The celebration in
Crypto.com Arena downtown Los Angeles was at a high as the Sparks made their their long awaited home debut against the rival Minnesota Lynx in their main stadium. On beautiful 70 degree Tuesday evening, the LA fans in attendance helped push the Sparks out to an early 12-4 lead via bully ball from their frontcourt led by Nneka Ogwumike and newcomer Liz Cambage.
However, the visitors also had something to celebrate: The Return of the Mac.
Kayla McBride that is.
Less than 48 hours off a plane from the other side of the planet and earning a Turkish league championship, KMac entered the game in midseason form. 15 of her game-high 24 points came in the first quarter alone, singlehandedly fixing the perimeter shooting woes that the Lynx had experienced during their 0-4 start to the season. If this felt familiar, it was because almost exactly a year ago (362 days to be exact), McBride debuted with the Lynx fresh off the plane and a Turkish league championship. She was absolutely blistering from the field and helped the Lynx build a six point lead after one period of play.
three triples already for Mac…— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) May 18, 2022
it’s still the first quarter pic.twitter.com/SdDCdlpCDa
As mentioned earlier, the girth of the LA bigs forced some issues for the Minnesota defense. They continued to roll in the second quarter, forcing Jessica Shepard & Nina Milić to combine for seven personal fouls in the first half. Coach Cheryl Reeve was visibly incensed not just at the officials, but the sloppy mistakes from her pair of forwards. This forced her hand to play rookie Hannah Sjerven for a brief stint late in the half, but it did not go well as one would expect. The early season turnover issues for the Lynx started to rear its ugly head as the Sparks clawed their way back into the game.
Things continued to get sloppier for Minnesota to open the second half. A number of live ball turnovers by Minnesota led to a handful of 1-on-0 fastbreak opportunities for LA. To make matters worse, former Lynx guard Lexie Brown, who’s been very vocal about her dismissal from Minnesota, finally got loose for the revenge game that she had likely been waiting for. Three of Brown’s team-best four three pointers all came in the third quarter. Reeve looked like she was about to boil over at that point, pacing up and down the sideline, seemingly contemplating if it was time for her to draw a technical foul just to make a point.
The Sparks would outscore the Lynx 25-16 in the third quarter.
But as the old adage goes: Never question the heart of a champion.
Coach Reeve, who has toyed with numerous options at the point guard position this season, called upon the 5’6” Moriah Jefferson, who was playing in her second game with the Lynx. After giving Jefferson a tongue lashing in the previous quarter, Reeve implored her to attack more aggressively. Minnesota would receive a six-point outburst from the diminutive guard as we witnessed a back-and-forth duel with another Los Angeles newcomer, third year guard Chennedy Carter. Their jousting felt like it embodied the fourth quarter for both of these teams, a period that included five lead changes and eight ties.
With just under 30 seconds left to go and a slim two-point Lynx lead off a Shepard putback, Cambage would score a huge and-1 over Sylvia Fowles, fouling out the greatest center of all-time who had dominated much of the matchup in 39 minutes (!) of play. Fortunately for Minnesota, the Australian center would clank the free throw as Jefferson skied in for her sixth defensive rebound of the game (Tied for second most in the game behind Fowles).
With no Syl in the game, it was obvious who the Lynx were going to.
KMac on making the final play: "I knew I had to go reverse otherwise (Sykes) was going to block my shit."— Leo S (@Y0Leo) May 18, 2022
"I just made a play."
The Lynx finally got to wipe the zero off their season record. It surely felt great for Minnesota to get their first victory of the season against a long-time rival. As I waited for the post game presser, I could hear the Minnesota players rightfully celebrating in the locker room. It was a big time performance and though there were several key contributors, the calming veteran presences of Fowles and McBride were certainly the difference tonight. The pair of them clearly instilled a sense of confidence in a season where it was lacking.
KMac: "I didn't say a lot before the game, but I said a lot during the game. I could tell they needed someone who could get to the next play... We have a lot of young players... everybody has a learning curve... Being calming voice and confident helps everyone do their thing."— Leo S (@Y0Leo) May 18, 2022
KMac on 0-4 start: "It's gonna be a grind, but we can still take steps forward. It's a loooong season. I believe in this group and this culture... We were in the same position last year, but I don't give a shit, I believe in our team/culture/coaching staff."— Leo S (@Y0Leo) May 18, 2022
- The Lynx out-rebound the Sparks 40-26 tonight. Though it felt as though the sheer size of LA would have the advantage on the glass, the entire Minnesota team showed up to clean up the boards. Six players grabbed at least three rebounds.
- If Moriah Jefferson continues to play like this, then it’s going to be hard for the league not to highlight her comeback story. She had a storied college career and despite a strong start to her WNBA journey back in 2016 (Alongside Kayla McBride in San Antonio no less!), Mo has battled a number of significant injuries in the past few years. This is her second excellent showing in a row, putting up all-around numbers with 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and four steals. Sure, you can nitpick at things like her game-high six turnovers, but she is playing the most difficult position in the league and has had less than a week to learn the playbook. KMac shared a great story after the game about how both Mo and her once dreamed about playing for Minnesota:
KMac on chemistry with Jefferson: "We used to come to MIN all the time and get smacked, and I said gonna come here one day... I swear I had dreams about this."— Leo S (@Y0Leo) May 18, 2022
"We've always had a really good connection on the court."
- Evina Westbrook played 14 minutes tonight which was the most off the bench. Coach Reeve clearly trusts the young rookie and it’s hard not to be impressed with her steady play. E doesn’t try to go outside of herself and can surprise you with heady plays like this beautiful dime. The box score doesn’t show much, but she certainly had a positive impact. Meanwhile Rachel Banham earned just 4 minutes tonight.
- The ongoing struggles of Aerial Powers continues. She went one for nine from the field tonight which further regressed her season shooting splits to a disastrous .246/.133/.588. I have confidence that she’s improve on those numbers because AP is such a hard worker, but right now the biggest issue for her seems to be her own confidence levels. For example, Bridget Carleton has struggled with her shot all season too, but went two for two from perimeter in this game.
Coach Reeve on perimeter shooting: "I'd call that a correction. It's bound to turn and we've really got some players that can shoot it... We were bound for a correction and let's hope... we've put ourselves in better position to be better from there."— Leo S (@Y0Leo) May 18, 2022
- I’ve long been critical of Derek Fisher, especially of that as a head coach. Though the game felt out of reach after KMac’s final field goal, the Sparks used their final timeout with 2.1 seconds left on the clock. Down three points, Fisher decided to draw up a strange lob to the rim that accidentally resulted in a desperation heave by Jordin Canada. He also benched Chennedy Carter in the fourth quarter as she was seemingly getting whatever she wanted in the paint. His team has now dropped to 2-3 and you wonder if the Sparks don’t turn things around soon, how many more mistakes will he be allowed to make with no repercussions?
Tell me if you see what Fisher is talking about ... doesn't look to me like Brown is anywhere close to a catch-and-shoot 3 pic.twitter.com/Eed29QFzxe— Owen Pence (@OwenPence) May 18, 2022
The Lynx spent the night driving over to visit the 4-1 Las Vegas Aces on Thursday 5/19 at 7:00pm CT. This will be the second game of a difficult three game road trip in five nights, but sometimes being on the road is what brings a team together. Hopefully this win was the the first in many stepping stones moving forward.