LOS ANGELES – No one should be surprised that the first two games of the WNBA Finals came down to the final possession.
These are the league’s two best teams, have been for two seasons. In seven Finals games since 2016, they are separated by six points — 545 for the Lynx, 539 for the Los Angeles Sparks.
“It’s talent,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Talent on both sides. That’s what makes it so close. I mean, L.A. is good. We’re good.”
Four of those seven games, including the past three, have come down to a final possession. For the first time Tuesday at Williams Arena, the Lynx came out on top in such a game, evening the best-of-five series 1-1.
“We both have talent, we both know how to make plays,” Sparks forward Alana Beard said. “And, on top of that, you can’t leave out the fact we’re both coached by very good coaches who know how to make adjustments.”
So, as the teams prepared for Friday’s Game 3 at Staples Center, it only stands to reason that the two best teams would produce such game-ending drama. It’s harder to explain, though, the exchange of 20-point leads in Games 1 and 2.
“I don’t know,” Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said. “I know we’re competitive. I know both teams know each other well. Both teams play defense, make it difficult on the key players. I can’t answer why the swings happen.”
In Game 1, L.A. ran off to a 28-2 lead in the first 7 ½ minutes, only to have the Lynx take two one-point leads in the final minute before Chelsea Gray’s jumper with 2 seconds left gave the Sparks the win. In Game 2, the Lynx led by 20 early in the third quarter, but they had to make two big defensive stops at the end to preserve the victory.
Why has this series been the basketball equivalent of a roller coaster?
“If we could explain it, understand it, we’d be able to avoid it,” Reeve said. “Speaking for myself — and for Brian, I’m sure — sometimes it’s just the force of another team. The will of another team is imposed upon you. You know you don’t want to do certain things, but they’re not letting you do something else.”
One factor might be superior depth. In most games, teams go in knowing if they stop another team’s option A and B, they will likely win. Problem is, both the Lynx and the Sparks have more letters in their arsenal’s alphabet. They also have options C, D and maybe E.
Both teams have the depth to take advantage of double-teams, when someone will be left open. Which might be why nine of the 10 starters in Game 2 scored in double figures.
“Every time you make a mistake, it’s a basket,” Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen said. “Every mistake is a bucket. They’re able to counter so well because they have so many good players on the floor. And the same with our team. No matter who has the ball or who’s on the floor, somebody can make a play.”
It has made for an exciting series, perhaps an agonizing one at times for fans of both teams. But for the players, this is as good as it gets.
“When you’re out there, it’s just like you appreciate the high level of basketball that’s being played,” Whalen said.
There will be times, she said, when she’ll get mad at herself after making a mistake. But when she looks at the play on tape, she can appreciate the level of skill shown by her opponent.
“I can appreciate those things,” Whalen said. “I can respect it. Because you have two great teams.”