For three consecutive postseasons the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks have traded off eliminating each other from the playoffs. After Minnesota won the WNBA title last season, Los Angeles kept up their end of the bargain and beat the Lynx in an elimination game. The matchup lived up to the high expectations that this storied rivalry has set for WNBA fans, despite the absences of Rebekkah Brunson and Danielle Robinson.
The Lynx started the game playing well on both ends. Shots were falling which allowed Minnesota to get their defense setup and control the pace of the game. They got out to a 11 point lead with five minutes left in the second quarter. Multiple Sparks players found themselves in early foul trouble and the LA offense was ineffective.
Everything changed a few minutes later as Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray kicked their offense into high gear. Los Angeles finished the quarter on a 19-5 run and kept the pedal to the floor for the first seven minutes of the third. From the 4:18 mark of the second quarter to the 2:49 mark of the third, the Sparks outscored the Lynx 32-9. Those points mainly came from three players: Ogwumike, Gray and Riquna Williams. The latter two combined to make all seven of the Sparks three pointers in this game.
Minnesota held their own in the fourth and kept things close. The Lynx cut the lead to three points via a Temi Fagbenle tip in basket with 2:22 remaining in the game. After getting a stop, Maya Moore was fouled and sent to the free throw line. With a chance to pull within a single point, the 86 percent career free throw shooter instead missed both, which led to a final clutch Gray jumper. Game over.
Lynx Feeling Gray
Los Angeles’ All Star point guard Chelsea Gray was easily the best player in the game. After a quiet third quarter she took control of the game and exposed the Lynx pick and roll defense. Gray finished with 26 points, six assists, and five rebounds. She scored from all over the court as the full assortment of her shot making skills was on display. From spot up three pointers, to step back midrangers, to floaters at the rim, Gray can do it all offensively. Minnesota had no answer for her. Tanisha Wright put forth an admirably effort, but the Lynx sorely missed the defense of Robinson.
Staying on trend with the rest of the season, Minnesota’s overall offense simply came up short. Sylvia Fowles and Temi Fagbenle combined for 32 points and the team scored well inside the paint, but was inefficient everywhere else. Shooting 4-15 from three and 6-11 from the free throw line contributed heavily to their offensive woes. Seimone Augustus was 2-7, Whalen was 4-12 and Cecilia Zandalasni was 1-4 shooting the ball on Tuesday night. Moore looked good early on, but struggled to put her mark on the game in the second half. She finished with only 14 points and did not score in the final quarter.
As the 2018 campaign comes to a close, big questions about the roster loom large. Only five players are currently under contract for next season. Will Brunson and Augustus return for one more season? Where do young players like Zandalasini, Fagbenle and Alexis Jones fit into the future? Who will the team choose to surround Moore and Fowles with in order to squeeze the most out of the final years of their prime?
Armed with cap space, roster flexibility and a championship culture the Lynx are well-positioned to return to the top of the league, but he faces of the players who take them there will look different.
The last time the Lynx were eliminated in the first round was 2004.
Fagbenle likely played the best game of her WNBA career. She was amazing off the bench on both ends of the floor. Her 15 points were second most on the team behind Fowles.
Candace Parker had a strange game. After scoring the game’s opening basket she was held scoreless the rest of the way.
The offseason. It should be fascinating. Thanks for reading my recaps all summer!