LOS ANGELES – For the second straight year, the Los Angeles Sparks will have to go to Minnesota to try to capture the WNBA title.
To do so they will need to rebound from a disappointing 80-69 loss in Game 4 at Staples Center on Sunday night.
Rebound is the word of the day. Not only do the Sparks need to bounce back with a better performance on Wednesday night, but they also need to actually rebound the basketball after being outclassed on the glass 48-28 in Game 4.
The 20-rebound margin is the largest in the history of the WNBA Finals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
While the 20-rebound margin is the record, the key number that the Sparks will dissect over the next 48 hours is 16. The Sparks allowed the Lynx to grab 16 offensive rebounds, which led to a 21-5 edge in second-chance points.
“We have to box out and we have to rebound,” said Sparks forward Candace Parker, who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds. “It’s no secret they killed us on the glass and we’re not going to win many games giving up 16 offensive rebounds.”
Throughout the game, the Sparks would defend the Lynx’s initial offensive set well, but were unable to secure the rebound and ended up giving up second and third chances that Minnesota would eventually cash in.
“We fought, but we can do all the fighting we want. If we don’t rebound, it’s pointless,” said Parker. “We had defensive stops and then we gave up 16 offensive rebounds – that’s 16 times they got the ball again off of a missed shot. And you’re not going to win like that.”
“Rebounding is definitely a focus for us against this team,” added Alana Beard. “Coach mentioned it before the game. He mentioned it a month ago that it could be the death of us, but we have to figure out a way to get it done.”
“It’s no secret they killed us on the glass and we’re not going to win many games giving up 16 offensive rebounds.”
– Candace Parker
Beard said she is eager to watch the film and look at the Sparks’ positioning on those missed rebounds to see what they can clean up tactically along with bringing a greater effort to the glass.
“I think it was a little bit of both – positioning and activity,” she said. “I mean, they crashed the boards, they were relentless on the boards. Sometimes we would have our hands on the ball and they would come in and poke it out or tip it and then pick up the ball and get an easy bucket. We can’t allow that.”
Reviewing the film will also show that the Sparks allowed the Lynx to secure an offensive rebound off a missed free throw five times on Sunday. Those plays won’t fall under the category of being out of position, since the positioning is predetermined. When told of that stat in the locker room after the game, Beard let out a disappointing sigh before answering the question.
“Uh, that’s got to be better,” she said. “It’s demoralizing because that’s an emphasis, that’s something that we literally focus on when we’re preparing for this team.”
The Sparks’ inability to secure defensive rebounds hurt them on both sides of the ball. By giving up extra shots and surrendering second-chance buckets, the Sparks were constantly taking the ball out of the basket to initiate their offense.
The Sparks’ offense is at its best when they are pushing the ball in transition; they finished with only eight fast break points on Sunday. Instead they constantly had to go up against a set Minnesota defense that was difficult to penetrate.
“We’ve got to make things happen and do a better job of flow,” said Parker. “I just really feel like we didn’t play like ourselves tonight.”
In addition to struggling on the boards, the Sparks were also ice cold from the 3-point line as they shot 5-of-22 as a team, which included a Riquna Williams trey in the final 10 seconds and the outcome well in hand.
Outside of that shot, only Odyssey Sims connected on a 3-pointer. She finished 4-7 from beyond the arc, while the rest of her teammates were 1-15 on the night.
Despite the long-range shooting woes and rebounding disparity, the Sparks made a second-half run to get back into the game – just like each team has done all series long.
After cutting the lead to eight points with 2:09 to play – Ogwumike missed an and-one free throw that could have cut it to seven – the Sparks set up their defense knowing they needed to play mistake-free ball the rest of the way.
After a strong defensive possession, Lindsay Whalen launched a 3-pointer that missed and rebounded long. With the ball in the air and a chance to get the rebound, go back on offense and try to make it a two-possession game, the Sparks were unable to keep Rebekkah Brunson from getting to the ball first. L.A. poked the ball away, but it went right to Maya Moore, who cut to the rim for a layup and foul by Parker. Moore made the ensuing free throw to push the lead back to 11 with 1:45 to play.
The Sparks were able to get it down to eight points again with 57 seconds remaining. They fouled Seimone Augustus, who went to the free throw line and missed both attempts, but Sylvia Fowles was able to overpower Parker for the offensive rebound and putback to ice the game.
Now both teams will fly to Minnesota on Monday and get ready for a winner-take-all affair on Wednesday. They will watch video to see their mistakes, practice to try to clean them up, and be prepared for a 40-minute fight for the championship.
“I’m tired of making adjustments after a loss, you know. Let’s make some adjustments with ourselves after we win,” said Parker. “But it is what it is; we’ve got one more game left.”
Wednesday’s game will be the 10th between these teams over the past two championship series. Over the first nine games, neither team has been able to win two games in a row.
Last year, the Sparks won Games 1, 3 and 5 while the Lynx won Games 2 and 4. This year, the first four games have played out the same way, with the losing team making adjustments, coming back and winning the next game.
“I’m not surprised by it by any means,” said Beard of the teams trading wins over the last two Finals. “It’s two extremely competitive teams that are coached extremely well with a lot of talent. So I’m not surprised by us not being able to win back-to-back games. Now it’s on to Game 5. May the best team win.”