The Minnesota Lynx spent the last few days downplaying the significance of Thursday night’s “rematch” against the Los Angles Sparks, the team that beat them in the 2016 WNBA Finals. Everyone wanted to be clear that this was just another game, including Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.
“The billing of the rematch is a natural thing for people to say, but its not a rematch, its not the finals, its a regular season game with both teams jockeying for position,” said Reeve.
Those outside the team know better. Even setting last year’s Finals series aside, the 88-77 Lynx win over the Sparks was the most important and relevant game of the 2017 season so far. Minnesota (13-1) and Los Angeles (12-4) have the two best records in the WNBA and likely will for the remainder of the summer. This game was the first of three matchups these teams have against each other. It was an entertaining, high energy affair that featured some of the finest women’s basketball talent in the world.
A stout defensive performance and a 14-3 offensive rebound advantage powered the Lynx to a 19 point first half lead. After going down 17 in the first half against Washington on Sunday, the Sparks have now dug themselves into large holes in two straight games. Head coach Brian Agler on what his team needs to improve upon.
“I’ll have to watch the film on that but I’m hoping we’ll get off to a better start. Obviously, you have to match their intensity and their focus from the very beginning. Without even watching the film on that I can tell you that needs to improve,” Agler said.
Contrast that to coach Reeve’s thoughts after the game.
“I loved the start we got off to. I thought that we were pretty locked in and focused, which is what you expect,” Reeve said.
Cheryl Reeve expects focus from the Lynx. I believe it falls into what she often calls the “non-negotiables” of playing for her. Brian Agler is still searching for this in his team.
Los Angeles played much better in the second half. They kept the game in striking distance by going on a number of scoring runs and increasing their intensity on defense. The Sparks cut the lead to five with four minutes to go in the game but the Lynx outscored LA 9-3 after that to close the game.
The majority of the best players in the WNBA this season are post players. On Thursday night, reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike and this season’s MVP front runner Sylvia Fowles both played fantastic and essentially canceled each other out. Ogwumike finished with 27pts/14reb/3stl and Fowles had 20pts/13reb/4blk. Ogwumike was a big part of the Sparks second half push, but Fowles made several huge plays down the stretch to maintain the Lynx’ advantage.
Renee Montgomery and the Minnesota reserves are the reason the Lynx won this game. Montgomery scored a season high 20 points and hit four threes. It was easily her best game of the season and coach Reeve rewarded Montgomery, playing her a season-high 24 minutes. Plenette Pierson scored nine and Jia Perkins chipped in four to give the Lynx a 33-19 bench scoring advantage.
The final two regular season games between these teams should be fun. Although Los Angeles shuffled their guard rotation and are still working out the kinks, they are a stacked, veteran team. These teams appear to be headed for another WNBA Finals showdown. Maybe then we’ll get Lynx players and coaches to admit this matchup is more than ‘just another game.’
Sparks fans travel as well as any team in the WNBA. Lots of purple and yellow was sprinkled throughout Xcel Energy Center.
Renee Montgomery played the final 14:26 of this game. That’s how well she was playing. Reeve’s tendency to finish with her instead of Whalen this season has been a trend to watch.
Los Angles all star forward Candice Parker played as poorly as I’ve seen her play in a big game. She finished with 2pts/3reb/3ast/4tov in 31 minutes of action.
The Lynx broke the Sparks eight game winning streak. They now have to start back at zero. That’s how streaks work.
The Lynx head to Chicago to take on the hapless Sky. There are two bad teams in the league and the Chicago Sky is one of them.