Lynx, Sparks speak after first WNBA Finals practice

Sylvia Fowles tries to put up a shot against Candace Parker during the third season meeting between the two games on Sept. 6. Minnesota won the series, 2-1. Photo courtesy of WNBA.
Sylvia Fowles tries to put up a shot against Candace Parker during the third season meeting between the two games on Sept. 6. Minnesota won the series, 2-1. Photo courtesy of WNBA.

Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks players and coaches answered questions Saturday after their final practice before WNBA Finals game 1.

The game tips off at 3 p.m. Eastern time Sunday, on ABC.

Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve:

On the excitement level knowing that the Finals tipoff tomorrow

“I think pretty high. I think our practices kind of reflected a little bit of excitement, but also a little bit tired of waiting. I thought today’s practice was definitely more in that mindset of it’s about tip off. I think they’re pretty amped up. It’s a two o’clock game tomorrow so there’s no shoot around. It’s not a whole lot of waiting so leave here, take care of their bodies and come tomorrow ready to hoop.”

On taking advantage of the final day before Game 1

“More than anything it was just kind of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. At this point, we know what we do. We have a decent idea of what they do. We don’t know what tweaks they might make to stuff, but in the end if you kind of understand their identity, then you can anticipate whatever wrinkles they might throw at you, and it’s the same thing for them. We fully expect it’s going to be hard possessions both ways, first, second options, third options. It may not be there and your ability to keep playing through the shot clock, which we’re really good at. That will be a necessity for us to make sure that they are taking the ball out of the net.

On how the extra time off compared to LA’s time off during the playoffs has helped the team

“I think we have both had the same number of days in terms of practice time. They had a travel day in there as they finished their series. At this point, whether you had zero days of rest or 13 days of rest doesn’t matter. I don’t see any advantage or disadvantage. I think for both teams having the time to study some video, reinforce what you do is just going to make for a great series.”

On the health of the Lynx

“Everybody’s in full, which is good. When you talk about back spasms it can always rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time. I’m hopeful that Janel is feeling good as we tip off the series tomorrow.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore:

On how big the opportunity is

“This is such a special time. I think this team has worked so hard. We have been preparing for this moment, and it hasn’t been easy. The ups and the downs, we take all the lessons learned and bottle it for this series.”

On the matchup

“It’s going to be a great matchup. I think the Sparks and the Lynx have shown that we’re the best two teams in the league. There have been some really fun games to play in and to watch during the regular season. I think you’re going to see the best of the best at their best for a good series.”

On how the time off will help them

“I think we took advantage of it. We will take any opportunity that comes our way to prepare, to rest, to take care of ourselves, to work. I thought we made the most of the time that we’ve had before the semifinals and again before The Finals.”

Is there anything from the final regular season game between the Sparks that will translate into the Finals?

“I think both teams want to correct the mistakes that were made in that game. It wasn’t the perfect game for either team, but it’s going to show you how much the little things matter when you’re playing great teams. We’ll see what team makes the adjustments the best.”

Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles:

During the season series with the Sparks, the road team has been very successful. How are you all looking to protect your home court advantage?

“Just keeping it simple and not overthinking anything. You tend to get to this point and you start to overthink but we have to just continue doing the things that we did great all season and let our fans play in tune for us.”

What are you looking to do defensively to stop Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike?

“Just slow them down by getting in their way and making sure I’m a presence. Making sure they see me and feel me early in the game.”

How important is it for you all to have home court advantage for The Finals?

“It’s always good to have home court advantage. Our fans play a big part of our success and for us to be home it helps.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson:

How do you feel about the opportunity of becoming the first player to win five championship rings?

“That exciting! Just to have that opportunity in front of you, that’s really exciting! Four is great but five would be better.”

What are the keys to slowing down Candace Parker?

“You have to be everywhere she is. She can get really comfortable, so my job is to make her as uncomfortable as possible. I need to be in her cuts, get up on her early and rely on the great defenders that I have behind me helping me.”

During the season series against the Sparks the road team has won every game. What does it mean to have the home crowd behind you tomorrow for Game 1?

“We worked all year to have home court advantage. That was really important for us so that we can be able to play in front of our fans and they can be able to give us a boost, so we’re excited to be able to play at home. We were in Excel Center for the first series so we’re excited to be back here.”

Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus:

What are your expectations for this series?

“A tough game. It will be a great matchup with great coaching schemes and a crazy environment. Our fans have been excited about this series. It’s going to be hard and aggressive. It will be everything that you would expect from a playoff series.”

What are you looking to bring to tomorrow’s game?

“I’m trying to be aggressive on the offensive end. If we could get some of their players in foul trouble, it would be nice for us. Defensively, we’re trying to be aggressive and make sure every shot they get is difficult.”

Facing the Sparks in the WNBA Finals, is this what you expected it to be?

“With the way the season has gone for both of us, this is what we expected. It’s going to be a great matchup for the WNBA, fans and everybody. We’re going to have great competitors fighting for a championship.”

Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen:

 Going up against Alana Beard, what are some things your team is doing differently?

“She’s a great defender. You have to handle it. You have to do the little things and pay attention to detail. You have to get open and make it easy for your teammates to get into our offensive strategy.”

How much more important is timing when Alana Beard pressures you on those passes?

“It’s big. Obviously, she’s a great defender. I’ve played against for her long time. We know how good she is. I think she’s really focused on her defense even more this year. Her length is really an asset for her.”

What are your expectations for this series?

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere and a really good crowd. This is the WNBA Finals. There are only two teams left. There will be energy, excitement and a lot of fun. Both teams want the championship. We’ve worked hard and so have they. Now, we have to go tip it up.”

