In her last regular season game in Los Angeles, Lynx center Sylvia Fowles was almost perfect. The rest of her team?
In their constant quest to try and make the WNBA playoffs, Lynx beat Sparks 84-77 on Sunday to begin their three-game road trip 2-0. And they won as much as they did in Atlanta on Thursday.
This is good, not good.
The good: The Lynx shot 54.4%, beat Sparks and nearly led start to finish, securing a season series lead over Sparks, which could prove to be an important tiebreaker. And defended, they’re pretty much starting to finish.
Not so good: Lynx let a 20-point lead with less than 6 minutes left in the game cut back to five minutes with 50.6 seconds left thanks to turnovers (Los Angeles scored 26 points from 20 Lynx turns) and a couple of late scandalous calls that helped cause Sparks. (Although, to be fair – and Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was quick to point out – it appeared that Sparks star Nika Ogomyek had actually shocked Lynx forward Jessica Shepherd with a single ball under the net and managed not to be sent off.)
But it was a victory.
“I’m elated,” said Reeve. This is a team that is hanging out there, trying to control our destiny. We understand how difficult it is. But we are not focused on that. We want to be the best we can.”
Lynx (12-19) pulled out in a match from eighth place Sparks (12-17) in the fight for the last place of the WNBA. Minnesota, with five games remaining, is half a game behind ninth-placed Atlanta (12-18) and half a game behind seventh-placed Phoenix.
Lynx holds the tiebreaker on both Mercury and Sparks because they won the season series against both teams. Lynx split two games with Dream, with one game remaining.
It won’t be easy. Lynx has five matches left. Two against fourth-placed Seattle, including a game there Wednesday. There’s a game with Phoenix, one with Atlanta and a season-ending home game with third-placed Connecticut.
But the lynx, Reeve said, was starting to play with identity. That includes defense, another stellar performance from Fowles and a steady return from base, Maurya Jefferson.
Fowles was 8-9 for 16 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes, becoming the fifth player in league history with more than 2,500 field goals.
What does that mean to her? “That means I’m kind of old,” she said. “But I am grateful for every second.”
This stellar competence was due in large part to Jefferson’s aggressive play. Jefferson scored 22 points on a 9-14 shot. That included his best 16 points in the first half. It was Jefferson and Fowles who helped Lynx shoot nearly 70% while scoring 52 points in the first half. With Jefferson’s sore knee healing, her game is starting to take off.
“My job is to be aggressive,” she said.
Unfortunately, that only put them at nine at the break. But Lynx pushed that to 14 after three and up to 20 before things got crazy.
But here’s another way to think about Sunday’s victory: Playing on the road, against a team desperate for a win like theirs, Lynx beat Sparks despite outselling Sparks 26-9 on points and 19-4 on second chance. points.
She does so with defense, and Los Angeles holds under 40% of the shot. And, as Fowles said, with a little boldness. Kayla McBride added 15 points. Rachel Banham scored 10. That was enough to give Sparks their third loss in a row despite 23 points from Ogomic and 15 from Britney Sykes.
“Let’s not forget, this is the last year for Sale,” Reeve said. “We are trying very hard to give it another chance in the playoffs.”
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using television broadcasts and video interviews before and/or after the match.