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Over Before It Started: How The Sparks Overwhelmed The Lynx In The First Quarter

The location may have been different for Game 3 of the WNBA Finals, but some things never change when the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks square off on the hardwood. For the sixth straight time in 2016, the team that won the first quarter between these two teams went on to win the game.

And so, no matter how hard the Lynx fought after the first few minutes, this one was over before it really ever got started.

Game First Quarter Final
First Regular Season Game Lynx 25 – Sparks 21 Lynx 72 – Sparks 69
Second Regular Season Game Sparks 18 – Lynx 15 Sparks 94 – Lynx 76
Third Regular Season Game Lynx 26 – Sparks 18 Lynx 77 – Sparks 74
WNBA Finals Game 1 Sparks 21 – Lynx 18 Sparks 78 – Lynx 76
WNBA Finals Game 2 Lynx 18 – Sparks 14 Lynx 79 – Sparks 60
WNBA Finals Game 3 Sparks 32 – Lynx 17 Sparks 92 – Lynx 75

 

While the team that has won the opening frame has gone on to win the game, all of those quarters have been close. In fact, except for the Lynx’s eight-point margin in their third regular season matchup, every first quarter has been decided by four or less points. Friday night in Los Angeles, that was not the case. Not even close.

The Sparks jumped out to a 7-0 lead, then made it 13-2, then 30-8, before winning the first quarter 32-17, making it clear their Game 1 victory was no fluke. Previous first quarters have been an indicator of success; Friday night’s edition was a mandate. The Sparks didn’t simply put themselves on the right track to winning Game 3 in the
opening quarter, they won it.

“I’m very happy with the way we started,” Game 1 hero Alana Beard said following the win. “It’s always important to get started well against this team. The Lynx are so comfortable at this level. You have to do everything you possibly can to make them uncomfortable. I think we did that. Getting off to that start was huge.”

So how did the Sparks get off to such a great start? Nothing complicated. “Their want-to was on 10, which is exactly where you would expect it to be,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said postgame. “I’m not sure what we were expecting when we started the game, but it wasn’t that.”

By ratcheting up their defense, attacking the basket, and making a concerted effort to crash the glass, the Sparks overwhelmed the Lynx in the first few possessions, foreshadowing what was to come. After the first two minutes and 10 seconds, the Sparks had forced two turnovers (and nearly a third), grabbed four offensive rebounds, and
were up 7-0.

All quarter long this continued, and this wasn’t a case of the Lynx dribbling the ball off their foot or falling asleep on defense, or the rebound luckily careening the Sparks’ way. These were rebounds the Sparks went and got, baskets they worked for, turnovers they forced.

Watch as Nneka Ogwumike goes hard to the paint, gets knocked down and loses the ball, dives on the floor, comes up with the ball, and eventually draws a foul.

nneka-rebound

“Their want-to was on 10.”

In Game 2, Candace Parker took two first quarter shots. A turnaround fadeaway, and a running left handed hook. Friday’s first quarter was much more of this: straight drives to the basket.

parker-drive

“Their want-to was on 10.”

Immediately, L.A. made a point to impart tremendous pressure on the Lynx’s ballhandlers. Alana Beard, the defensive specialist, made quick work of Lindsay Whalen on this possession, pilfering the ball right out from under her control, leading to an easy layup.

beard-steal

“Their want-to was on 10.”

Even when the defense wasn’t forcing turnovers, just look at how much pressure Kristi Toliver provides on this possession after picking up Seimone Augustus before she crossed halfcourt.

toliver-defense

“Their want-to was on 10.”

That kind of effort is contagious, and Friday night it spread throughout the Sparks’ roster, and lasted the whole 40 minutes. It’s tough to win games on effort alone, but when you’re just as talented and play much harder, you’re going to have success more often than not. And from the first quarter on, the Sparks had plenty of success.