After a hard-fought victory, amid ice bags and tired players slumped in their chairs, the mutual admiration society moved into full gear.
Center Sylvia Fowles, in the Lynx uniform she spent a half-season waiting for, marveled at Maya Moore’s ability to close the door on Minnesota’s 82-76 victory over Los Angeles. Two locker stalls down, Moore tried to describe how nice it is to play with a big, athletic, active center.
“She’s an energy player,” said Moore, who scored 27 points on a night when her shot wasn’t always falling. But they did, of course, when it mattered. “Not your typical center, who is kinda maybe bigger and slower and methodical. She’s powerful. And it’s going to get better.”
Wednesday’s game at Target Center could have been a playoff preview. Don’t laugh. Yes, the Lynx (13-4) have the WNBA’s best record and the Sparks (3-14) the worst.
But in this game, Fowles — only days after the trade that brought her here — wasn’t the only player making her debut. Perennial All-Star Candace Parker made her season debut with the Sparks, and Alana Beard returned after an extended absence because of a foot injury. The consensus around the league is that the Sparks at full strength are a team to be reckoned with.
And they were Wednesday.
Parker had 12 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in her return. The Sparks got double-figure scoring from three other players and shot 56.4 percent — tops by a Lynx opponent this season.
But, once again, the Lynx responded. Moore shot 9-for-22 overall, but she hit half of her three-pointers and had two game-sealing baskets late. Guard Lindsay Whalen, back after missing a game because of an eye injury, donned goggles and scored 24 points with six assists.
Fowles, who played 26 minutes — about six more than coach Cheryl Reeve wanted — scored 11 points with five rebounds. She was one of four Lynx starters with three steals.
“Me, Maya and Sylvia, I think we’re going to be a great, great rebounding team,” said Rebekkah Brunson after the Lynx posted a 90.9 defensive rebounding percentage. How did the Lynx win despite allowing the Sparks to shoot so well? By forcing 22 Sparks turnovers and by allowing Los Angeles only two offensive rebounds.
“It was feast or famine,” Reeve said. “We either turned them over or they scored. But that is a good basketball team. With new personnel, our rotations were not what we want them to be.”
But it should get better. Fowles promised to be better by Friday’s game against Tulsa.
“Tonight was good,” Fowles said. “I think I passed, for the most part.”
Ahead 10 early in the fourth, the Lynx lead was pared to three on two Parker free throws with 2:31 left. Ten seconds later, Lynx guard Anna Cruz left the game because of a turned right ankle; afterward Cruz said she hoped to play Friday.
But Moore took over. Beard was called for traveling, then Moore scored on a driving layup with 1:55 left. After Kristi Toliver missed a 15-footer, Moore hit a 7-foot baseline jumper to put the Lynx ahead seven with 1:18 left.
That’s why Fowles wanted to come here, to be with players such as Moore who close out games.
“Maya is really gritty player,” Fowles said. “That’s something you can appreciate about being here. Her energy level is ridiculous. When she knocked those two down? That’s what Maya does.”