Lynx center Sylvia Foles was perfect in her final regular season game in Los Angeles. The rest of her team?
In their next trip to the WNBA playoffs, the Lynx defeated the Sparks 84-77 on Sunday to start their three-game road trip 2-0. And they won as much as they did in Atlanta on Thursday.
And that’s both good and not so good.
The good: The Lynx shot 54.4%, outrebounded the Sparks and nearly finished, securing the season series edge over the Sparks in what could be a crucial tiebreaker. And they defended, they started to finish.
What wasn’t so good: The Lynx allowed a 20-point lead with just under 6½ minutes left in the game thanks to turnovers with 50.6 seconds left (LA scored 26 points on 20 of 20 Lynx turnovers) and two late foul calls helped spark the Sparks’ cause. (However, to be fair — and Lynx coach Sheryl Reeve was quick to point it out — Sparks star Neka Ogyumike could not be ruled out when she hit Lynx forward Jessica Sheppard with one shot at the net.)
But it was a victory.
“I’m excited,” Reeve said. “I’m not discounting that in any way. This is a team that’s hanging in there, trying to take control of our own destiny. We understand how hard it’s going to be. But we’re not going to focus on that. We want to be. The best we can be.”
The Lynx (12-19) pulled within a game of the eighth-seeded Sparks (12-17) in the battle for the final WNBA playoff spot. With five games remaining, Minnesota is a half game behind ninth-place Atlanta (12-18) and 1½ games behind seventh-place Phoenix.
The Lynx hold back-to-back games against the Mercury and Sparks as they have season series wins over both teams. The Lynx are two games up on their dream with one game to go.
It won’t be easy. The Lynx have five games left. The two are against fourth-ranked Seattle, including that Wednesday game. Phoenix has a game against Atlanta and a season-ending game at home against third-ranked Connecticut.
But the Lynx, Reeve said, are playing with identity. That includes defense, another stellar performance from Foles and continued resurgence from point guard Moriah Jefferson.
Foles went 8-for-9 with 16 points and 9 rebounds in 22 minutes, becoming the fifth player in league history to make more than 2,500 field goals in the process.
What does it mean to her? “It means I’m old,” she said. “But I’m thankful for every second.”
That stellar efficiency is due to Jefferson’s aggressive play. Jefferson scored 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting. That includes a season-best 16 first-half points. Jefferson and Foles helped the Lynx shoot nearly 70% and score 52 first half points. As Jefferson’s sore knee heals, her game is on.
“My job is to be aggressive,” she said.
Unfortunately, that leaves them at nine at the break. But before things got crazy, the Lynx pushed it to 14 and up to 20 after three.
But here’s another way to think about Sunday’s win: Playing on the road, against a team as desperate as theirs, the Lynx beat the Sparks 26-9 despite second-chance points and 19-4. Points.
You do that defensively, LA shooting under 40%. And, as Fowles said, with less. Kayla McBride added 15 points. Rachel Banham scored 10 points. That was enough to hand the Sparks their third straight loss despite 23 points from Ogyumik and 15 from Brittany Sykes.
“Let’s not forget, this is Ciel’s last year,” Reeve said. “We’re really trying to give it another shot at the game.”
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using television broadcasts and video interviews before and/or after the game.