Entering Wednesday’s winner-take-all Game 5 the Sparks could do something that hadn’t be done since 2002, repeat as champions.
The last repeat champion fittingly was the Los Angeles Sparks who in their 2001 and subsequent 2002 titles were led by the incomparable presence in the post, Lisa Leslie. The formidable big was the force behind the repeat titles, she captured Finals MVP in both series’ as the Sparks didn’t drop a game in either Finals defeating the Sting and then the Liberty 2-0 en route to the championships.
Now, fifteen years later the Sparks were back in position to write another chapter in history for their storied franchise. After defeating Minnesota in dramatic fashion in Game 5 in 2016, it would again come down a Game 5 in 2017 to decide if the Sparks could match their own milestone and repeat as champions.
Proceedings got off to a rough start as the Lynx quickly went up 7-0 to start the game and from the onset L.A. was playing catch up, something no team likes to do, especially in a game with so much on the line.
Parker eventually opened the Sparks’ scoring account with a crafty layup and closed out the first quarter in style with a nifty floater in the lane as time expired. After one Minnesota only held a two-point edge and the Sparks were carrying the momentum into the 2nd quarter of play.
But, the second quarter began much like the beginning of the game, Minnesota increased that two-point lead to seven three minutes into the quarter and took a 41-35 lead into the break.
While L.A. did make a furious comeback late in the fourth quarter that saw the Lynx lead shrink to just three points with 34 seconds left, Maya Moore hit a clutch jumper that increased that lead back to five and from there on out the Lynx seemed destined to hoist the 2017 trophy.
“I mean, we’re sad. Obviously we lost,” Parker said postgame. “Glad everybody enjoyed the series. It was exciting. That’s all I’ve got. I think it was a good series.”
The 2016 Finals MVP didn’t go down with out a fight as she recorded a game-high 19 points, snagged a team-high 15 rebounds and dished out five assists. Throughout the course of the entire series as a whole Parker dazzled with her court vision and supplied clutch bucket after clutch bucket for L.A. when they needed them the most. Had the Sparks clawed their way back into this year’s Game 5 it likely would have been Parker joining Leslie, and Cynthia Cooper as the only back-to-back Finals MVP recipients in WNBA history.
But, Wednesday’s title game wasn’t decided on the perimeter it was won in the paint as the Lynx outrebounded the Sparks 46 to 29.
While Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles combined for 30 rebounds on their own, Parker was the only L.A. player to record double-digit rebounds, in fact no one else on the Sparks’ roster grabbed more than three. In a game, and series with talent from top to bottom on either roster the eventual winner was going to have to do the little things better than their opponent. They were going to have to make sure to crash the boards to either end a possession on one end or extend it and give it new life on the other.
“Honestly, rebounding. That hurt,” Parker said bluntly postgame. Over Games 4 and 5 L.A. was outrebounded 94-57 and as the series went on the Sparks never found an answer for Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles in the paint. She roped in a WNBA Finals record 20 rebounds in the deciding Game 5 and over the course of the last two Finals games corralled 13 offensive boards, which not only extended possessions but caused L.A. to work that much harder on the defensive side of the ball.
“I’m not a person to make excuses,” Coach Agler said postgame. “We just didn’t do what we needed to do to keep Fowles off the glass. We tried to eliminate staying in a rotation as much as we could, tried to keep bigger bodies on them, but they were persistent, more persistent than we were, especially in the first 20 minutes.”
Although the Sparks never led in Game 5 they cut the Lynx’s lead to three with 34 seconds left only to see Maya Moore spring free and hit a jumper in the the paint that saw that lead increase back up to five and the window of opportunity pass L.A. by.
“No, obviously we wanted to get a stop,” Parker said. “We got Seimone falling backcourt, Sylvia caught the ball. I was playing back I remember, and they got the ball to Maya. I tried to make it difficult, tried to mess up her steps a little bit, and she hit a tough shot.”
Going forward L.A. has a lot to build on from this gut-wrenching loss. Their two top scorers, the aforementioned Parker and Nneka Ogwumike are only 31 and 27 years old respectively and in middle of their primes. 2017 acquisition Odyssey Sims appears to be developing into one of the most dynamic guards in the league and Chelsea Gray’s fearlessness with the game on the line and the ball in her hands is undeniable.
This team has all the potential to challenge for a title in 2018, and who knows a Sparks-Lynx trilogy may be in store in the year to come.