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Live Blog: Battle of the Unbeatens in L.A.

Today’s game between the undefeated Minnesota Lynx (12-0) and Los Angeles Sparks (11-0) marks one of the most significant regular season games in league history. And it just so happens to fall on the 19th anniversary of the WNBA’s first-ever game back in 1997.

Buckle up for what should be an incredible contest between the league’s top two teams.

MORE: Recap the Lynx and Sparks Streaks

Update: 2:50 p.m. PT

What more could you ask for? The two best teams in the league, playing in one of the most highly anticipated regular season games ever, deliver a classic that came down to the last second. Literally!

And the best news of all is that we get to do it again on Friday in Minnesota.

Update: 2:45 p.m. PT

Lynx choose to foul before the Sparks can attempt a three. Parker at the line for two and she misses the first. She had to miss the second intentionally, which she did. She grabbed the offensive board, kicked out to an open Toliver for the game-tying three. It’s good! But was it a two or a three? And did she get it off in time? After a review, the basket was wiped away completely as she did not get it off in time.

Update: 2:44 p.m. PT

And the tie is broken with an awesome out-of-timeout play by Cheryl Reeve that saw Whalen drive the baseline and find an open Renee Montgomery for the corner three with 2.5 seconds left. Can L.A. answer?

Reeve calling Montgomery’s number got the approval of a WNBA Top 20@20 selection Swin Cash.

Update: 2:43 p.m. PT

The Sparks drain most of the clock with Alana Beard taking a baseline jumper that misses, the Lynx grab the rebound with 7.5 to play. Timeout Lynx to try to set up the game-winner. Two undefeated teams tied after 39 minutes and 52.5 seconds!

Update: 2:40 p.m. PT

Candace comes up empty on the three, Seimone misses the pull up from the elbow, but Fowles grabs the offensive board to keep the possession with the Lynx. That was Minnesota’s 12th offensive rebound of the game (just four for LA). Fowles get the layup of the out of bounds play to tie the game 69 with 28 seconds to play.

Update: 2:34 p.m. PT

Montgomery goes for the steal, doesn’t get it, leaves Toliver open for the three at the top of the key. She splashes it to put the Sparks up 69-67 with 2:07 to play.

No Maya on the court for the Lynx since the 7:15 mark of the fourth quarter. She will not return.

Update: 2:25 p.m. PT

After Whalen gives the Lynx the lead, the Sparks have an excellent possession with beautiful ball movement leading to a Kristi Toliver three to take the lead right back.

Update: 2:22 p.m. PT

It’s been a back and forth battle all afternoon as the score is tied for the 10th time (to go with 13 lead changes) at 63-63 with 5:47 to play. The Sparks tied the game on Lavender’s baseline jumper after Candace drew a crowd of defenders in the lane. The Lynx were unable to answer after Seimone drove the lane and found Renee Montgomery for the open corner three that didn’t drop. The Sparks missed an opportunity to take the lead as Alana Beard was unable to secure the pass from Candace Parker under the basket, which led to L.A.’s 17th turnover.

Update: 2:11 p.m. PT – End of 3rd Quarter (Tied 56-56)

Thirty minutes in the books and we are tied at 56-56 with 10 minutes to play in the showdown for first place in the West. Should we have expected anything less? Maya Moore is a +13 in her 17 minutes on the court. She has to avoid getting a fifth foul early in the fourth for the Lynx. The Sparks have one player in foul trouble, Nneka Ogwumike with four fouls as well.

Update: 2:09 p.m. PT

Maya drives and drops the dime to Natasha Howard for the layup to push the Lynx run to 7-0 and the game at 54 and force a Brian Agler timeout. Back and forth we go. Great response but the Lynx after the Sparks built their biggest lead of the game.

Update: 2:05 p.m. PT

Sparks used a 9-0 run to take a 54-47 lead and force a Lynx timeout. Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve put Maya back in the game and the Lynx have responded with five straight points to pull within two with two minutes to play in the third.

Update: 2:00 p.m. PT

With 6:25 to play in 3rd quarter, Maya Moore picked up fourth personal with an offensive foul. Great job by Alana Beard to take the hit and get the Lynx star off the floor.

Sparks taking advantage of her absence to take the lead and dialing up the defense.

After misses by both teams, Parker picks Jia Perkins’ pocket, Nneka Ogwumike recovers and finds Parker for the wide-open layup to put the Sparks up 49-47. The Sparks continue to hound the Lynx ball handlers, with Alana Beard picking Whalen’s pocket on the very next possession and forcing a jump ball.

Update: 1:48 p.m. PT

Takeaways from the first half

  • The Lynx have some foul trouble to keep an eye on with Moore and Fowles both with three personals in the first half
  • Neither team has shot the ball well with the Sparks at 43.3% and the Lynx at just 41.7%. Keep in mind that these are the top two shooting teams in the league with the Sparks shooting a league-best 49.5% and the Lynx just behind at 48.4%.
  • And that doesn’t even mention the 3-point line. After Kristi Toliver hit an open three for the first bucket of the game, the teams have combined to go 0-of-12 from beyond the arc since.
  • One key advantage for each team in the first half – Sparks getting to the line more frequently (12-of-17 from the line compared to 8-13 for Minnesota); Lynx are dominating the boards 24-15, including a 9-3 advantage on the offensive glass that has led to 10 second-chance points.

 

Update: 1:35 p.m. PT – End First Half (Sparks 39, Lynx 38)

The Sparks end the first half with some outstanding defense. The first came with Candace Parker blocking Jia Perkins’ layup on the Minnesota fast break. The Lynx had the ball with 20 seconds to play and were holding for the final shot and clinging to a one-point lead. Then Essence Carson picked Whalen’s pocket and raced down the court to beat the buzzer with a layup to give the Sparks a 39-38 lead as the teams head to the locker rooms.

