And just like that, the Championship series is tied 2-2 and the Minnesota Lynx are only 40 minutes away from becoming the first team in 14 years to win back-to-back WNBA Championships.
The Lynx defeated the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday evening, 85-79, thanks to stellar performances from the League’s Most Valuable Player in 2014, Maya Moore, and this season’s Defensive Player of the Year, Sylvia Fowles. The two Olympians combined for: 41 points, 22 rebounds, six assists, four steals and four blocks.
“You know, this is The Finals,” Moore said. “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.”
In a back-and-forth battle throughout the game, it was Minnesota’s defense and clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch that gave them the edge on Sunday evening. In front of nearly 13,000 fans inside Staples Center, (including Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson), the Lynx exhibited their tenaciousness and physicality that they seemed to be lacking in Game 3.
“I thought Minnesota played — probably the difference in the game to me, they played with a little bit more poise than we did,” Sparks head coach Brian Agler said. “Obviously Maya Moore hit some big shots, made some big plays, 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.”
Minnesota’s guard play was also a thing of beauty in Game 4, with Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen combing for 25 points, 13 boards and seven assists.
In order to have a chance at beating LA, you need to keep Candace Parker and this year’s MVP Nneka Ogwumike at bay. That extremely difficult challenge was very well accomplished by Minnesota on Sunday night, with the two (usually unstoppable) forces tallying a combined: 25 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks.
“You know, we fought today,” Ogwumike said. “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.”
18: If you’ve ever had the opportunity to attend a Lynx game, or if you specifically watch Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve on TV, you can see/hear her shouting, ‘go, go, go,’ when Minnesota grabs a rebound. That’s because the Lynx have some of the best transition players on the planet in Whalen and Moore. Hauling in rebounds off of missed shots and then turning up court paid off for the Lynx on Sunday night, notching this many more fastbreak points than Los Angeles.
22: Minnesota was clearly the more physical team on Sunday night and when you put forth the extra effort, good things usually happen. The Lynx got dominated in the paint throughout Game 3, but the defending Champions were able to tighten up their defense and lessened their opponent’s points in the paint by this many in Game 4.
“They kind of pushed us out a little bit, more short corner than us getting catches on the block,” Sparks guard Kristi Toliver said. “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.”
16: Staying with the physicality storyline, the Lynx out-rebounded the Sparks by this many on Sunday night thanks to a true team effort on the glass on both ends of the floor. Minnesota tallied 14 offensive rebounds and did a great job of boxing out all game.
7: Although Minnesota did walk out of Staples Center with the W, the Lynx had this many more turnovers than the Sparks did. Even though Minnesota did play tremendously well, the turnover differential still shows that the defending Champions have areas that they can improve upon.
Leader of the Pack: Maya Moore
In 34 minutes of play, the 6’0 forward out of the University of Connecticut managed to put up an insane stat-line of: 31 points on 9-for-17 shooting, nine boards, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Moore tallied a +17 plus/minus rating, the highest mark of any player in Game 4 by nine points.
“She reminds me — they’re not the same type of player, but she’s a lot like Cynthia Cooper from the standpoint that no matter what happens, they’re always on balance,” Agler said of Moore. “They’re always — they always have the ability to gather themselves and finish on balance. It doesn’t matter if she’s taking it to the rim or if she’s off the dribble. She’s good. And then she has the ability to get you in bad spots and draw fouls. She’s difficult to defend.”
Quotable: Lindsay Whalen on Game 5
I think both teams will come with a lot of energy. 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.
The Lynx and Sparks will battle it out one last time for all of the marbles on Thursday, October 20th, at 7:00 p.m. from inside the Target Center. You will be able to tune into the game on either ESPN 2 or 106.1 BOB FM radio.