LOS ANGELES – So many times during these WNBA Finals, the Los Angeles Sparks have dared Lynx 14-year veteran forward Rebekkah Brunson to beat them.
In Sunday’s 80-69 Game 4 victory, she did in just about every which way.
She did so with an 18-point, 13-rebound performance that in one game outdid herself in the Lynx’s two Finals losses by 10 points and eight rebounds.
She did so with a decisive offensive rebound that led to Maya Moore’s driving layup and subsequent three-point play with 1:45 left. Moore’s free throw rebuilt a double-digit lead after the Sparks had reduced a 19-point deficit to only eight.
She did so mostly with her energy that suggested the 35-year-old who already owns four WNBA championship rings is still in line for a fifth now that the Lynx have forced a deciding game Wednesday at Williams Arena.
“There’s nothing left; this was it for us,” Brunson said. “We had to go out there and give it everything we had … I just wanted to be the person who drove us with my energy. I just tried to bring that. I think we were kind of able to feed off that tonight.”
In the Finals’ first three games, Sparks star Candace Parker or whoever defended Brunson at the time sagged off, challenging her to make an open shot. In the Lynx’s Game 1 and 3 losses, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve went to a small lineup that didn’t include Brunson after she failed to answer the challenge.
On Sunday, she had many of those answers.
“They dared her to make the decisions,” teammate Seimone Augustus said. “Most of the time, with the ball in her hands, she facilitates a lot of the offense. Tonight, she mixed it up. She had a great variety of shots: pick-and-rolls, attacking the basket. It was good.”
Brunson scored 10 of those 18 points on free throws after she used that energy to get there for 13 attempts. Four of her 13 rebounds came on the offensive end, including that one with fewer than two minutes left that Augustus called both “Brunson-like” and “the game.”
Asked about that rebound, Brunson said, “I had no idea. I think I blacked out. What happened?”
Well, she only grabbed Lindsay Whalen’s missed three-pointer and found Moore cutting for the basket, one of Brunson’s two assists.
“I just stayed active,” she said. “I knew that was important.”
Before Sunday’s game, the Lynx analyzed the previous three games that left them trailing in the series 2-1, and they knew what they needed from the veteran leader and defensive anchor.
“You’ve got to make adjustments, that’s what this series is all about,” league MVP Sylvia Fowles said. “We go back and watch film and we’re like, ‘How can BB help us?’ We picked out some areas, and the coaches knew what we needed to do tonight.”
Brunson and the Lynx both delivered a truly must-win Game 4 victory.
“Her heart, her drive, her persistence,” Reeve said, referring to Brunson afterward. “That’s why she has the most rings of anybody to play and she has positioned herself to get another. Her opponents know what they have to do to keep her off the glass, and they still can’t. She was on another level, just another level.”
With a Game 5 victory Sunday, Brunson would become the only WNBA player to win five titles. She won one with Sacramento 12 years ago and three with the Lynx.
“I saw it in her eyes tonight,” Augustus said before she wiggled her thumb. “She’s trying to get that thumbpiece. You can definitely see she’s striving to get that.”