LOS ANGELES – Playoff series are often compared to chess matches with the coaches of each team making strategic moves from game to game to respond to what their counterpart is doing.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve isn’t buying that.
“There is no adjustment that somebody is going to make that is going to catch anybody off guard,” she said prior to her team’s practice session at the Galen Center at USC on Thursday. “It really is now, at this point, about players making plays.”
That doesn’t mean the Lynx don’t have things to work on in today’s practice prior to Friday’s crucial Game 3 contest. Both Reeve and Sparks coach Brian Agler will point out things that their teams did wrong in the first two games of the Finals and try to correct those issues but they are not making any dramatic changes to the identity their teams played with all season in order to put them in this position.
“There’s really not (any strategic moves to make),” said Reeve. “These players have seen it all; they are veterans, great players. It really does come down to execution. That’s what we tell our players all the time. The Finals are really about the players; coaches are kind of done at that point.
“Yeah, you might push some buttons here and there, make a play call or whatever, but it really is about the players being committed to whatever the scheme is offensively or defensively and when something is taken away great players take over and they make a play. That’s kind of what it becomes; you’re breaking a play to make a play. That’s what I think is going to be on full display the rest of this series.”
For Reeve, the difference between her team losing Game 1 and winning Game 2 came down to how well her team executed on the floor rather than any new strategies on her part.
“We were way better in Game 2 than we were in Game 1,” she said. “In Game 1, we saw a lot of slipping past us, behind us and just very undisciplined play. I kind of chuckle when people say we made an adjustment. No, that was the original game plan in Game 1 we just didn’t execute it. We actually executed some things in Game 2 so it appeared to be an adjustment.”
Agler is now in the position that Reeve was in two days ago – working with a team coming off a Finals loss and looking to rebound in front of their home fans. He knows the problems that this Minnesota squad presents so he doesn’t expect many surprises in Game 3.
“We’ve played each other five times so we sort of have a good idea of what the other’s going to do,” he said.
“Both teams are so studied in each other and have their strategies and adjustments that we’re going to make,” said Lynx forward Maya Moore, who had 21 points and 12 rebounds in Minnesota’s Game 2 win. “The experience and the want-to are going to play a big deal in this Game 3 and I think both teams are excited to play.”
Sparks Need More Flow on Offense
In their Game 2 loss, the Sparks offense scored just 60 points, which matched their season low for the entire season. We’ve discussed their poor shooting, particularly from beyond the arc, and broken down some of Minnesota’s defensive tactics that contributed to the Sparks’ struggles.
Toliver and Ogwumike both stressed the importance of spacing and getting a better sense of balance between the inside and outside game after the Sparks attempted 20 3-pointers in Game 2 and only knocked down three of them.
“We have the ability to knock down 3-point shots so we know we want to take them when that’s what’s available,” said Toliver. “Throughout the course of the game we have to figure out if that is the shot that we want or do we want to get back in the paint. We didn’t do a very good job of the balance of the inside and the outside so that’s certainly something to look for in Game 3.
“We have to have a little more mindfulness as far as getting the ball in the painted area first and then see what happens after that because once you get the ball in there things really expand on the outside and you’re able to knock down shots.”
By settling for outside shots throughout Game 3, the Sparks allowed the Lynx to pack the paint and limit Ogwumike’s touches and the Sparks’ cuts to the rim for easy buckets.
“It’s about spacing and ball movement,” said Ogwumike. “If we can get organized on the court they shouldn’t be able to pack the paint. A lot of times I find me and my teammates running on top of each other and that makes things easier for the defense. We have to space before the ball moves and then once the ball moves then they have to move or make a decision if they are going to give someone an open shot.”
Ogwumike has to be more involved for the Sparks to find success in Game 3. The MVP attempted only six shots and six free throws in Game 2 and did not have the amount of touches that Agler and Sparks need from her.
“We need certain people taking a certain number of shots and coach said to me, ‘You have to touch the ball more,’” said Ogwumike. “And for me its not like I have to shoot it every time but just getting touches helps the offense.
“Things definitely got stagnant at times and it’s important not just for the guards to find us but for us to make ourselves available and we had gotten away from that. That’s something we also saw in the Chicago series, where we just kind of settled and we can’t get comfortable settling.”
When asked what he wants to see from his pair of MVPs in Game 3, Agler said he wants both Ogwumike and Parker to be more aggressive.
“Just being more on their front foot than their back foot,” he said. “Playing and using the skills that they have, their athleticism, their basketball instincts and their intelligence. They’re elite in those kind of ways. We need to find ways to bring that out.”
No Excuses For Being Outworked
During his press conference following their Game 2 loss, Agler made a point to call out his team for not matching the intensity and effort put forth by the Lynx on Tuesday night.
“I think a lot of that was because of our energy and effort,” said Parker of the Game 2 loss. “I don’t think we were as focused as we were in Game 1.”
Toliver admitted that she didn’t sleep very well following Game 2, but she waited until the next day to watch the film. After watching it on her own and again with the team on Wednesday, she’d be perfectly fine not seeing it again.
“It just gave me a pit in my stomach because there were so many things we could have done differently and cleaned up,” she said.
Ogwumike had a similar reaction to watching the film, especially watching her and her teammates be outworked by the Lynx in the hustle plays.
“It was frustrating during the game, but it was a little bit more embarrassing watching it on film,” she said. “It’s not cool to see that happening and knowing that you have control over how hard you go.
“Often times it was three people going hard and two not necessarily doing so; its not that they don’t want to, but the focus isn’t there or the awareness isn’t there. That’s something where we have to be on the same page. And now the only page is to be aggressive.”