In looking at her team’s WNBA Finals matchup against Los Angeles, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve knew the two teams would be evenly matched in many ways. One set of numbers, though, stood out as something that could give the Lynx a significant edge.
In three regular-season games, the Lynx outrebounded the Sparks 105-86, including a 26-16 edge on the offensive boards. They have followed suit in the Finals, and their supremacy in Tuesday’s Game 2 was a major factor in a 79-60 victory. The Lynx grabbed 46 rebounds to the Sparks’ 32, and their 13 offensive rebounds helped them score 17 second-chance points.
That strength on the boards was part of an overall defensive effort that evened the best-of-five series, which resumes Friday in Los Angeles.
“They gave themselves second opportunities at some critical times,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said. “That definitely played into the outcome of the game.
“When the ball was up on the glass, they went and got it. For us to win another game in this series, or win the series, we’re going to have to be more competitive on the boards.”
In Game 2, the Lynx held the Sparks to 60 points — tying the lowest output of the season for a team that averaged 83 points per game during the regular season. They bottled up Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike inside, limiting her to six shots, as the Lynx post players stayed in front of her and made it harder for her to receive passes. Sylvia Fowles had 15 rebounds and lifted her playoff average to 10.4 per game, while Maya Moore added 12.
Ogwumike said rebounding has been a point of emphasis for the Sparks all season. Though she thought the Sparks defense did a good job of contesting shots and limiting the Lynx’s options, she noted the Lynx were able to stretch their lead through their strength on the offensive boards.
“The play isn’t over until you secure the rebound,” said Ogwumike, who had 12 rebounds in Game 2. “And because we weren’t able to secure the rebound, it gave them a lot of second-chance points that we didn’t allow in the first game, especially down the stretch.”
The 19-point margin was the Lynx’s largest in 10 postseason games against the Sparks. Los Angeles guard Kristi Toliver was second-guessing herself after the game, in part because her team was second-guessing during it.
Toliver said the Sparks sometimes overthought things on offense; instead of pulling the trigger on a good shot, they would hesitate and look for another option. That vein of doubt made a poor shooting night even worse. Candace Parker made only three of 12 shots, and Toliver three of 14.
The Sparks shot 25 percent in the fourth quarter — with those two stars missing all six of their chances — and were 3-for-20 from three-point range.
“Everybody has to do a better job of helping one another,” Toliver said. “Sometimes it’s hard in an environment like [Tuesday’s game]. It just feels like everything is going a mile a minute. You have to just take a pause sometimes, and we didn’t.’’
Toliver said the goal was to win one of the two opening games at Target Center, and the Sparks still feel good about their chances as they head home. Game 3 is at Galen Center on the University of Southern California campus, and Game 4 is Sunday at Staples Center.
No matter the venue, Agler warned that his team will have to quickly improve its rebounding.
“When the ball goes up on the glass, we’ve got to find a way to be more competitive and stay in plays with them,” he said. “Our guards are going to need to rebound defensively a little bit more.
“[The Lynx] are a good rebounding team. That’s not necessarily a great strength of ours. But we’ve got to be more competitive there.”