An overwhelming feeling of deja vu must be occurring within Minnesota Lynx players and coaches today after Los Angeles stole game one of the WNBA Finals for the second straight year.
The game opened in the most unlikely of ways- a 28-2 Sparks run. Los Angeles was successful at loading up on Sylvia Fowles as they didn’t allow her to touch the ball until the 4:50 mark of the quarter and notched a number of turnovers on forced passes into her. The Lynx only made one of their first 12 shot attempts and LA used all those rebounds to push the ball the other way. Minnesota defenders got tangled up in transition which allowed Los Angeles to get multiple open shots under the basket. While it is generally unwise to question Cheryl Reeve’s strategy, I was flummoxed by her decision to show a zone defense on many possessions early on. The Lynx so rarely played zone during the regular season or semifinals, why start now?
Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for Minnesota in the first eight minutes of this game. The Lynx were absolutely stunned
The final three quarters were a more competitive, evenly matched affair. Minnesota looked like a different team in the second quarter as they upped their defensive intensity and outscored Los Angeles 22-11. Foul trouble and turnovers contributed to bringing the Sparks back down to earth in that quarter as well. Jia Perkins had a nice game off the bench. She was fantastic defensively and hit three straight shots at one point. The Lynx had the most success in this game by going small, with a Whalen/Perkins/Augustus/Moore/Fowles lineup and even started Perkins instead of Rebekkah Brunson in the second half. Down 0-1 in a relatively short series, will we see that lineup start game two?
Down a dozen points after three quarters the Lynx played the Sparks evenly through the first seven minutes of the fourth. Minnesota then rattled off a 14-3 run to take their first lead with 49 seconds remaining in the game. The teams then alternated made baskets giving the Lynx a one point lead with six seconds on the clock. Just like game one of the 2016 finals when Alana Beard beat the Lynx on a buzzer beater, the Sparks again found magic in the game’s final seconds as Chelsea Gray made a pull up jumper with two seconds remaining. It was a dagger.
The Minnesota Lynx now face true adversity for the first time this season. The midseason injuries and losing streaks don’t hold a candle to the danger the team is in now. They’ve lost game one in four of their last five finals appearances including three finals in a row. This team has been here before and even railed to win the Finals after losing game one in 2015.
A look at the final score and stat sheet tells the story of a close contest between two great teams, but make no mistake, this was a statement game from Los Angeles. Tuesday’s game two is now massive for the Lynx. For all intents and purposes, they’ll be playing for their season.
This could be Chelsea Gray’s coming out party. She scored a career high 27 points on the league’s biggest stage. She was wonderful all year for Los Angeles hitting 38% from three on 3.2 attempts a game.
Minnesota missed a huge opportunity to take Candace Parker out of the game as Brian Agler left her in the game after she picked up her third personal foul with 8:46 left in the second quarter. Parker didn’t pick up her fourth until the 1:11 mark.
Augustus as good as she was in semifinals and had 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists and made three 3-pointers. She hit big shots all night and played solid defense for most of the game. Unfortunately she got completely cooked on the game’s final play. August overplayed Gray’s right hand despite the fact that she had been driving left and pulling up all night.
Game two at Williams Arena on Tuesday night. Essentially a must-win situation for Minnesota. The game tips off at 7pm CT and you can watch it on ESPN.