Laser lights, unveiling banners, sparkling rings, and 90s RnB one-hit wonder Montell Jordan all made for an impressive show Sunday afternoon at Target Center, but the Los Angeles Sparks spoiled the Lynx home opener winning 77-76. Chelsea Gray was fantastic throughout the game. She had 18 points, eight assists, and six steals. Her biggest moment coming on the final play of the game, as she drove to the rim and dropped a lefty layup over Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson as time expired to give her team the win.
Gray’s heroics were not why the Lynx lost this game. They were defeated because they turned the ball over 24 times. It’s very difficult to win a game when you turn the ball over at that rate, even against a shorthanded Sparks team without superstar Candace Parker. Los Angeles’ ability to be aggressive defensively against Minnesota guards has been an issue for the Lynx dating back many years. Gray, Alana Beard and Odyssey Sims made things tough on Minnesota’s offense, and were quick to double Sylvia Fowles whenever she caught the ball inside.
“They had one post player,” said a frustrated Cheryl Reeve after the game.
“I’ll be dammed that they’re going to let the ball go inside and they just kept flooding, flooding and we botched every opportunity on the inside. We forced it to (Fowles) and it was just dumb. It was dumb basketball. How can you have that big of an advantage and you can’t exploit it?”
Sparks with More Spark
All week Lynx players and coaches were asked about the emotional and mental challenge of celebrating the 2017 title, and then minutes later competing in a professional basketball game. It’s hard to know how much the pregame celebration had an effect on Minnesota’s confounding game, but the Sparks swarming defense forced the Lynx to throw the ball all over the gym. Los Angeles made it clear in the first quarter that they were the more energetic and hungry team. That early statement kept a sold out Target Center crowd from really getting into the game.
A Final Push
Minnesota played their best basketball in the fourth quarter. They found easy baskets by getting into transition and looking for early offense. Whalen came alive and was able to succeed in working the pick and roll with Fowles, as well as penetrate into the lane for layups or free throws. Also they had a six minute stretch where they did not turn the ball over. Something that was not true at any other point in the game.
The Lynx battled back despite being down by eight points early in the fourth quarter. The final few minutes felt like the classic Lynx/Sparks matchup we had all been expecting, with both teams executing at a high level and the outcome of the game hanging in the balance.
This loss stings. The distaste these two teams have for each other is very real. But beyond the bad blood and rivalry, Minnesota only finished a single game above Los Angeles last season. It’s never too early to think about potential playoff seed tiebreakers and right now the Lynx are down 0-1 to their top competition.
Maya Moore had a strange game. She had as many turnovers as made shots (4). At one point she shot a three pointer off one foot. What?
Sunday was the first game at Target Center since game 5 of the 2016 Finals, which ironically ended in a Sparks buzzer-beating shot to win.
It was sad and vaguely poetic to watch the three new Lynx players (Robinson, Wright, Kizer) sit on the bench in the dark while the 2017 team was introduced and awarded their rings.
Wednesday 5/23 vs Dallas Wings at Target Center. The Wings are 1-1 and feature 6’8” Liz Cambage. Very excited to see her matchup with Fowles. You can watch the game on Fox Sports North, or listen to it on BOB 106 FM.