The WNBA’s top two powerhouse teams are facing off in a rematch of the 2016 finals. With the Los Angeles Sparks up 2–1 in the best-of-five series, they’ll be looking to close it out at home in Game 4 and claim a second consecutive championship. The Minnesota Lynx, on the other hand, will be attempting to make a comeback and force a decisive Game 5 back in Minnesota.
Keys to a Los Angeles Victory
The Sparks will have home-court advantage because of the enthusiastic fans cheering them on at the Staples Center. Having won Friday’s pivotal Game 3, the Sparks also have momentum on their side. They’ll need to use that energy to their advantage.
The Sparks are counting on strong performances from their top scorers. With her high basketball IQ and leadership on the floor, two-time MVP Candace Parker is the backbone of their offense. Point guard Chelsea Gray is shooting 48.2% from behind the arc and has had her way in the Finals. A few timely threes from Gray could help the Sparks go on big runs. And last year’s MVP and finals hero Nneka Ogwumike will need to dominate the paint.
The Sparks are counting on guards Alana Beard and Odyssey Sims for strong performances. Beard is a hustler, giving quality minutes when she’s one the court. And Sims is a speedy player who is great at running the fast break. The Sparks will be hard to beat if they capitalize on these strengths, pushing the tempo and playing with sustained pace.
Sparks players also realize that their emotional preparation will be crucial. Said Beard after Game 3, “We talk a lot about surrendering the outcome and just staying in the moment.”
Parker agreed. “We're mature enough to understand that you can't go out there and try to swing for the fences and hit the home run at the beginning of the game,” she said. “You've got to take it possession by possession.”
Keys to a Minnesota Victory
Lynx center Sylvia Fowles is coming off of a monster regular season in which she averaged 18.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, and two blocks per game. Her top-tier play earned her 2017 MVP honors. Fowles will need to play excellent defense in Game 4. She matches up well with Ogwumike and will have to use her length to reject shots and deflect passes.
Maya Moore is aggressive at getting to the basket and has a great mid-range game. However, she’ll have to balance aggressive play with smart play to avoid foul trouble, which limited her effectiveness for Minnesota in Game 3.
The Lynx have a solid and experienced starting lineup. Beyond Fowles and Moore, they have playmakers Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, and Lindsey Whalen. However, coach Cheryl Reeve will be counting on more production from Augustus and Whalen, who were held scoreless in Game 3. “In this series we’ve seen the team that has the starters who outplay the other starters wins the game,” Reeve said.
It’s important for Minnesota to come out aggressive from the beginning. Facing elimination, Lynx players know that they’ll have to play with urgency. Said guard Renne Montgomery, “We want to set the tone for the game. But the next game is do-or-die; our season is on the line.”
You can see Game 4 Sunday at 8:30 ET on ESPN.
Photographs by (from top): Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images (Parker); David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images (Jones)