"L.A. is not in the position they are in without the play of Krtisti Toliver," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said before her team began the best-of-three Western Conference Finals with the Los Angeles Sparks.
"Anytime you have a guard that can shoot as high of a percentage as she shot, in every zone that there is, she was really efficient. So that helps things for [Candace] Parker. There is less pressure on her. It gets your defense spread out because you are very concerned about where [Toliver] is.
"And the thing that is most overlooked about Kristi Toliver, because she shoots the three so well is that she gets to the foul line the most on the team at 5-6. It is a very challenging situation with her."
The Lynx, of course, handled Toliver quite well on Thursday
She had 12 points in L.A.'s 84-77 loss to the Lynx at Target Center, but 10 came in the fourth quarter when the Sparks trailed big.
Toliver was four of nine from the floor, missed her only two three-point shot attempts, and was four of five on free throw attempts. She had only one assist and three turnovers. She averaged just over 17 points during the regular season and increased that average to 26 points in the Sparks' two-game sweep of San Antonio in the first playoff round.
If Toliver struggles again today, the Lynx should beat the Sparks when they meet at 2:30 p.m. today at Staples Center in Game 2. L.A. was 16-1 on its floor during the regular season.
But Reeve is worried about more than Toliver.
"Their starting five is really, really good," Reeve said before Game 1. "[It] accounts for 70 of their points night in and night out. We have been unable up to this point to shave too many points off their starting group. That's our goal. We have to make their starters earn things and to make their bench be more of a factor for them and see what they can do."
Last Thursday, Parker had 25 points and Alana Beard 16, but forwards Nneka Ogwumike and DeLisha-Milton Jones had six and three, respectively. So L.A.'s starters had 66 points. A little under their usual of 70.
Reeve said first-year L.A. coach Carol Ross has done a great job with the Sparks. "Look where they were before," she said. "Offensively, really getting a lot out of players. Getting [Nneka] Ogwumike helps Carol Ross be a better coach just like adding Maya Moore made me a better coach.It helps all of us when you get those kind of players.But Carol Ross [a former Atlanta Dream assistant] has done a great job like we all expected her to."
L.A. center Candace Parker on Ross: "Hiring her was definitely a key for this team. She is a great coach. I enjoy playing for her. She makes the game a lot of fun. She has turned up our energy level a lot. She is very knowledgeable about the game and specifically on the defensive end.
"And what is so special is, she listens to us. When we are on the floor, we get a feel, and she listens to what we have to say. Sometimes she takes our suggestions and sometimes she tells us a better way we can do things."
On Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who will be 42 in 13 days: "People underestimate how much experience matters. Taj has been in this league for a long time [this is her 14th season] and has really found her niche in Minnesota because she is able to have leadership and play. She is not going to be the one that averages 30, but she is going to get that crucial rebound [or] to find somebody. She is a great passing big. Playing against her, you can learn a lot from watching her play. And it makes it a tough matchup."
On being in playoffs after three seasons interrupted by having a baby and injuries: "I have been sitting on the sidelines so long. Watching all-star games, watching playoffs. Watching other people do things on the court. It's fun to be on the court when everything matters.
"I used to get yelled by Pat [Summitt at Tennessee] a lot. She would tell me that I needed to be more focused during the regular season. But during the postseason, she always knew that I was going to be about business. So she would always tell me that if I could get you this focused for the regular-season games, we would have the No. 1 seed overall in the tournament. It's fun to play in the postseason when the lights are on and when it is a lot of pressure."