Lynx and Sparks speak after Wednesday practice

Maya Moore shoots a jumper over Candace Parker in Game 4. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.
Maya Moore shoots a jumper over Candace Parker in Game 4. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

Following their last full practices Wednesday before Game 5 of the WNBA Finals, Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx players and coaches spoke to the media about Thursday’s deciding match up.

Brian Agler, Los Angeles Sparks coach

On the energy for Game 5

“There will be a lot of energy tomorrow I would guess. We’ve had three days basically. I can tell a huge difference in the middle of a long season when we have one extra day. With that and just the people being anxious to play, I would think both teams would be well-rested.”

Takeaways from Game 4

“I think the most important thing that we learned – and it has nothing to do with X’s and O’s – is the fact that when you play in a game with that magnitude, how’s your focus going to be? To me, our focus wasn’t direct on our opponent. No matter the situation is, you have to have a direct focus on your opponent.”

What was the focus then? Popping champagne bottles and celebrating a championship?

“No I don’t think we even thought about that. I think it’s when everybody like you guys are asking all the players what it’s going to feel like to win a championship. Then, all of the sudden, it’s easy to get distracted like that, especially when you haven’t experienced it before. It’s something I think we’ve learned, and we’ve talked about it and addressed it. I think they sat back, and when I told them that was my observation, we played hard and competed hard, but we weren’t quite as sharp in the focus type of things that you have to have.”

Alana Beard, Los Angeles Sparks guard

How are you feeling coming into Game 5?

“I feel good. It’s Game 5. It’s kind of like you have nothing to hold onto anymore. It’s the last game of the season, just leave it all out there on the floor. It feels good just walking into here Minnesota again. Obviously, we wanted to have finished in LA but the fact that we get to play a Game 5 and have a chance to win it all is pretty amazing.”

What are the keys to Game 5?

“There are no more X’s and O’s. Heart. Will. Passion. All of that’s going to come together in this game.”

How do you limit Maya Moore?

“You’ve just got to make her shots tough. It’s clear that she’s the best scorer in this league and rightfully so. We’ve just got to make her shots tough. Maya will score. You’ve just got to make them tough.”

Are you looking forward to the atmosphere in Target Center?

“Of course. I’m looking forward to everything – the energy, the environment, the competitiveness that’s going to be on display. I’m looking forward to it.”

Kristi Toliver, Los Angeles Sparks guard

How does it feel to potentially win the first Sparks championship since 2002?

“It feels good. This has probably been one of the most successful teams that L.A. has had. I think this is one of the best teams this franchise has ever had. To be part of it, that is special. We want to finish the work. We put in a lot of work this season and want to reap the benefits.”

What did you learn from Game 4?

“We’ve been learning this entire series. We proved we’ve learned lessons. After a great Game 1, we struggled in Game 2. After struggling in Game 2, we exploded in Game 3. Game 4 was just another lesson of playing with poise and being decisive. You can’t fault our effort. Our effort has been there.  We’re just learning how to handle the moment. I think that was the biggest lesson we learned in Game 4. Game 5 is going to be another battle. Hopefully, we can take the things we’ve learned and give ourselves a chance.”

Essence Carson, Los Angeles Sparks guard

What are some of the adjustments you all want to make to pull out a Game 5 win?

“We just want to get back to playing our type of basketball, defensively and offensively. For certain stretches of the game we got away from what we do best and those stretches proved to be detrimental to the success of our team in Game 4.”

How are you planning to slow Sylvia [Fowles] and Rebekkah [Brunson] on the offensive glass?

“We just have to stop them from rebounding. It’s that simple, put a body on someone. They game in which they’ve been successful has been games where they’ve done well collecting offensive rebounds, Games 2 and 4. When we were able to control the boards, that’s when we were able to win. We have to limit their opportunities. They’re a good team, that’s able to hit shots, so when we give them second chances it makes it even harder for us.”

How do you feel heading into Game 5?

“We’re looking to give it our all. Play smart, play hard and have fun. Those are our keys to success, when we address all those areas. And of course all the X’s and O’s, the tactical things, but when we address those three intangible things, we win.”

Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks forward

How have you been preparing for Game 5?

“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel. We know the things we have to do. We’ve watched some film. Rebounding is a key component. They killed us on the boards in Games 2 and 4.”

What did you learn from Game 4?

“At this point, it is Game 5. I know that they beat us on our home court and we’ve beat them [on their home court.] It’s going to be a dogfight tomorrow. The team that executes their game plan the best is going to be the one that wins.”

Is this series an example of the new playoff format working?

“I think it’s been great for the league. Obviously, it’s been great for us because we got a double bye. I think it makes for longer series and people get in to it more. It’s great for the league because people like to get into the series. You get to make adjustments and changes. It makes it more interesting.”

Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks forward

What is the Sparks mentality coming into Minnesota today?

“For me personally, I feel like people are pretty relaxed. I think that everyone is kind of ready to learn, ready to use not just game four, but the series as a whole as an experience. I think that also mirrors our season. This series really mirrors our season as far as working hard and putting in the work early and paying attention details. Everyone seems in good spirits and I think that’s when we do our best.”

Both the Lynx and the Sparks have great fans. Do you all think about the noise and home court?

“For me, it’s never mattered. That’s something we’ve been talking about. We started this series in Minnesota and we won the first game. I’m not really sure if that is much of a concern for anybody. I think any type of environment is going to be some type of exciting environment so I think it’s more rewarding.”

This is your first championship series in the WNBA. What are your feelings heading into tomorrow?

