Lynx takeaways: how Minnesota evened the WNBA Finals


MINNEAPOLIS—The Minnesota Lynx needed to come out in full force on Tuesday night. After beginning Game 1 with a 26-point deficit, the 3-time champions could not afford another slow start. They couldn’t afford to not have a rebound in another first quarter. They couldn’t afford to take bad shots or put forth an early half-hearted defensive effort.

More from WNBA

We saw a different team to begin Game 2, a 70-68 Minnesota win that tied the best-of-five series, 1-1. They hit five of their first seven shots and held a double-digit lead early on. Lindsay Whalen had seven points and all Lynx starters scored in the first frame. Sylvia Fowles had six points and six rebounds before she was replaced by Plenette Pierson.

Los Angeles was barraged by a Minnesota intensity that was absent from the start of Game 1. The Lynx converted shots from all over the floor and cinched up passing lanes on the other end. Defense got the Lynx back in the game on Sunday and it set the tone for them on Tuesday.

Thanks to their strong start, they carried an 18-point lead into the second. However, a lead like that against the Sparks is not safe.

Just like that, the Sparks began the second quarter began with a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to single digits. The Lynx went ice cold, hitting just two of their first 10 shots in the quarter. A bucket and a free throw from Maya Moore stopped the bleeding. At least a strong finish would see the Lynx carry a 19-point lead into the half.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 26: Candace Parker and Alana Beard.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 26: Candace Parker and Alana Beard. /

Candace Parker carried the Sparks in the third. Even with a brief rest, the former MVP posted eight points, three rebounds, three assists, and a block. Los Angeles forced turnovers and drew fouls to disrupt Minnesota’s rhythm as they charged back. With the lead down to 10, it was clear we were in for another photo finish.

Fast forward to the late fourth quarter. Trailing by five, Parker took a Chelsea Gray pass for two points with 1:21 to play. Rebekkah Brunson immediately followed with a turnover and Gray missed the game tying 3-pointer.  Moore was fouled after the rebound and split the free throws. Parker would be fouled on the other end and despite making both free throws, that was the last basket we saw. The final 33 seconds were ripe with tension, timeouts, and turnovers as the Lynx evened the series.

The Lynx were able to save themselves from an unenviable position. Going down 0-2 heading to L.A. to face elimination would’ve been damning. They would’ve had to sweep on the road in a building the Sparks have lost one game in all season. Then, they’d still have to take care of business in a Game 5. By taking Game 2, the Lynx likely saved their season.

Winning took a lot. Fowles set the Finals record for rebounds in a game with 17 but also had 13 points and four steals. All starters finished in double figures, including 14 from Whalen. There is also some comfort in knowing that Moore shot 4-for-10 and still won.

Yet, the Lynx may need to find their starters some help. The bench scored just seven points– all coming from Renee Montgomery. Jia Perkins is a greater threat than her one shot in nearly 10 minutes would let on. That left four starters to play at least 32 minutes, including Brunson and Fowles with 37 and 36 minutes played, respectively. It’s the Finals and rotations are going to be short but this could be a long series. Finding ways to preserve their best players as much as possible could swing the series.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 26: Seimone Augustus, Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 26: Seimone Augustus, Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker. /

Regardless of being outscored 58-52 after the first quarter, there’s a lot to feel good about. Holding the Sparks to under 40 percent shooting and winning the rebounding battle is terrific. And the effort defensively was more akin to the team we’d seen in the past. Their nine steals were a testament to their effort in clogging the passing lanes.

Both of these teams are tough and going to make their runs. We’ve learned that no lead is safe and that cold spells are brief. Neither team can get too high or too low at any stage in the game. Los Angeles could have shot the ball better but so could Minnesota. A big result of that was the play of both defenses and the offense that was created from them. We know the offensive prowess in both locker rooms but this series will come down to defense.