INDIANAPOLIS – Before the game, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve told her team. Warned them, basically. If you don’t play defense this series won’t end Sunday night.
They didn’t. And it didn’t.
See you Wednesday.
“We identified before the game that, in order to win a championship, you’ve got to play great defense,” Reeve said. “We just didn’t get that done until we had the sense of urgency in the fourth quarter. It’s too late at that point.’’
So, after the Indiana Fever’s 75-69 victory in Game 4 of the WNBA finals Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the series will move to Minnesota for a final game Wednesday. It will be only the fourth time since the league went to a best-of-five format in 2005 that a series will go the distance.
There are reasons why the Fever has now won five elimination games in this postseason, and why Lynx fans should be reminded that Indiana won its conference championship on the road.
For one, the Lynx’s lack of defense. The Fever shot 49 percent overall, 61.5 percent in a third quarter that started with promise but ended with the Lynx on the verge of being run out of the building.
Another was the Lynx’s difficulty in handling the Fever’s full-court defense. Indiana coach Stephanie White had her team do more of it, and the result was a slew of Lynx turnovers.
And then, foul trouble. The Lynx were able to overcome Maya Moore’s foul trouble in Friday’s Game 3 victory. Not so Sunday. Sylvia Fowles was limited to 4-plus minutes in the first half after picking up three quick fouls. She finished the game with just two shot attempts.
Still, with the Lynx down four at halftime, Moore opened the third quarter with a three, and Fowles hit a free throw and a basket to give the Lynx a two-point lead. But, moments later, with the score tied 38-38, Fever guard Briann January drove the lane. Fowles tried to hold up to avoid a foul, but she got No. 4 and had to sit with 6:40 left.
“I honestly stopped on purpose not to foul her,” Fowles said. “But you can’t put it in the refs’ hands. You have to be smarter than that. I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’m going to go in, watch some film and see what I can do better to help my teammates out.’’
Without Fowles, the Lynx didn’t defend the rim. And the roof fell in.
Four of the Lynx’s next nine possessions ended with a turnover. The Fever, meanwhile, went 7-for-7 and got points on every possession in a 20-6 run that gave Indiana a 14-point lead.
“The game was busted open,” Moore said. “We didn’t have enough to recover from that run. That was a big run. It was the difference in the game.’’
The Lynx did rally to make the final respectable. Working harder on defense, the Lynx held Indiana to one fourth-quarter basket. But, forced to foul, the Lynx put the Fever on the line 18 times in the fourth quarter. Indiana made 15, preventing the Lynx from getting any closer than six.
January (13 points) hit seven of those free throws in the second half. Shenise Johnson (15) had three.
“We finally decided to get at it,” Reeve said. “If we’d had that sense of urgency and activity early in the game, that would have been better for us.’’
Moore finished with 20 points, seven coming in the fourth quarter. Guard Lindsay Whalen, in her best game of the series, scored 16 points, eight in the fourth. Seimone Augustus had 10.
The Fever finished with another chance. So, back to Minneapolis.
“I just challenged them,” White said. “Do you want to see the opponent hoisting up a trophy on our home floor? Or do you want to fight?’
“So back to Minneapolis.”