Throughout a mistake-riddled performance in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, the Lynx just didn’t look like their usual selves. The cure, guard Lindsay Whalen declared, was not complicated.
“I’ve been in a lot of finals,’’ the 12-year veteran said. “There are going to be ups and downs. Our job [in Game 2] is to be ourselves.’’
To the relief of a crowd announced at 12,832, the Lynx reverted to the team the fans know and love, thumping Los Angeles 79-60 in Tuesday’s Game 2 at Target Center. They evened the best-of-five series at one game each with a tenacious, tireless defense and an offense that ran far more smoothly than it did in Sunday’s fitful Game 1.
The Lynx used a devastating 17-3 run to close out the first half, holding the Sparks without a basket for the final 4 minutes, 49 seconds as they built a 14-point halftime lead. They needed every point of that cushion to withstand a wild second half. Los Angeles outscored the Lynx 14-0 over a three-minute span in the third quarter, slicing the deficit to 44-41, before the Lynx regained control late in the quarter.
Maya Moore scored a game-high 21 points, but the defense rolled up the most impressive numbers. The Lynx outrebounded the Sparks 46-32, held Los Angeles to 33 percent shooting and all but shut down Candace Parker and Kristi Toliver. The two combined to make six of 26 shots and scored a total of 14 points.
“We know this is going to be a long series,” said Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, who endured physical play inside to grab a game-high 15 rebounds and score 13 points. “There’s no reason to panic at any time.
“We came out with great intensity and kept it the whole game. We set the tone and the pace. If we go out there and play like we’re capable of playing, good things happen for us.’’
Moore said bouncing back from a 78-76 loss in Game 1 would be “the greatest challenge of the season” for her team. Its mission was to make things much harder for the Sparks by reducing turnovers and ratcheting up the defensive pressure.
The Lynx harassed the Sparks’ shooters inside and outside. They rarely allowed them to take a shot without hands in their faces and closed off drives to the basket, and they made things especially tough on Parker. She was averaging 20.4 points in the playoffs, but she had only two points at halftime, making one of seven shots.
A cold spell early in the second quarter turned a six-point Lynx lead into a 22-22 tie. After a Parker jumper with 4:50 left, the Lynx slammed the door. The Sparks missed their last nine shots of the half, committed three turnovers and were outscored 17-3, growing so frustrated that Toliver was called for a technical foul as the half ended with a 39-25 Lynx lead.
“We weren’t getting stops,” said Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, who led her team with 14 points. “I think it had a lot to do with our effort. When you get tired, when things are muddled and you’re not focusing on what you’re doing, confusion can seep in. And I think that’s what happened.’’
The Sparks made their best run in a back-and-forth half in the third quarter. After Seimone Augustus’s jumper made it 44-27, the Lynx went 3:29 without a point, while Los Angeles poured in 14 in a row. With their lead cut to three, the Lynx countered with an 8-0 spurt fueled by Moore and Fowles.
The Sparks got within five points in the fourth quarter, but that was as close as they could come.
“I liked how we fought back after [halftime],’’ Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said. “But we couldn’t break them.’’
Toliver promised the series would “continue to be a battle’’ when it moves to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Friday. The Lynx wouldn’t expect anything different, and after Tuesday’s reminder, they know the best response is to simply be themselves — or, more specifically, the best version of themselves.
“We have a lot of confidence,’’ Augustus said. “The thing for us is, we know what we needed to do. And if we keep improving coming into Game 3, we’ll put ourselves into better position to pull off another win.’’