“I feel great. You know, I’m exciting. I think this is the healthiest spot I’ve been in this whole series because we’ve played games, and a lot of times the anxiety can kind of get to you and you just want to jump on to the court. Right now, I just know my time is my time, when it needs to be. Right now, we’re focusing on practice and that’s where my mind is right now.”

Cheryl Reeve, Minnesota Lynx coach

Is this game going to be decided on Lynx defense?

I hope so since it’s such a big part of our identity. I think that it has to be a big part of the game for us to be successful. Hopefully we can get that done.”

Is team defense the major key to tomorrow’s matchup?

Yeah. We were fortunate to get through it. I thought Natasha’s minutes were solid. Then Maya gave us a different dimension that they hadn’t really had to prepare for before. But she was adequate for sure, post defense. I think given the same situation, you might see them approach it a little bit differently. But given that particular game that we have not been in that situation before, I thought we handled it as well as we could.”

How have you immobilized Candace Parker?

I think both teams are really good defensively. Both teams are really good at taking one another’s top options. You’re going to have to find other ways to manufacture other opportunities, and that’s what we saw Maya do really well in that game. I don’t coach Parker, so I don’t really know. I mean, I’ve watched her system, and we’re playing against her system, but I don’t really know what’s being asked of her. For us, we just try to make sure Parker or anybody else that we make life difficult for them.”

Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx forward

How have you been preparing for Game 5?

“We’ve rested. I did little things here and there to get my body ready. We had a good practice today.”

Is it fitting this series goes five games?

“You definitely couldn’t ask for more. It’s been a dramatic series. One that will definitely go down as one of the best. It’s been really fun and hard. To have a chance to end it here on our home court, that’s all we could really ask for. We worked hard all season to put ourselves in this position. We want to put everything we have into Game 5.”

Did you learn anything about your team in Game 4?

“Whenever we can play with that much energy and are locked in on defense, we give ourselves a great chance to win the game. We still have areas we want to clean up, but people made big plays on both sides of the ball. That resiliency is something is fun to be a part of. When everybody takes their moment to do what they need to do for the team, it’s really fun and rewarding. We feel like we are moving forward as a group.”

What are you exciting from tomorrow’s crowd?

“It’s going to be an electric atmosphere and we are so excited to play. The last home game we had was awesome. I’m expecting everyone to give everything we had just like we will. With the combination of our fans and we doing what we need to on the court, that’ll create some special memories tomorrow.”

Seimone Augustus, Minnesota Lynx forward/guard

How have you been preparing for Game 5?

“We’re trying to stay focused. Someone told me we were up 10 in Game 4 and we didn’t even know that. That’s how locked in we are. It’s going to be a game of runs. People are going to hit amazing shots and do amazing things. No matter what if we stay connected, it’s going to be tough for any team to beat us.”

Is it fitting this series goes five games?

“We needed this. With the new playoff format, we didn’t know how it was going to pan out, but it panned out well. The league has the two best teams playing each for a championship. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.  It’s been great basketball from Game 1 to Game 4. We just expect the same in Game 5.”

How good is this team in winner-take-all games?

“We’re probably one of the best. We’ve learned a lot from 2012. Obviously, we’re able to lock in on what we need to do. Whatever we’ve been able to face the last few years, we’ve been able to get over it. I feel like this is another case we did what we needed to do. We are back home. It’s time to take care of business. We understand what that means. We always say no one player has to do more than what is needed on this team. That’s what is so special about this team.”

Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx forward

How does it feel to be back on your home practice court and what did you all focus on today?

“It feels good to be back. Just to get our guys (practice players) back for another day. Our main focus was just retouching on everything LA does, some of the things that they ran over time and the possibility that they could go back to. Mostly though we’re focusing on going out there and taking care of business, handling pressure, not turning the ball over and we want to get people in the best spot.”

Do you think Game 5 is going to go down to the wire?

“Tomorrow is going to be very gritty. Nothing is going to come easy. You just have to be focused on what you’re out there doing and making sure we don’t make as many mistakes. Just doing what we do well, and that is just play and have fun.”

Do you feel like Target Center at its loudest and the home court is going to make a difference in Game 5?

“I’m looking forward to it. We hear a lot of talk about it, but it’s one thing to hear it and to witness it. I thought last year was pretty extreme, but I heard that it’s supposed to be ten times that. We’ll see tomorrow.”

Rebekkah Brunson, Minnesota Lynx  forward

What are some of the keys to pulling out a Game 5 victory at home?

“At this point, we know each other, what the other team will do, so we have to be determined and play defense the way we want to. We have to take care of the ball, be aggressive and try and make the least amount of mistakes.”

Will you and Sylvia [Fowles] continue to be aggressive on the offensive glass?

“Absolutely, I feel like we can get better rebounding. Last game our guards came inside and lifted us up. They were crashing the boards, so I still feel like we can elevate in that area.”

What impact, if at all, will winning a Game 5 in the Finals last year, have on your team?

“Nothing, we can’t take that game with us. That game is over with and it has zero impact on what we’re trying to do tomorrow night. If anything we know what it takes. We know how hard we have to play and it’s not going to be easy. We have to go out there compete and win.”

Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota Lynx guard

What are some of the keys to pulling out a Game 5 victory at home?

“It will be a hard-fought game; it’s been that way the whole series. We will have to come out hard, fight and play with a lot of energy.”

What impact, if at all, will winning a Game 5 in the Finals last year, have on your team?

“We’ve played in a Game 5 so we know what it feels like but it’s a new season and we have to be ready to go tomorrow night. That’s all that we’re focused on right now.”

Sue Favor contributed to this report.

Transcripts provided by the WNBA.

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