That Los Angeles would make a run was inevitable. Had to happen. For five days the Lynx and the Sparks had traded runs, traded punches, traded wins.
An 11-point Lynx lead in the third quarter had dwindled to six entering the fourth. Only 62 seconds into the fourth it was down to one when Candace Parker, L.A.’s scoring machine, made two free throws.
But that’s where it ended. With an effort that went deep into coach Cheryl Reeve’s bench, with a connected attack that was both reminiscent of the past and promising for the future, the Lynx fought off the Sparks 91-80, closing the game and closing the best-of-three Western Conference semifinals in front of 9,014 at Target Center. It put the Lynx into the Western Conference finals for a fifth consecutive season; the team will open the best-of-three series against Phoenix on Thursday at Target Center.
“It felt like vintage Lynx basketball,” Reeve said. “That was the Lynx team I was hoping for.’’
Four of five Lynx starters scored in double figures: Maya Moore (20), Seimone Augustus (16), Sylvia Fowles (13) and Lindsay Whalen (14). But it didn’t stop there. Anna Cruz came off the bench to score nine and play killer defense. Devereaux Peters played perhaps the best game of her career, scoring 12 points with three blocks.
Yes, this was vintage Lynx — outrebounding the Sparks by 13, outscoring them 22-4 on second-chance points, more than doubling L.A.’s points at the free-throw line, scoring 20 points off 15 Sparks turnovers.
“They put a lot of pressure on us,” L.A. coach Brian Agler said. “And we didn’t deal with it very well.’’
Parker scored 28 points with 13 rebounds and four assists. She also got called for a technical late in the game when the winner was still in doubt. Teammates Kristi Toliver and Nneka Ogwumie each scored 12.
In Sunday’s loss in Los Angeles, after being destroyed by the Sparks in the second quarter, the Lynx came out and played a wonderful second half, cutting a 22-point Sparks lead to four in the fourth. They didn’t win that game. But they might have gotten back something more important: their swagger, with Whalen leading the way.
“She had her swag back,” Reeve said. “When Lindsay Whalen provides the leadership she did tonight …”
Good things happen.
Up only one, the Lynx took the game back. Fowles, who had struggled in the series, led the way, scoring nine of her 13 points down the stretch. But it was a team effort. “It was a familiar feeling, and it felt really good to actually do it,” Moore said.
Talk about good timing. And now, bring on Phoenix in a rematch of last year’s conference finals.
“It’s that time of year,” Whalen said. “We’ve got to make plays, step up. Our group did that tonight.
“We’ll enjoy it a couple of hours, then get ready for Thursday night.’’