Every possession matters between these two teams. Who will come out on top Wednesday night? Your guess is as good as mine. The 2017 WNBA Finals have come to a Game 5 at Williams Arena between the top-seeded Minnesota Lynx and the defending champions, the Los Angeles Sparks.
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The first two games will be remembered for the slow starts last-second heroics. The Sparks won Game 3 with defense down the stretch and a balanced scoring attack; the Lynx punched back in Game 4 with a combined 40 points and 27 rebounds from Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles.
How can Los Angeles win a Game 5 on the road (again) to clinch back-to-back championships?
This team so often goes as Candace Parker goes. Nothing else in the game can replicate the pressure she constantly puts on an opposing defense with her complete skill set. Parker has also been a tone-setter defensively. I wouldn’t trust a tally that doesn’t have her combined blocks/steals/deflections at 9 or 10 in each of these last two games.
Both teams have run into some foul trouble. Naturally, the Sparks need Parker and Nneka Ogwumike on the floor. After getting beat up on the boards in Game 4, expect Ogwumike and Parker to come out ready to send a message with their rebounding.
Rebekkah Brunson has poured everything she has into her matchup with Parker. When Parker does get going toward the basket, she’s likely to see Sylvia Fowles. The Sparks spotting up around her need to find open pockets to open up some passing lanes.
Ogwumike may find herself open to let it fly in Game 5 as a result. This brings us back to Sunday. The Sparks took a lot of early shots. Not only did those shots not fall enough, the Lynx ran right back in transition to find some quick scores for themselves.
The Sparks didn’t get enough shots to fall in Game 4. It’s easy to fall back into the narrative saying the Sparks couldn’t take care of business to close out at home again. The Lynx weren’t going down easy and Los Angeles got plenty of good looks.
The Sparks didn’t make a three-pointer until late in the first half. Prior to that, Parker had two great looks. Odyssey Sims and Chelsea Gray each got a quality catch-and-shoot look from three as well. That only goes to mention a few early first quarter opportunities.
Gray uncharacteristically missed everything with a few of her jumpers in Game 4. Perhaps those air balls were signs of fatigue for a player that has carried one of the largest minutes loads in the WNBA this season.
She still dished out 9 assists, and her team will need her to continue to find her teammates early and often. Gray is dangerous enough that she draws Fowles out on any pick and roll involving her assignment. As Gray uses ball screens, she’s usually been seeing two bodies as she looks to make her move.
With a timely initial pass, the Sparks could ping the ball around the perimeter before finding an open cutter or shooter. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Sparks pass circles around opponents.
The Lynx are sound and skilled enough to take away the good stuff at the rim and still get out to cover up shooters more times than not. The Sparks can aim to counter that by looking to find their bigs rolling the basket (or anybody slipping to the rim on a cut).
Odyssey Sims then enters the equation as another dangerous playmaker. She also hit four three-pointers on Sunday, which propelled her team’s effort to get back into that game. Her speed in the open court is a problem. Minnesota has shown some urgency to push her to her right hand and keep her there.
LA will need Beard, Essence Carson and Jantel Lavender to knock down their open looks. Some basement blogger who writes for this website predicted that Riquna Williams would turn a 2017 playoff game on its head with her scoring punch off the bench for Brian Agler; Wednesday would be quite a time for that to happen.
It’s a make or miss league. The point is cliche, but in a way may have been underrepresented in Game 4’s coverage. The Sparks took a lot of early shots, a lot of early long twos.
The Sparks have good shooters on their team. There were the four missed open three-pointers in the first quarter. Nneka Ogwumike also missed a few open long twos. While she and some of her teammates may not rely on that shot heavily, they have hit them many times before.
Minnesota capitalized on those missed shots and did plenty of good work to force more tough ones. Getting beat up on the offensive glass is something that can’t happen again to the Sparks.
Even though they’ll be on the road, more defensive rebounds will create more opportunities in transition. Put the ball in the hands of Parker or Gray or Sims in the open floor and good things are likely to happen.
Who’s going to make more shots? Who’s going to step up and make plays? Coming off a dominant performance from Minnesota’s frontcourt, the Sparks will need a big performance from their pair of former MVPs up front.
Two teams, familiar with one another and hungry for a championship. It will all be decided Wednesday night on ESPN. Enjoy it. This is what basketball fans live for.