|Sparks, Lynx clash in Game 5 with WNBA title on the line|
MINNEAPOLIS -- After months of games -- hundreds of them -- and thousands of points scored, it all comes down to this.
The Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks will end the 2017 season on Wednesday night in the same way and in the same city as they did in 2016, with one of them holding a trophy. After last year's high drama, when the Sparks came to Minneapolis and won the WNBA title on a last-second shot in Game 5, it seemed almost inevitable that the four previous contests would lead us to this moment.
After Tuesday's practices at Williams Arena, on the University of Minnesota campus, it was noted that in their last dozen regular season meetings, the Lynx and Sparks are tied in points, 908 to 908. It's a trend that surely won't continue in the season finale.
"I don't think this is going to end in a draw," joked Sparks coach Brian Agler on Tuesday. "That number is very interesting, but we don't give it much thought because it's one of those deals. These are both very good teams, they compete hard against each other, and ... to this point it's been back and forth. Both teams have had their share of success."
Indeed, both teams have gone 1-1 on the other's court to get us to this point. It appeared the Sparks would have their way in the series after taking a 26-point lead in the opening quarter of Game 1. After beating Minnesota by double digits in Game 3, Los Angeles missed a chance to clinch at home when the Lynx dominated Game 4 start to finish, sending the series back to Minnesota. If the home team is feeling the pressure, with a deafening sellout crowd expected on hand, the Lynx aren't showing it.
"I'm actually relaxed. I think I was more jittery before Game 4 because I knew what was at stake, but I'm more relaxed this time around," Minnesota forward and reigning league MVP Sylvia Fowles said. "I'm comfortable with what the coach is putting us in and what we have to get done. I'm very confident that we can actually go out there and do it."
Although the Lynx coach admitted that when teams are this familiar with one another, there's less coaching that goes into a winner-take-all meeting.
"We told them Game 5 is time for the players. Coaches get out of the way. This is about players making plays. Recognizing your opportunities. Recognizing those moments that you can take advantage of your defender," Cheryl Reeve said. "At this point the plays are what they are, it's about what you can do out of those plays. It's the little things you're willing to do within a play, to keep playing and obviously the hustle plays on the glass. That's what it's about."
Wednesday's winner will become just the second franchise in WNBA history to win the title four times. The Sparks were previously league champs in 2001, 2002 and 2016 while Minnesota captured titles in 2011, 2013 and 2015.