For much of the game — with one 10-minute exception — coach Cheryl Reeve was relatively satisfied with the way the Lynx played on offense Sunday vs. the Los Angeles Sparks.
Defense? Well …
Not quite as much.
That was atop a list of things Reeve was set to discuss with her team during a late-afternoon film session Monday. Sunday’s 81-71 loss to the Sparks in Long Beach, Calif., hinged on a disastrous second quarter. And even though her team cut a 22-point second-quarter deficit to as few as four in the fourth quarter, the Lynx were unable to close out the best-of-three Western Conference semifinals because they just didn’t play defense well enough.
“I think more than anything, today is a mental day of looking at the game in great detail,” Reeve said prior to heading into the film session. “And reminding them of what L.A. is trying to do at both ends. Then we’ll come in [Tuesday] and be ready to go.”
The Lynx opened the series with a two-point victory Friday despite a very shaky second quarter. Sunday, the Sparks led by a point after a quarter, then outscored the Lynx 29-12 in the second quarter. The lead grew to as many as 22 points. The Lynx stormed back in the third and got to within four in the fourth quarter, but the comeback ran out of steam.
Sparks star forward Candace Parker scored 25 points with 10 rebounds and six assists. Also hurting the Lynx was backup guard Ana Dabovic, who hit three of four three-pointers and six of nine free throws on her way to a career-high 19 points.
“We had no answer for her, unfortunately,” Reeve said. “It wasn’t like we didn’t talk about her. Our guard defense, and in the post, in pick-and-roll scenarios struggled. [Dabovic] played great, and we just didn’t get it done.”
If defense is at the top of the list for problems, it is not the only item. The team still needs more from center Sylvia Fowles, who has taken only 12 shots in two playoff games. The Lynx are having a problem getting her the ball in the right spots, at times forcing it when she is double-covered rather than looking for another open shot. On the other hand, Reeve believes that Fowles needs to be more assertive.
Forward Rebekkah Brunson needs to stay out of the foul trouble that plagued her Sunday. Brunson is the team’s best post defender, and she has the best chance of keeping Parker in check. Parker needed 16 shots to score 16 points in the opener. Sunday, with Brunson limited by foul trouble, Parker dominated.
The Lynx can’t afford another lackluster defensive effort in Game 3.
“It’s where we’ve hung our hats all season,” Reeve said. “We didn’t win a closeout game [on Sunday] because we weren’t at the high level we needed to be at.”
The series will be decided Tuesday, with the winner facing a rested Phoenix team, which wrapped up its series with Tulsa in two games.
The Lynx are 17-2 overall in home playoff games. Under Reeve that number is 16-1. To keep that going the team will have to tighten up defending the pick and rolls, avoid a second-quarter lull, and keep the ball moving on offense. If not, the team’s four-year run of making the Western Conference finals will end.
“We’ve been in this situation before, and we understand what it’s all about,” Reeve said. “It comes down to [not giving] them their first, second or third option. Now the shot clock is at 10, and you have play one-on-one and know tendencies. We were awful at that [Sunday].’’