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Practice Report: Lynx Look to Match Sparks’ Desperation in Must-Win Game 4

LOS ANGELES — Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve got a little wistful as she thought about the effort the Sparks brought to Game 3 of the WNBA Finals the previous night.

“It’s an L.A. team that hasn’t won a championship with this group. There’s a newness to what you’re going after and your desire to achieve it,” Reeve said before her team convened for shootaround Saturday afternoon at the Staples Center. “I remember those days.”

Facing a desperate team with the star power and depth to match them, the Lynx are finding out exactly why it’s so hard to re-climb the mountain. Reeve and Co. had just broken down the game film from a 92-75 loss that left the coach questioning whether there were tactical moves to be made or whether the Sparks simply wanted this more. They confronted that question head-on Saturday, but the answers won’t come until tip-off Sunday (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) with their season on the line.

Mini-Movie: 2016 WNBA Finals Game 3

Maya Moore knows the clock’s ticking — both on their quest for a fourth title in six years and, potentially, on this group as a whole. “For me, that’s always in my mind,” she said. “Wanting to take advantage of every minute we have together and letting that propel us forward into great basketball.”

“You can be as experienced as you want, but if you don’t seize the moment and recognize what we have here before us right here, right now is really special…” added Reeve. “You don’t want to just let it slip away. Your actions have to match that knowledge of the moment.”

That’s what made the way Game 3 played out so surprising. You would expect the team playing in its first Finals, not in its fifth, to make the mistakes the Lynx made. You would not expect the franchise whose core has been together for half a decade to be struggling with pressure defense, melting down in the first quarter and losing the effort battle on the boards.

“For me, that’s always in my mind: Wanting to take advantage of every minute we have together and letting that propel us forward into great basketball.” — Maya Moore

The team’s game tape review yielded some silver linings. Yes, the Lynx took a punch with a 13-2 run to start the game, but they found their groove by the second quarter. Taking care of the ball was less of an issue than where they committed many of their 13 turnovers — beyond the three-point line, allowing the Sparks to convert 24 points off turnovers. That can be improved with better spacing and crisper passing in Game 4.

But the talk of Lynx practice focused on the other end of the floor. After holding the Sparks to 60 points in Game 2, tying their season low, they gave up 92 in Game 3, allowing a more aggressive Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker to get going, which freed up opportunities for L.A.’s perimeter players. “The effort that we gave was good enough to win a regular season game, not a WNBA Finals game on somebody else’s floor,” Reeve said.

There was little the Lynx could do Saturday to prepare for the backs-against-the-wall feeling of Sunday night. Practice consisted mainly of stretching and getting shots up. “You can’t practice,” Reeve said. “What are you gonna do? Guard ’em? Run through your offense? You can’t simulate Beard and Ogwumike.”

You also can’t simulate desperation, and whether their season ends in L.A. or continues with another Game 5 in Minneapolis will depend on whether the three-time champs play with it.