Lynx dominate glass, ride defense to Game 2 victory over Sparks

ByMECHELLE VOEPEL
October 13, 2016, 2:40 PM

— -- MINNEAPOLIS -- Sylvia Fowles admitted she was almost too hyped up at times Tuesday. She wanted a victory in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals badly, and knew it would take the kind of defensive effort her Minnesota Lynx are known for -- but didn't quite get enough of in their loss in the opener.

"Knowing this was a must-win night, I just let it all out on the floor," said Fowles after Minnesota's 79-60 victory over Los Angeles at Target Center. "And my teammates respond well when I show that leadership."

At one point, though, she was so intense that Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was about to sub her out.

"I had to look at her with the evil eye across the court, like, 'I'm all right!'" Fowles said, smiling. "And she was like, 'OK, she's all right.'"

Fowles was more than all right, actually. The WNBA's Defensive Player of the Year was the dominant force that the Lynx needed, reminding everyone yet again how critical it was that Minnesota made the trade last year to bring her here.

Fowles had 13 points and 15 rebounds, leading the Lynx's dominance on the boards, 46-32. The Lynx have won the rebounding battle four of the five times the teams have met this season. But twice, it's been by double digits -- in their first meeting on June 21 and Tuesday.

This was Minnesota's third win this season against Los Angeles, but the score was close in the previous two. Tuesday, it was the second and fourth quarters that really made the difference, as the Lynx outscored the Sparks 46-25 in those periods. This one tied for the lowest point total the Sparks have had this season; they lost 78-60 at Seattle on Sept. 11.

"Defensively, we were way better today," Reeve said. "I just thought our commitment to our concepts was better. I don't know that we could have been worse than what we did last game as far as the types of easy baskets we gave up, so obviously we cleaned some things up. I was happy about that."

Los Angeles' Nneka Ogwumike, the league's MVP this season, was efficient as usual. She just didn't get many shots, going 5 of 6 from the field and 4 of 6 from the line for a team-high 14 points. Sparks center Candace Parker was 3 of 12 from the field and held to six points.

"I think we limited them from what they do well," Fowles said. "Our defense gets us going, and once that happens, our offense flows more smoothly."

Fowles was primarily responsible for guarding Ogwumike, and Rebekkah Brunson was on Parker. Post players Natasha Howard and Janel McCarville didn't play a lot of minutes, but both came in and were effective as well.

"The posts are the backbone of our team and our defense," Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen said. "They're so strong; they're all fighters and are relentless. They showed it tonight with their play on both ends, but defensively they were really impressive."

In Sunday's opener, a 78-76 L.A. victory, the Lynx put a lot of pressure on the Sparks, but they also surrendered some backdoor cuts for some of those easy baskets that so irritated Reeve.

"Today, they were a little less aggressive in that aspect, and that worked for them," Sparks guard Kristi Toliver said of the Lynx's defensive approach. "And we missed a lot of shots. But I think the main thing that triggered their defensive effectiveness is that we weren't getting the stops that we wanted. We weren't getting the rebounds, and we weren't able to run.

"When we did, that's when we were able to make that surge and get the game back to within three points in the third quarter."

But there was something else that was obvious, and both Toliver and Sparks coach Brian Agler pointed it out.

"They really wanted to win. You could tell, and you've got to give them a lot of credit," Toliver said. "We just kind of didn't do the things we wanted to do or should do. We'll be able to go back and watch the film. We need to keep our composure and remain confident."

Agler thought the "want to" factor that the Lynx had eventually overwhelmed the Sparks. Maya Moore had 21 points and 12 rebounds to lead Minnesota, and the team defense was the rock that the Lynx have so often relied on.

"We played like this game was more important to them than it was to us, and that's unfortunate," Agler said. "You don't get these opportunities often. I was impressed with how they played tonight, and so we'll go back and regroup."

The Lynx know it's probably unlikely they'll hold the Sparks to 60 points again. But they also can be confident that when they play defensively like they have most of this season, that's difficult for any team to beat.

Oh, yeah, and about Fowles' "evil eye" -- it wasn't really that evil. There's not a nicer person off court than Big Syl, but she did get her dander up a few times Tuesday, and Reeve was a little bit worried about that. But it all turned out OK.

"I'm proud of Syl," Reeve said. "She didn't always keep her cool, but ... she hung in there through what I thought was a really, really physical game for her. I told her that's what it's all about."

Game 3 is Friday in L.A. at 9 p.m. ET.

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