Los Angeles Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler:

 On the confidence Los Angeles has coming in after ending Minnesota’s winning streak

“I don’t really think about streaks that much. I think more about matchups and what we think we have to do to have success. They’re a heck of a team. I would have to agree with what people have said. This is probably the best team they’ve had. That has nothing to do with us. That’s just a fact. I think they’re better because they have helped themselves in the offseason with some of the additions and I think Sylvia being here year-round helped. They are very good defensively. They throw a lot of weapons at you on the offensive end and they’re well coached. It’s a very, very tough opponent.”

On if there is added motivation with the no Olympians team versus the four Olympians team

“I think you would have to ask them that. I don’t really look at it that way. All of that was talked about early in the season. After a while, it’s just how much can you talk about it? That would be a question to ask, you’re probably referring to Candace and Nneka. They both at really good years. They’re two of the best in the league and its part of it.”

Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker:

Are you encouraged heading into Game 1 by being able to have success on the Lynx’s home floor during the season?

“The playoffs are a different story, so we’re just looking at it like we have two game here [Minnesota] and we want to come out, play well and play our game. I don’t think what happened in the regular season matters as much.”

How has your first experience in the Finals been? Has it hit you yet?

“Yeah, it has hit me. I think I’ve learned to appreciate it and absorb the moment and to not take it for granted. That’s the biggest thing, just realizing that it is an opportunity and while you’re here focused on business, you can still understand that you’re here and you’ve worked really hard to get here.”

Is there anything different that you will do to prepare for the Finals, compared to the regular season?

“No, I will keep my same routine. You don’t get your preparation right before the Finals, you do it all season and that’s what we have learned.”

Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike:

 On coming into this Finals series

“I feel great. You know, it’s exciting. It’s my first time and a lot of people’s first time, and we’re just really happy to be here, but we know that it doesn’t stop here. We worked really hard to put ourselves in this position, and we’re really happy to be able to come in and compete against a great team.”

On playing on the Lynx home court and the confidence the Sparks have after snapping their undefeated record

“It gives you confidence, but you also have to keep in mind that they beat us at home too. Every team that has been on the road has won in our series so I think that also makes a really interesting historical component to that coming in. We know that it is going to be a little different in that Target Center is probably going to be completely filled up, as it was when we first played there. I think it is going to be really competitive, it will be a really exciting series in my opinion.”

On whether there is extra motivation playing a team with four Olympians

“Not to me, no. I mean without knowing who is on the Olympic team or not, they have great players regardless, and so do we. For me that has not been on my mind since the beginning of the season. It is obviously a question that people are going to ask, but it’s not what I’m focusing on. I came in to the season wanting to help my team and wanting to really kind of recreate a franchise and legacy, and that is what we have started doing.

Los Angeles Sparks forward Essence Carson:

Are you encouraged heading into Game 1, knowing that your team has had success wining in Minnesota this season?

“This year we’ve done pretty well on the road. Any team can win this series because it’s two great teams. Minnesota has won the championship most recently but anything can happen. To go in, based on the regular season results, and say the road team will probably prevail, I don’t think that is necessarily true. We do understand that we know how to win on the road. We’re just looking to come in here and do all the things we’ve done. We’ve been prepared all season and we expect this to be a close game. We understand it will likely come down to the wire every time and we’re ready for that.”

How has the Finals experience been for you?

“It’s been awesome so far! I haven’t really gotten a chance to take it all in because my mind is so locked in and focused on the goal at hand, and that’s taking it one game at a time. We need three wins so to sit and relish in the moment, as far as celebrations go, there’s nothing to celebrate yet. We haven’t done what we came here to do this year and we’re still working towards that. Right now I’m just taking it a second at a time.”

Does the preparation for a Finals game change for you, compared to the regular season?

“I would like to say we keep everything the same but the stakes are higher. There’s a lot more intensity that will be involved throughout this entire Finals. Coach Agler and his staff have done a great job the entire year preparing us. We’re going to be super locked in and continue to roll with what has worked for us.”

Los Angeles Sparks guard Kristi Toliver:

What are your expectations for this series?

“We expect to win. That’s the mindset. You can’t have any other approach going to the WNBA Finals. If you don’t expect to win, you shouldn’t be here. Obviously, that’s our mindset. We expect a highly competitive and physical game. The two best teams in the league are going head to head. During the regular season our games were extremely competitive and very close games, I can just anticipate the intensity level rising.”

How much confidence did defeating Minnesota on June 24 give you?

“For us, it was big. We proved to ourselves that we don’t have to have home court to win. We can have the disadvantage and still keep our advantage just knowing that we’ve won on the road.”

Your defense was critical against Chicago. How do you look to continue that?

“We’re just going to do what we do. Our team defense has been great and that’s why we’re here. We know it’s going to take defense to win this series and not offense. That’s been our M.O. all year. We pick it up on the defensive end because that ignites our offense.”

Los Angeles Sparks guard Alana Beard:

How important is this team’s emphasis on defense?

“In any playoff series, defense wins. It’s cliché, but defense wins championships. That’s something that Brian (Alger) prided himself on in terms of implementing that culture. It’s extremely important.”

How much confidence did defeating Minnesota on June 24 give you?

“I remember the game, but what matters is now. They are an amazing team with amazing experience. They’ve been here numerous times. What matters is us taking care of our own.”

On facing Minnesota in the WNBA Finals

“If this journey is meant for you, it’s going to happen. Obviously, it’s meant for us and Minnesota. We just have to be the two big teams in the league. It’s going to be a good series.”

Transcripts provided by the WNBA.