Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)
The Los Angeles Sparks are far from a one-woman team.
However, in order to reach the champagne-soaked promise land and dethrone the Minnesota Lynx, the Sparks know a dazzling performance from their leading lady Candace Parker would be a welcomed sight.
As the WNBA Finals shift west to Los Angeles tied at a game apiece, Parker has yet to shed the shackles of the Lynx’s defense.
Through two games of the WNBA Finals, Parker is shooting 8-for-24 (.333 percent) from the field and averaging 10 points and 6.5 rebounds. She scored six points in the Sparks’ 79-60 game two loss Tuesday night at Target Center.
Perhaps, Parker unleashes her fury and unfurls a vintage performance when game three begins Friday night at 9 p.m. on ESPN2 from the Galen Center on the University of Southern California campus because the Philly Flyers are meeting the Kings in the Staples Center to open the NHL season.
Finding a way to decipher the riddle of Minnesota’s suffocating surveillance was a topic of discussion during Thursday’s practice.
“They are a really good defensive team, and I don’t know if there is any magic to what they’re doing, other than they’re just doing what they do, and they do it well,” Los Angeles head coach Brian Alger said. “They make you have to dig down deeper than you normally do. We’ve got to find ways to keep (Candace) on the move, and she’s going to have to find ways to really be assertive.”
Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve was pleased with her teams’ defensive effort on Parker.
“When I think about the first game, I thought she got layups, so I didn’t like that very much,” Reeve said. “I thought we were better in the second game. It’s been okay. I think at times it’s been pretty solid. She’s getting shots and opportunities. We’re just trying to make it hard for her. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.”
While WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike is averaging 16.5 points and 10.5 rebounds, Alger also believes she can be more aggressive as well. The Lynx present unique defensive matchups because of their length, quickness and height. Alger had some theories on how to combat the Lynx’s defense.
“Just being aggressive,” Alger said. “Just being more on their front foot than their back foot. Playing and using the skills that they have, their athleticism, their basketball instincts and their intelligence. They’re elite in those kind of ways. We need to find ways to bring that out.”
The Lynx who literally rebounded from being stunned in the opening game want to continue to keep Parker and Ogwumike quiet.
The Lynx dominated the battle of the boards to the tune of 46-32 in squaring the series. They also held the Sparks to 32.9 percent shooting, well below their league-leading 48.7 season average.
“At this point in the game, both teams know each very well,” Minnesota guard Maya Moore said. “Those are two very effective players.
"Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of attention on those two. That’s no easy task. They are very talented and gifted players. The highest amount of attention will continue to be paid to both of them.”
Of course, one reason why Parker and Ogwumike are feeling more smothered than usual is because the Sparks have struggled with their 3-point shooting, making 6-of-32 attempts (18.7 percent) through two games. Los Angeles was the best 3-point shooting team in the WNBA during the regular season (37.5 percent on 15.7 attempts per game).
Hopefully for Spark fans, they can regain their shooting swagger from deep, which in turn could create more room for Parker and Ogwumike to maneuver. Veteran Los Angeles guard Kristi Toliver understands everything begins with her.
Toliver finished the WNBA regular season as the only player in the league to make at least one three-pointer in every game played. In 33 games, Toliver knocked down 81 three-pointers, a new season-best.
“I think I’ll always have to maintain my aggressiveness, but I have to think about the game better,” Toliver said. “I can’t get too emotional during the game. In these playoffs, everything feels amplified.
"I need to take a step back and refocus. That will help me regain my composure and getting my teammates the right shots. We know we have to be more aggressive and assertive. We also have to compete harder. If we can protect home court, that means we’ll be champions. That’s all we’re thinking about.”
About that homecourt advantage. It hasn’t meant much as the visiting team has won four of the five meetings this season between these teams. Minnesota won twice at the Staples Center this season. The Sparks are 2-0 at home this postseason.
The Lynx don’t care where they play because of its experience and leadership. Minnesota went to Indiana tied 1-1 last year in the WNBA Finals and captured the third game on a Moore buzzer beater. The Lynx won the series in five games.
“We know they are going to come in and jump on us from the start,” Minnesota forward Seimone Augustus said. “We have to be able to stop their run and go own our run. That’s how it’s going to be the entire night. It’s going to be a heavyweight bout. If they throw a punch, we have to throw a punch right back. No matter what, we cannot give up on our defensive and offensives schemes.”