LOS ANGELES – Candace Parker wears her credo on her right arm, a permanently inked reminder of how to maintain her cool and poise in any situation. Inside a circle formed by the words “right foot’’ and “left foot’’ lies one simple instruction: Breathe.
That’s sound advice for both Los Angeles and the Lynx heading into Sunday’s Game 4 of the WNBA Finals. Parker, the Sparks center, knows her team cannot allow itself to be overwhelmed by the stakes as it tries to claim its first league championship since 2002. The Lynx, down 2-1 in the best-of-five series and facing elimination, must regain their footing on defense and forget about their woeful performance in Friday’s 92-75 loss.
Parker promised the Sparks would take nothing for granted in Game 4 at Staples Center. She said they have to play like “our backs are against the wall,” hoping to avoid a return to Target Center for Game 5.
The Lynx have no choice. The goal they have chased all season — becoming the first team to win consecutive league titles since the Sparks in 2001-02 — will be lost Sunday unless they can take a deep breath, move forward and rediscover the form that got them this far.
“You have to approach it like any other game,’’ said guard Seimone Augustus, who scored nine points Friday and has only 29 in the series. “But you know in the back of your mind, this is it. There is no tomorrow if you aren’t able to pull it off.
“The aggression, the intensity, the focus, the execution, the details, all of that has to be on point [Sunday]. I hope we can channel our inner strength and figure out what we need to do. Who wants it more, that’s the bottom line.”
Coach Cheryl Reeve was livid after Friday’s loss, calling her team “soft” and “feeble.” She had calmed down before Saturday’s practice at Staples Center, but she wasn’t any less frank about a game in which the Lynx trailed by 22 points in the first quarter.
She said their effort Friday was hard to watch and even harder to understand. They failed to match the Sparks’ ferocity, folded often under heavy defensive pressure and couldn’t hold on to the ball, committing 13 turnovers that the Sparks converted into 24 points.
Augustus said the Lynx had a sound game plan and felt ready. Still, many of the mistakes were the same kind that hurt them in a 78-76 loss in Game 1, when the Lynx were undone by 15 turnovers and spotty defense. Many of Friday’s turnovers came near the three-point line, which enabled the Sparks to quickly get upcourt for easy baskets. The Lynx also were consistently outmuscled inside, allowing the Sparks to score 52 points in the paint and outrebound them for the first time in the series.
Augustus took some comfort in the Lynx’s resolve, noting they cut the deficit to eight at the half. Maya Moore, who scored only nine points Friday, said they must be prepared for the Sparks to come after them just as hard in Game 4.
“They take chances sometimes, trying to create havoc,” Moore said. “We have to be able to handle that and find the openings. When we can get through some of those initial lines of chaotic pressure, we can get open looks. We have to swing the momentum back in our favor by breaking that pressure.”
The Lynx also hope to turn up the pressure on the Sparks, a scenario Los Angeles was preparing for in Saturday’s practice. Moore said the Lynx must remain locked in defensively.
In Game 4, Parker finally broke loose, scoring 24 points. Though much has been made of the Lynx’s experience in the Finals, the Sparks have insisted their hunger for the franchise’s first title in 14 years gives them a counterbalance. As much as they want to win, Parker said her team will have to maintain the poise that has grounded it throughout the season.
“It’s very special to be in this moment, and it’s an opportunity I’m definitely not taking for granted,” she said. “[The Lynx] are a great team. There is no way they’re going to fall apart. Our motto has been, we’re going to do what we do and live with the results.”
Reeve said her team’s experience won’t matter if the Lynx don’t seize the moment Sunday.
“We want to make sure we have no regrets at the end of the series,” Moore said. “This is a big test for us. It’s the Finals. It’s supposed to be hard.”