WNBA Playoffs: Sparks drop Game 1 nail-biter to Lynx, 65-67


The Los Angeles Sparks couldn’t have asked for a better situation in Game 1 of their first round series against the Minnesota Lynx.

Following the first half, the Sparks had the Lynx right where they wanted them, going into the half with a 36-33 lead following a second-quarter scoring outburst where Los Angeles outscored Minnesota 21-11; momentum was on their side.

Then Maya Moore happened in the third quarter, where the lone WNBA player to receive a Most Valuable Player vote outside of winner Elena Delle Donne, scored 15 of her 33 points, a playoff career high, outscoring the Sparks (13) by her lonesome.

These are the type of games the Sparks should hope for best-of-3 series: Moore — and Seimone Augustus, who finished with 17 points in her first game since mid-August — shouldering the majority of the offense while the supporting cast fails to make an imprint. Credit the Sparks’ defense for keeping the non-Moore/Augustus players at bay, given one of those players includes the talented Sylvia Fowles, but as a whole, the Sparks were unable to take advantage of the scoring imbalance as Los Angeles failed to put the lid on a feisty comeback — which ended as Candace Parker missed a fadeaway baseline jumper to tie the game at the buzzer (”We didn’t run it perfectly but we got the action we wanted and got Candace coming to the ball on the move,” said Sparks coach Brian Agler about Parker’s final shot) — as the Lynx took Game 1, 67-65.

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  • Leading the Sparks in Game 1 was Candace Parker who finished with a team-high 16 points, followed by double-digit outings by Nneka Ogwumike (14 points), Jantel Lavender (12 points), and Kristi Tolliver (12 points).

    Going into Game 2, an argument can be made the Sparks shouldn’t adjust their defensive coverage of Maya Moore. Easily the league’s best scorer, what the Sparks got a dose of was peak-Moore, who just knocked down difficult shots in the half court as great players do when they’re in “that” zone. But as good as Moore is, history show us that whether it’s male or female basketball, superstars can’t win games on their own, no matter how good they are.

    What can change is the tendency for careless turnovers, namely lackadaisical passes as the Lynx’s defense lurks in passing lanes. Looking back over Moore’s scoring output, close to half of her 33 points came off easy buckets following a turnover.

    And the obvious: the Sparks need more out of their MVP candidate in Candace Parker. The box score shows Parker had one of those nights where she laid an imprint of numerous facets of the game, leading the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks. But after watching the tape, the forward was a bit jump-shot happy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as she’s more than capable of knocking the shot down, but it’s the WNBA equivalent of LeBron James shying toward the jumper and away from what makes him unstoppable on offense: dominating in or around the paint. Defended by Rebekkah Brunson for majority of the night, the advantage CP3 has is her quickness, to combat Brunson’s length. This means keeping Parker on the move, whether it be rolling after setting a screen in the pick-and-roll or off-ball, an area she’s oddly impressive at despite her size; the latter proved useful a handful of times when done on offense.

    Because the series is three games instead of seven like the NBA’s opening round or five like every proceeding WNBA playoff round, there’s little time for the Sparks to allow things to work themselves out over time, and if they don’t play with a greater sense of urgency, aka take better care of the ball, it could be another short playoffs for this Los Angeles team.

    Game 2 will take place on Sunday.

    Other WNBA Playoff notes

    – Elena Della Donne, 2015 WNBA Most Valuable Player, finished with 14 points as her Chicago Sky defeated the Indiana Fever, led by Tamika Catchings‘ 21 points, 77-72 to take Game 1 of the series.

    – Where the Sky-Fever game entertained due to close score proximity throughout the contest, the Phoenix Mercury opted for the opposite method, blowing out the Tulsa Shock 88-55 in Game 1; Britney Griner set the record for most blocks in a playoff game with 11, to go along with a game-high 18 points and 8 rebounds.

    – The lone upset of the weekend, the Washington Mystics upset the New York Liberty 86-83 in a double overtime thriller, despite 48 combined points from New York’s Epiphanny Prince and Tina Charles; the Mystics have now defeated the Liberty four times this season and have the opportunity to lose out the series at home in D.C., Sunday.

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