Whether or not it was warranted, there were waves of concern after the Los Angeles Sparks dominated the Minnesota Lynx last week, beginning the first of five meetings for 2013.
Friday night at Target Center, