The game to decide the 21st WNBA champion features two teams so evenly matched and knowledgeable of each other that Sparks guard Alana Beard says there’s no reason to even feign the concealment of a secret victory plan.
“Absolutely not, there is nothing you can change at this point,” Beard, the WNBA’s defensive player of the year, said Tuesday. “It’s about how much you want it and how hungry you are to get what you really want.”
The Sparks return to Minnesota, where they beat the Lynx in Game 5 of last year’s WNBA Finals, on Wednesday night (5 p.m., ESPN).
In their 12 meetings dating to Game 1 of last year’s Finals, the Sparks and Lynx each have scored 908 points with four games decided by two points or less.
“I don’t think this is going to end in a draw,” Sparks coach Brian Agler joked.
Now is not the time for obsessive reflection about the missed chances to win the series before a fifth game, Sparks forward-center Candace Parker told reporters Tuesday.
“We can look at it as a disappointment … or we can look at it as an opportunity,” Parker said. “If you poll anyone anywhere around the league that if you have one game and an opportunity to win a championship, would you take it? I’m pretty sure everybody would take that. So that’s the mentality we have to have going in. It’s not going to be easy.”
Victory would allow the Sparks to repeat as champions a second time, after Lisa Leslie led them to titles in the 2001-2002 seasons. Minnesota, with past Finals MVPs Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus on its roster, has won WNBA titles in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
The competition between the teams is being hailed as some of the best in league history.
The Sparks won Game 3 because guards Odyssey Sims and Chelsea Gray outscored Minnesota’s starting backcourt by a combined 30-0, but the Lynx responded by limiting Parker to three-of-eight shooting in Game 4.
There was champagne near the locker room before Game 4 at Staples Center, but Minnesota surged to a lead that reached 19 points.
Fowles overcame being temporarily blinded in her right eye by a collision to help the Lynx get 16 offensive rebounds, combining with Rebekkah Brunson for 27 of Minnesota’s 48 total rebounds. The Sparks had just 28.
“It’s rebounding and fouling,” said Parker, averaging 14 points and eight rebounds in the series. “It would have almost been better for them to shoot a better percentage from the free-throw line, because when they missed, it was another offensive rebounding opportunity.
“We weren’t necessarily in our best flow offensively, even with taking the ball out of bounds. We have to do a better job of controlling the glass and making things difficult for them.”
Wednesday’s winner likely will be decided by who flexes its strength best, according to the Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike.
“At this point, playing each other 12 times in the past two years, we know each other inside and out, so you really have to rely on those plays that you don’t necessarily see on the stat sheet,” Ogwumike said.
“It speaks to the rivalry … which I think is pretty spectacular,” she said. “That speaks to the evolution of the game, the evolution of this competition that we have between each other. I would hope that everybody enjoys watching it as much as we love playing it.”