Fans and followers of the WNBA were giddy about this WNBA Finals matchup for good reason. Even putting aside their history, these teams are so remarkably evenly matched. In both games 1 and 2, the result was decided in the final possessions, with last night’s game two finishing 70-68 in favor of the Lynx.
For the second straight game one team got out to a huge first quarter lead. This time around it was the Lynx who opened the game looking like world-beaters. After losing the first quarter 32-11 on Sunday night, the Lynx outscored Los Angeles 28-10 on Tuesday. Minnesota’s defense notched numerous deflections and forced six first quarter turnovers. Lindsay Whalen jump started her team by using those turnovers to get into transition and score easy baskets. Her ability to push the tempo and get into the lane was a big factor in Minnesota’s 28 first quarter points. Sylvia Fowles had six points and six rebounds in the opening frame and talked after the game about the importance of starting the game strong.
“After getting chewed out and watching film for about two hours on all the things that we didn’t do right, we just tried to put that at the forefront of our mind about what we needed to do in game 2. Everybody took it to heart what coach had to say. We came out and made it our business to start out on the right foot.”
Two days removed from having her starting role rescinded for a half, Rebekkah Brunson returned to her reliable ways played a fantastic basketball game. She had 12 points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals and a handful of deflections, including one on the final play of the game that sealed the win for Minnesota. The Lynx had success playing a smaller lineup on Sunday leaving some to wonder what this would mean for the team’s rotation strategy in game 2. Cheryl Reeve doubled down on her trust in Brunson before the game.
“I’m a big believer in playing to your identity. Desperate times calls for desperate measures and we were in desperate times in game 1. I think once you start doing something that’s not your identity, your opponent has you. I like the idea of (going small) in moments but I don’t want it to be something we’re going to. (Brunson) is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around. She’s incredibly prideful and works her tail off. I know she’s a fighter and if we win this game she’ll be a big reason why.”
This game was a mirror image of game 1 in many ways. Again each won two quarters apiece. In Tuesday’s matchup it was Los Angeles who clawed back in the second half. The Sparks could have let up a bit, already having stolen home court advantage, but instead displayed their own brand of sterling defense. The fourth quarter was a nightmare on offense for Minnesota. They were held to ten points, all of them coming outside the paint as LA was finally able to put the clamps on Sylvia Fowles. The defensive intensity from both teams was on display and contributed to a wild, tense finish that featured three turnovers in the final twenty seconds. Whalen said it best post game.
“Our defense saved us, and we were one play better, and with these two teams, sometimes that’s the difference.”
Minnesota seems to be back on track, but there is still a lot of work to do after losing game 1. The series now shifts to Los Angeles where the Sparks are 18-1 at home this season. The Lynx need to take at least one of the two games in California. We’ll see if the Lynx are up to the challenge. Something tells me these games will be close.
Fowles was in MVP-mode tonight. She had 13 points, 17 rebounds, four steals and four blocks. Her 17 rebounds were a WNBA Finals record.
Defending without fouling continues to be an issue for Los Angeles. For the second game in a row they struggled in this department. If you believe team defense will determine this series, the Lynx have a slight advantage through two games.
Lynx owner Glen Taylor sat in my assigned media seat court side at Williams Arena last night. There are certain people you don’t ask to move and one of them is Papa Glen at a Lynx game.
Game 3 is Friday night at Staples Center in sunny Los Angeles, CA. Tip off is at 8pm CT and you can watch it on ESPN2.