LOS ANGELES – In a matter, it seemed, of seconds, the Lynx had seen a 16-point lead shrink to eight Sunday night. Staples Center was rocking, the Lynx reeling when Lindsay Whalen put up a 25-foot three-pointer.
Off, back rim.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Maya Moore was on the wing. She was too far away for the rebound. “Decision time,’’ Moore said. “Do I get back, or do I try to stay in the play? And then I saw her.’’
Her would be Rebekkah Brunson, who flew in from the lane, grabbing for the ball. With Sparks players swatting at it, the ball went to Moore, who scored, was fouled and, with 1 minute and 45 seconds left, hit the free throw.
Moments later, the Lynx had won Game 4 of the WNBA Finals 80-69 over the Sparks, forcing a Game 5 on Wednesday night at Williams Arena. It will be the second time in two seasons the two teams will vie for the title on Minnesota soil.
All night the league trophy was hiding out backstage, just in case. Confetti was loaded, just in case.
That will have to wait. Leading nearly from start to finish, with elimination within striking distance, the Lynx struck back. With an 11-0 first-quarter run that gave them the lead, it turns out, for good. In front of an announced 13,500 disappointed fans, the Lynx refused to go quietly.
“I told you, you can’t underestimate our heart,’’ said Seimone Augustus. “There is a lot of pride on this team, with what we’ve accomplished her. Our legacy. Obviously, it showed.’’
Brunson had a redemptive game, with 18 points, 13 rebounds and two steals. Center Sylvia Fowles had 22 points and 14 rebounds, a one-two punch on the boards the Sparks couldn’t handle. Augustus had 10 points.
The Lynx outrebounded the Sparks 48-28.
“They were the most aggressive team,’’ Sparks coach Brian Agler said. “There wasn’t any question.’’
Three Sparks players scored in double figures, led by Odyssey Sims’ 18 points.
In a series where early punches have made the difference, the Lynx did it this time. It happened right after Whalen had been called for a flagrant foul on Sims on a breakaway layup. Those two free throws put the Sparks up four. By the time the quarter ended the Lynx led for good.
Not that it was easy.
The Lynx led by as many as 16 in the second but needed Whalen’s three to go into the locker room up 12. The Lynx went up 19 after Fowles scored with 2:40 left in the third, but the Sparks cut it to nine early in the fourth. Back up 12 with 2:58 left, it was down to eight when Sims hit an 11-footer.
That’s when Brunson made her most important play of the night.
For every challenge, at least Sunday, there was an answer.
“That was the game,’’ Augustus said. “That was the game. It’s Brunson-like.’’
Augustus has seen this for years, long before they became teammates in Minnesota in 2010.
“I’ve been seeing her do that since 2006, when she was in Sacramento,’’ Augustus said. “Our scouting report was in red: Box her out. It’s still impossible to do. That was sheer effort, just wanting it more.’’
The same can be said for the entire team.
“This is a group …’’ Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “They rise to the challenge.“
There is one more ahead Wednesday. Since these two teams started playing in the Finals last season, they’ve played nine games. No team has won two in a row. The Lynx will try to do it Wednesday, with both franchises going for a fourth title.
“We had our backs up against the ropes,’’ Fowles said. “We knew it would be tough. But we came out swinging. We gave all we had to give.’’