The Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks will meet in the WNBA Finals for the second straight year, after both teams swept their semifinals series Sunday.
The Lynx overcame a slow start and remained strong in the last two game quarters to down the Washington Mystics, 81-70. In the meantime, the Sparks held off multiple Phoenix Mercury runs to prevail, 89-87. Both Minnesota and Los Angeles swept their respective series, 3-0, to set up a back-to-back Finals match up that has occurred only once before in league history.
In Phoenix, the hosts jumped out to an early lead before the Sparks upped their defensive play in the second quarter to close the gap and take a seven-point lead into halftime. Twice in the third quarter, Los Angeles jumped out to an eight-point lead, only to see the Mercury trim it.
In the last period the Sparks had an 84-74 lead with 2:29 to play, when Diana Taurasi hit a 25-foot jump shot, grabbed a rebound and unleashed the same shot. Leilani Mitchell’s running layup with 1:21 remaining had Phoenix within three points. Another long Taurasi three at 10.8 seconds tied the game at 87, but Candace Parker’s driving layup with 2.9 seconds left put Los Angeles up by two. Brittney Griner missed a jump shot at the buzzer for the Mercury.
Odyssey Sims scored 22 points for the Sparks, while Parker had 21 points, a career-high 11 assists and seven rebounds. Chelsea Gray added 14 points and Jantel Lavender, 11.
Taurasi put up 22 points for Phoenix, and Griner and Camille Little each added 18.
“In Sparks fashion, we made things interesting down the stretch,” Parker said. “We turned the ball over a little bit….but I’m proud of how we stuck together regardless of the situation.”
Phoenix finished a tumultuous season with ten new players in strong fashion, upsetting No. 4 seed Connecticut to reach round three of the playoffs. Los Angeles, in contrast, has a veteran core that has been together for years. Taurasi said that was the difference.
“They are defending champs for a reason, they play really well together,” she said. “When you put five people on the court that are all threats and you have to really make sure to take care of every detail, they make you pay anytime you make a mistake.”
In Washington D.C., Minnesota advanced to the Finals for the third consecutive year and for the sixth time in seven seasons with their win. Maya Moore led the Lynx with 21 points, and Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles chipped in 18 and 17 points, respectively.
The visitors trailed by seven points midway through the second quarter when they went on a 17-0 run that carried over into the third period, which stretched their lead to ten. The Mystics then went on a run to close the gap to two points, but Fowles then scored on back-to-back possessions after getting her own offensive rebound. The Lynx grew the lead from there and didn’t look back.
Elena Delle Donne led Washington with 15 points, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt added 14 and Kristi Toliver, 13.
Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said her team made a variety of adjustments after their slow start.
“Hustle plays, offensive rebounds, ducking in, and I just thought overall, we were pretty hard to play against,” she said.
Mystics coach Mike Thibault, who commandeered a team with several new players, acknowledged the experience of the Lynx’s longtime core.
“You can see the experience that they have. This is a team that has learned to play together and they have great players and have figured it out,” Thibault said. “They have poise.”
“We have taken our first step, and hopefully the next step will be a big leap too and that a year from now we’ll figure out how to get farther in this. I’m proud of them, they did a lot of great things and they have nothing to be ashamed about.”
The Finals begin next Sunday in Minneapolis.
Los Angeles’ Candace Parker finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists. Parker surpassed Taj McWilliams-Franklin (716) and Becky Hammon (722) and Katie Douglas (730) for ninth all-time on the WNBA’s playoffs scoring list. She also surpassed Yolanda Griffith (337) for fifth all-time on the WNBA’s all-time playoff rebounds list. Parker achieved her career-high in assists with 11. This is also her 33rd playoff game scoring in double digits and 21st playoff game scoring 20 or more points. The Sparks are 9-5 all-time in the playoffs when she records a double-double.
Diana Taurasi finished with 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting, including 6-of-10 from beyond the arc, and five assists. With her first made field goal of the game, Taurasi broke a tie with Tamika Catchings (352) for the most made field goals in WNBA playoff history. Taurasi also broke the tie with DeWanna Bonner (226) for the most rebounds in Mercury playoff history. Taurasi passed Sue Bird (203) and Ticha Penicheiro (204) for third all-time on the WNBA’s playoff assists list with her five assists (200 career assists entering the game).