Update: 1:32 p.m. PT

After Minnesota grabbed the offensive rebound off a Sylvia Fowles missed free throw, Chelsea Gray got the steal from Lindsay Whalen and pushed the ball in transition, finding Alana Beard trailing for the layup to put the Sparks up 37-36 with 1:25 to play for their first lead since hitting the opening bucket of the game.

Update: 1:28 p.m. PT

Score has updated in the arena to 36-34 as this 3-point shot by Maya Moore was ruled to come after the shot clock expired. Between the three being wiped away, a technical foul on the Minnesota coaching staff, the Sparks are now within one with less than two minutes to play in the opening half.

Update: 1:25 p.m. PT

The Lynx were up six when Maya Moore exited the game with 6:56 to play in the second quarter. The Lynx scored on their next possession to push the lead to eight, but the Sparks have responded with five straight to pull within three with 3:20 to play.

With a chance to pull within one on the fast break the Sparks turned the ball over and Seimone Augustus made them pay to push the lead back up to five.

The Lynx are still scoring, but you can definitely tell when Maya Moore is not on the floor. The precision offense that we saw earlier is not the same when Moore is on the bench.

Update: 1:20 p.m. PT

Nneka Ogwumike, who has been on fire over the last four games, just got her first bucket of the game with 6:22 left in the first half. She has seven points (5-6 FG) as the Sparks continue to trail by seven points.

The Sparks have a golden opportunity in front of them with Maya Moore having already picked up her third foul and will likely be on the Lynx bench for the remainder of the half. Can L.A. take advantage of her absence?

Update: 1:08 p.m. PT, End of 1st Quarter (Lynx 25, Sparks 21)

In the closing seconds of the opening quarter, Rebekkah Brunson blocked the shot of Jantel Lavender, but Candace Parker recovered the miss in the lane and rose up over Seimone Augustus for the jumper as the shot clock expired. That pulled the Sparks to within four and Janel McCarville’s missed three from the top of the key ended the period.

A few takeaways from the opening quarter

  • Minnesota seems to be the quicker team and playing with more precision on offense
  • Sparks have made just five field goals (compared to 10 for Lynx), but have gotten their points from the free throw line (10-14) to keep them close.

Here are a few top plays from the first quarter

Update – 12:45 p.m. PT

After Kristi Toliver hit the first shot of the game – an open corner three off a nice dish from Alana Beard, the Lynx have scored eight straight to take a 8-3 advantage and force Sparks coach Brian Agler to call his first timeout.

Update: 12:40 p.m PT

A few numbers to know as things get underway.

The Sparks have the top offense (109.9 points per 100 possessions) and top defense (89.8) with the Lynx right behind them at No. 2 in both categories – 109.1 offensive rating and 91.8 defensive rating.

And speaking of stats, what about the ridiculous numbers that Nneka Ogwumike has been putting up lately. She has made 36 of her last 45 shots (80.0%) over the last four games. Will that continue against the like of Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles?

And of course there is the number four, with four of the WNBA Top 20@20 on the floor at the same time right now – Candace Parker from the Sparks and the Lynx trio of Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen.


Update: 12:35 p.m. PT

It’s about that time. National anthem has been sung, starting lineups have been announced and all that’s left to do is toss up the jump ball and get this Showdown underway.


12:15 PM PT: Tip-Off Nearing at STAPLES Center

Been inside the STAPLES Center for the last 90 minutes and we’re just 30 minutes away from tip-off of today’s showdown between the Sparks and Lynx.

Thus far, it has been business as usual for both teams as they go through their normal pregame routines. Both teams were loose during their warm-ups, laughing and joking with their teammates as they put up shots, foam-rolled and stretched out.

The doors have opened and the kids are pouring in, with groups of cheering boys and girls sitting together in matching t-shirts and ready to witness history. It’s great that so many of these kids weren’t even alive when the WNBA debuted on this day 20 years ago. They have never known a world without professional women’s basketball.


12:00 PM PT: Introduction

Today’s Sparks-Lynx game marks the first time in history that two teams from the WNBA, NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL have met with each team having 10 or more wins, no losses and no ties.

That stat from Elias sets the stage for the biggest regular season game in the history of the WNBA, and it just so happens to fall on the anniversary of the WNBA’s first game back in 1997.

“For sure that makes it extra special,” said Minnesota’s Maya Moore as she stretched out on the baseline before getting some shots up to warm up for today’s matchup between her 12-0 Lynx and the 11-0 Sparks.

“It’s just another reason to remember the awesome shoulders that we stand on and where we came from and just the excitement that is still building.”

We are one-third of the way through the 2016 WNBA season and neither of these teams has suffered a loss, with a combined 23-0 record heading into today’s game. Of course, that will change over the course of the next few hours.

One team will leave the STAPLES Center still undefeated and will have the “bragging rights” as Maya called them for at least a few days. The schedule-makers made us wait five weeks for the first meeting between these two powerhouses, but we only have to wait until Friday for the rematch in Minnesota.

The Lynx and Sparks have been 1-2 in the WNBA.com Power Rankings for weeks, with the Lynx holding the top spot since the season opened. It’s hard to knock the defending champion off the perch of the rankings if they haven’t lost a game and just broke their own record for the best start in league history.

But the Sparks have a case that they have been the best team this season — the numbers are on their side as the Sparks own both the top offense and top defense in the league and are winning games by an average of 15.5 points, topping the Lynx’s 13.6 mark.

We’re close to finally settling this debate on the court rather than on the keyboard.