MINNEAPOLIS – Candace Parker and the LA Sparks wouldn't let the Lynx cruise easily to their fifth straight conference finals.
All night, every time the Lynx seemed poised to run away with the series, the Sparks matched big runs with their own. Even in the final minutes, when Game 3 seemed all but decided, things were too close for comfort. But in the end, Minnesota buckled down and found their way, taking home the 91-80 win over LA in front of a wild home crowd.
"That was the Lynx team I was hoping for tonight," coach Cheryl Reeve said in her opening statement during the postgame press conference. A well-balanced team, one that didn't rely solely on the big four at every turn, was what Reeve was looking for. Tonight, she got exactly that.
Maya Moore led the team with 20 points and eight rebounds, though struggling mightily with her shot (6-21), while Seimone Augustus chipped in 16 points. Sylvia Fowles turned three quarters of miserable play into one dynamic fourth quarter on both ends of the floor. She finished with 13 points, six rebounds, and two blocks in 18 minutes.
"She needed that, she's kind of been in a rut this series," Augustus said. "It was great to see her kind of come on in the fourth quarter ... I'm thankful that she did finally get going so now that momentum can swing into Thursday's game."
Minnesota certainly had several contributing factors in the win, but Devereaux Peters (12 points, five rebounds, and tremendous interior defense) and Anna Cruz (nine points, two assists, and two steals) provided major production off the bench, which the team was in desperate need of, and their excellent play seemed to be the most noteworthy aspect of the victory.
"We needed players other than Seimone and Maya to step up and score," Reeve said. "Cruz really helped us, Devereaux Peters really helped us."
After a slow first quarter for each team, Peters got things going on both ends of the floor during the second quarter. In about nine minutes of action she tallied six points, four rebounds, two steals, and two blocked shots to give the Lynx a much-needed spark (no pun intended).
The Lynx were up 43-30 entering the locker room at halftime, but the third quarter got a bit rocky. Parker scored 13 of her game-high 28 points in the third to go with 13 rebounds and four assists on the night. As the game went on, it was Parker who kept the Sparks alive.
LA did not make the game an easy one for Minnesota, keeping the game close throughout the second half. Things became tense at various moments during the fourth quarter, but a combination of team effort from the Lynx and key fouls by the Sparks ultimately worked in Minnesota's favor.
The Target Center crowd certainly brought the energy, cheering so loud it was difficult to hear the starting lineups. White playoff towels spun throughout the night, while "Our House" chants echoed throughout the arena, and in the end the Lynx avoided an upset and will move on to the next round.
Tuesday's win means a fifth straight trip to the Western Conference Finals, where they will face the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday night at Target Center. Minnesota is 2-3 against Phoenix this season.
- With the win, the Lynx move to 18-2 all-time at home in the postseason, the best record in WNBA history.
- Maya Moore shot 28.6 percent from the field and was 0-of-4 from behind the three-point line. That's extremely rare for one of the best players in the league, but the Lynx were able to survive behind a "cohesive" effort, in the words of Lindsay Whalen.
- The Sparks committed 26 fouls, leading to a huge night from the free throw line for the Lynx (30-36).
- Candace Parker was held scoreless in the first quarter.
- Whalen had her best game of the series, finishing with 14 points and six rebounds. "I told you before the game that though we lost the game in LA some good things happened," Reeve said. "One of them was [I thought] we got Lindsey Whalen back. She got that swag back. Some good things happened for her, and she carried it over to this game."
- What makes Candace Parker, who had 28 points and 13 rebounds on the night, so challenging? "Goodness gracious, when she's determined there's not many better at scoring in a variety of ways," Reeve said. "When she's detiremined to get in the paint, she's really good ... when she returned to the Sparks, what she's given them, they jumped from the bottom in the league in offensive officiency to number one. They jumped from the bottom of the league in assists to number one."
- Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, along with Wolves players Kevin Garnett (who sat next to Gary Trent), Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Andre Miller, Adreian Payne, and interim head coach Sam Mitchell, were all in the house to support the Lynx.