LOS ANGELES – Just hours before tip off of Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, the L.A. Sparks and Minnesota Lynx were on the Staples Center court to go through their final preparations for tonight’s pivotal game. The Sparks are one win away from successfully defending their championship, while the Lynx look to send the series back to Minnesota for a winner-take-all Game 5.
Sparks Team Vibe Heading Into Game 4
The Sparks enter Game 4 in the same position as they did a year ago, leading the series 2-1 with a chance to clinch the title on their home floor. Of course, we all know how last year played out, with Minnesota taking Game 4 and sending the series back to Minnesota, forcing the Sparks to win the title on the road.
When asked about the team’s mindset heading into tonight’s game versus that of a year ago, Nneka Ogwumike had the best recollection of the group.
“We’re definitely calmer [this year] without a doubt,” she said. “Last year we talked about how we celebrated after Game 3 like we had won [the title], but it was like so new for us so you know, everything was new for everybody, it was the first Finals for everyone on that team. So we were in our feelings last year, but this year it’s definitely different; not to say that we’re not excited, but you know it’s not over.”
For Candace Parker, she doesn’t recall how she and the team felt before the game because it was overshadowed by the disappointment that came after the loss.
“Honestly, Game 4 last year is a blur,” she said. “I just remember after the game, that’s my best memory. It’s a blur. It all kind of runs together, but you know our goal all year has been to put ourselves in a position to win a championship and we’ve done that so now you just have to trust what you’ve done in preparation and go out there and play.”
She admits that the team was a bit “giddy” after winning Game 3 during last year’s series.
“I mean you learn so many lessons,” she said. “Last year, we were a little bit like we got over the hump of Game 3, but now we know in Game 4 it’s going to be harder.
“You have to have that appropriate fear, you have to know that your opponent is great and there’s a reason why they’re here and it doesn’t matter where we play. And I think [our teams] have that mutual respect and that mutual appropriate fear of each other.”
Ogwumike said the Sparks are a bit more business-like heading into this year’s Game 4 than they were a year ago.
“A bit, but not so serious because to me when you take things way to seriously you become too tense,” she said. “So I think it’s a great balance. We’re just coming out and trying to win a game today.”
Lynx Must Assert Rather Than React
A key to L.A. success in Game 3 was the ball pressure that the Sparks guards put on the Lynx. Odyssey Sims, in particular, applied outstanding ball pressure throughout the game that completely threw off the timing of the Lynx’s offense.
“It sure does; that’s why coaches want it,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. “Defensive-minded coaches want ball pressure. If you listen to [Sparks coach] Brian [Agler] its all he’s talking about. Whether its Sims versus Whay [Lindsay Whalen] and Renee [Montgomery], it doesn’t matter what position, ball pressure is critical to the success of a possession.”
Part of Reeve’s frustration in Game 3 was how the Lynx were unable to deal with the ball pressure like they did in the first two games of the series.
“It wasn’t anything new,” she said. “It wasn’t surprising but sometimes another team’s will dictates what happens, if your will doesn’t at least match it.”
Part of matching the will of the opponent is being the first to attack, rather than reacting to what they are doing to you.
“We’ve talked about that, use their pressure against them, for sure,” said Reeve. “But sometimes you don’t have the physical gifts to do it and it comes down to who is hitting first in the possession.”
Reeve then took a step back from the interview and to demonstrate as she talked about what was seeing versus what she wants to see in Game 4.
“If Whay comes up and she’s in more of a call-a-play mode and Sims is attacking her then Whay is going to do this [Reeve takes a step back with her dribble], versus if Whay comes up and goes ‘hey you want to get up on me like that, then we can play and go’ [Reeve mimics a crossover move while moving forward].
“There’s a difference in a mindset. We were more in a play-calling mindset. So we’ve got to be in a break-a-play-to-make-a-play mindset against these guys. And we did it well for two games, except for the first eight minutes of Game 1.
“This is not about running pretty offense at this point – for either team. L.A. played out of their offense, they didn’t score on their primary options, they scored because they kept playing.”
Reeve said she expects a more back-and-forth affair tonight as opposed to the wild swings that played out in the first three games.
“This should be the game that you see just great play, from their starters and from our starters,” she said.
Ogwumike said she wants to avoid another rollercoaster ride in tonight’s game.
“I would hope that we can manage the tide more so than ride the waves,” she said.