Los Angeles – The dramatic comeback storyline of the first two WNBA Finals games fizzled Friday as the Los Angeles Sparks dominated the Minnesota Lynx, 75-64, to win Game 3 and take a 2-1 series lead.
Nneka Ogwumike led four Sparks starters in double figures with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Odyssey Sims also scored 16 points, while Chelsea Gray had 14 and Candace Parker, 13.
The previous series games between the two teams were decided by a combined three points. In the first, Los Angeles jumped out to a big lead and held off Minnesota down the stretch to take a one-point win. The second matchup saw Minnesota with a large early lead that the Sparks almost surmounted in the final seconds.
Game 3 was a new plot, as Los Angeles ran out to a quick lead that they never relinquished. They were ahead 17-8 as the first quarter ended, and had doubled the Lynx’s rebounds and outscored them in the paint, 10-2.
The Sparks bumped up their lead to 11 points at 3:56 in the second period, but then Renee Montgomery scored back-to-back three-point shots, and Alexis Jones had one of her own for Minnesota, to cut the deficit to two. Los Angeles was up 32-26 at halftime, and had held starters Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen scoreless.
Moore, who finished with a team-high 16 points for the visitors, finally got going in the third quarter to score eight. But intense Los Angeles defense limited the Lynx’s chances to score, and the Sparks’ lead grew to as much as 13 points.
Moore ignited early in the fourth period with two consecutive baskets and a steal. A Montgomery bucket at the 7:33 mark got Minnesota within one point. But Alana Beard stripped Sylvia Fowles of the ball a few minutes later, and then scored, which seemed to energize Los Angeles. They then went on a 12-7 run to close out the game.
Fowles had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Lynx, while Montgomery had 12 points off the bench. Augustus and Whalen, who only saw 11:56 of court action, were scoreless.
Parker called Beard’s steal “the play of the game.” She credited the Sparks backcourt for sustaining the pace of the game down the stretch.
“I think our guards did a good job of controlling the tempo,” Parker said. “In games past….we’d be up by 11 or 12 with five minutes left, and we would slow down….and we wouldn’t get good possessions.”
Montgomery said Los Angeles’ defense made it hard for Minnesota to execute.
“They pressure the ball. They’re very active,” Montgomery said. “They’ve been a good defensive team all season…..we’ve got to get to the free throw line more, just be more aggressive.”
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve pulled her starters in the first half and inserted Montgomery and rookie Alexis Jones, who had nine points on the night. Sparks coach Brian Agler said it was Minnesota’s smaller lineup that chipped away at their lead, and they had to step up to match that energy.
“We were just talking about that in the locker room, that there are a lot of intangible things that happen in these games that are just as important as the X’s and O’s,” Agler said. “We had several people chase down long rebounds, loose balls, and that helped us quite a bit.”
Reeve acknowledged that the lack of production from her starters hurt the team.
“It’s hard to win a WNBA Finals game without your starters,” she said.
Los Angeles can win the Championship at home Sunday in Game 4, just as they could have last year when they took a 2-1 series lead after the third game. If the Sparks pull off the win, they would be tie their own league record for back-to-back titles, and they would tie the Houston Comets in winning a fourth Championship.
But as was their mantra last year, Los Angeles players say they’re taking the process one step at a time.
“You have to take it moment by moment,” Ogwumike said. “Right now we’re focused on getting rest and coming in tomorrow to have a good practice and watching some video. It’s really just a moment by moment type of thing. We’re just trusting the process.”
Beard said preparation is essential.
“(We will) re-watch the game, make adjustments within that game and come in focused and ready to play,” Beard said. “We talk a lot about surrendering the outcome and just staying in the moment. So hopefully that’s what each individual can do and whatever happens, happens.”
The Lynx cancelled their Saturday practice, but the Sparks are still slated to hold theirs.