, and that’s going to be the difference because Game 5 is going to be exactly like Game 4. It’s going to be a dogfight. It’s going to be up-and-down. It’s going to be physical. Hopefully we’ll learn from this experience today of knowing how to close out a series.

Q. Kristi, before Candace got called for that foul, did it appear to you that Minnesota got the ball over the mid-court line in time?
KRISTI TOLIVER: Absolutely not. I mean, I thought we were very aggressive. They were moving the ball. I think they forgot they had to get the ball across the line, and from my point of view, I feel pretty confident that they didn’t get it across. But that’s life. You have to kind of roll with it. We can’t leave it up to the officials to determine a series. We have to go take it, and that’s what we plan on doing in Game 5.

Q. Seeing in Game 3 you guys were very focused, had a lot of tenacity, and seemed like this game you guys were kind of antsy, maybe some nerves. How did this game prepare you for Game 5?
NNEKA OGWUMIKE: I mean, I didn’t feel like they were nerves. I think everyone was kind of anxious, in a good way. I think everyone was ready to play finally, and I say finally because even that day in between feels like 48 hours.

I think we fought today. You know, we fought today. Now, when it comes to the focus and awareness, we can sharpen up there, and I think that’s what we have to do. We have to do just that, just sharpen up the focus and awareness, but we fought. We’re going to fight again.

Box Score


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