Through three games of this physical, high pressure, defensive series, the equation for winning is simple: play well to start the game. A 28-2 opening helped the Sparks win game 1, the Lynx opened 28-10 in their game 2 win, and on Friday night at Staples Center the Sparks jumped out to a 13-4 lead on their way to the 75-64 victory.
It’s nice to have that kind of scoring cushion to work with for the rest of the game, but these opening moments aren’t just about scoring. The term “setting the tone” is somewhat of a cliche but It’s truly been something that has been important in this series. Tonight the Sparks did it with defense. They let it be known early that they were on another level tonight on that end holding Minnesota to eight total points in the first quarter. It all started at the point of attack with defensive player of the year Alana Beard and Odyssey Sims hounding Lynx guards attempting to bring the ball up the court and get their team into offensive sets. Whalen and Montgomery both regularly had to turn their backs to shield the ball due to the extreme pressure they were dealing with only a few feet across the half court line.
The Sparks front court players were just as good. Their pick and roll rotations were on point, seemingly never allowing the Lynx to gain an advantage in screen situations. While Sylvia Fowles was able to score an efficient 15 points on 7-9 shooting, Los Angeles mostly held her in check and was able to create a number of turnovers off bad post entry passes. Finally LA was incredible on the defensive glass, only allowing Minnesota four offensive boards all night. Los Angeles rebounded 86% of Minnesota’s misses. That’s the best DREB% number for either team all playoffs. It was a masterclass in team defense which was the reason why the Sparks won the game.
Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen gave the Lynx absolutely nothing. It’s ultra rare when that is the case for either of these players, but for both to be so ineffective on the same night is puzzling. Neither player saw much time in the second half and failed to contribute in their limited minutes. Reeve instead played a lineup of Montgomery/Jones/Perkins/Moore/Fowles for the end of the third quarter and the entirety of the fourth quarter. For the second time in this series a smaller lineup with Moore playing power forward has been a somewhat successful foil for Minnesota when things aren’t going their way. Judging from comments from Reeve after game 1, I wouldn’t expect any major lineup or strategic changes from Minnesota in game 4.
The Lynx now find themselves in a familiar spot to last season. Down 2-1 on the road in the WNBA Finals. They’ll need to win the next two games to first extend, then win the series. Last season it took 31 points from Moore in game 4 for the Lynx to force game 5. Something like that better be in store for Minnesota on Sunday, otherwise their season will end in a loss for the second straight year, this time in Los Angeles.
Moore picking up her third foul 90 seconds into the second quarter totally threw a wrench into this game. She sat the rest of the half. Alana Beard was then able to guard, and nullify Augustus.
Alexis Jones had not played a single WNBA Finals minute previous to this game. She played 17 of them on Friday. Her ability to stretch the floor was huge for the Lynx as they hung around in the second half. She had nine points on 3-5 shooting from three.
WNBA fan Kobe Bryant apparently did not attend game three. Instead rapper Snoop Dogg was the biggest celebrity ESPN’s cameras could find.
Game 4 at Staples Center in Los Angeles is Sunday night. The game tips at 7:30pm and you can watch it on ESPN2.