By: Scott Mammoser
LOS ANGELES- For the second-consecutive season, the Los Angeles Sparks had an opportunity to clinch the WNBA title on their home court in Game Four of the Finals on Sunday. And for the second time, the Minnesota Lynx made sure the decisive Game Five would be settled in Minneapolis.
Los Angeles was seeking to be the first repeat champion since it won its titles in 2001 and 2002, but instead the story now is the never die attitude of the Lynx that is bringing Minnesota closer to its fourth championship since 2011. Minnesota’s resiliency was on full display in Game One when it erased a 28-2 deficit to open the game and ended up losing on a Chelsea Gray jump shot with two seconds remaining. Had Gray’s shot not gone in, the Lynx would be polishing their trophy right now.
In Game Four on Sunday, Minnesota set the tone that it meant business in the first two minutes when Lindsay Whalen chased down and flagrant fouled a breakaway Odyssey Sims. Sparks fans chanted “Throw Her Out,” but Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve defended her star point guard’s competitiveness afterwards.
“I think each team has a mindset that you just don’t want to give your opponent anything easy,” Reeve said. “I think it was kind of interesting with Magic (Johnson) sitting there. I suspect he probably remembers a day when that was just a foul, not review and a flagrant, it was just a foul. It was a playoff foul. We have this new term of ‘unnecessary.’ Well, that’s kind of subjective. We thought it was necessary that she not get the layup.”
Coach Reeve continued to say how disappointed Whalen was after she was held scoreless in the 11-point Game Three loss, as was Seimone Augustus. Rebekkah Brunson transformed her 6-point, 2-rebound night on Friday into 18 and 13 to combat league MVP Sylvia Fowles’ numbers of 22 and 14, as the Lynx outrebounded the Sparks 48-28 in the 80-69 victory.
Brunson, who scored 13 in the first half of Game Four, is seeking to become the first WNBA player with five title rings (one in Sacramento and four with the Lynx). The 35-year-old from Georgetown who often is overshadowed by her Olympian teammates, was arguably the most valuable player on the court on Sunday.
“I absolutely felt like I needed to bring more energy and was hoping my team would be able to feed off of that,” Brunson said. “I need to continue to go out there and be aggressive and play hard. I think throughout this series, we kind of understand that rebounding is the key. It’s a huge part of each team’s identities, and we know that we wanted to set the tone.”
The storylines continue for the Lynx. Jia Perkins has played more games than anyone in league history (417) besides Becky Hammon (450) without hoisting the trophy. She will get her second stab at that on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Her former Texas Tech teammate Plenette Pierson, winner of two championships with Detroit in 2006 and 2008, has already announced that Game Five will be the final time she takes the court at age 36.
After last season’s epic Finals, and the images of the Lynx walking off its home court in disarray following a controversial play in the closing seconds, it only seems right that we end right where we left off –albeit
Williams Arena and not the Target Center. Whatever happens, the WNBA has a bona fide rivalry with star power and the scene set for a Warriors-Cavaliers like third version in 2018.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” Brunson added. “It doesn’t matter where you’re playing. You have to go out there and be prepared for anything that can happen. You never really know what’s going to happen, so you just need to leave it all out there. We’ve been in this situation, so it’s pretty familiar.”