– Not surprisingly, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was rather blunt afterward.

Another poor start. A game's worth of offensive inertia. And, just when it looked like a makeshift small lineup that included rookie guard Alexis Jones was going to push the Lynx back into this game, a collapse on the Staples Center floor.

Los Angeles Sparks 75, Lynx 64.

The Lynx fell behind by 11 early and never led in the third game of the best-of-five WNBA Finals. The Sparks took a 2-1 lead and can close the series out here Sunday for their fourth championship and second in a row. The Lynx need a win to extend this series to five games.

Not as fiery as she has been after losses in the past, Reeve was subdued but direct. Eschewing an opening statement, she took on the first question that came her way.

What happened?

"A more active L.A. team," she said. "An anemic offense that was not prepared for how hard the game was going to be. Our starters didn't compete in the way we'd hoped to start the game. L.A. set the tone, and we couldn't get responses from them."

It should be noted that the Lynx defense showed up, holding the Sparks to 41 percent shooting in the second half, just over 30 percent in the fourth quarter.

But the offense?

It didn't help that Moore had to sit for much of the second quarter after getting her third foul. It allowed Sparks defensive specialist Alana Beard to switch to Augustus and the Lynx were unable to find an answer.

"I always enjoy watching Alana defend great players," Sparks coach Brian Agler said. "I mean, even if she gets scored on, you know she's doing everything possible to stay in the play.''

Still, down just eight to start the fourth quarter, Moore scored the first five points in a 7-0 run that ended with Renee Montgomery jumper with 6:57 left, making it 56-55. But that's as close as it got. The Sparks finished the game on a 17-7 run.

The Lynx trailed by 11 early and never found an offensive rhythm. Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus were all held scoreless in the first half. Moore finished with 16, but Whalen and Augustus never got a point.

It was the first time in Augustus' career that she had gone scoreless in a playoff game.

"I mean, we stuck with it," Sparks forward Candace Parker said. "They're tough players, you just try to make things tough.

"We're not going to hold Maya scoreless for the first half; I think fouls had a lot to do with it. You pick up a couple fouls, it kind of plays with your mind.''

In a series that has favored the team that punches first, this one went to Los Angeles, which had four starters in double figures, led by Nneka Ogwumike and Odyssey Sims with 16 each. The Lynx got 15 points and 11 rebounds from Sylvia Fowles.

But it was a small lineup that often included both Renee Montgomery (12 points) and Jones (nine) that gave the Lynx a chance in the fourth.

And that has to change.

"It's hard to win WNBA Finals games without your star players," Reeve said. "In this series, we've seen the team that has the starters that outplay the other starters wins the game. So we do find that important.

"I am appreciative of the group that was in there, battling, that gave us a chance to win the game."

The clincher might have come with the Sparks leading 59-57. The Lynx had a good possession, getting three shots, but missing them all. Ogwumike hit two free throws at the other end. After a Montgomery turnover, Parker hit a three and the door slammed shut.

And now the Lynx need a victory Sunday to force a deciding Game 5 at home.

Los Angeles shot 42.9 percent from the field, the Lynx 40.3 percent.

The Sparks also had a 34-27 edge in rebounds and 19-13 in assists. And they got to the free throw line more often, making 16 of 19 foul shots while the Lynx were 7-for-10.

Montgomery was asked what adjustments needed to be made. "Our season is on the line," she said. "The adjustment is, there is no adjustment. You just play like it's your last game.''

In a silent postgame locker room Augustus pledged to do better, and Fowles sounded defiant.

"We're going to get back and watch film,'' Fowles said. "We're going to go over some things for Game 4. And we're going to make sure we get this win on Sunday and get back to Minny."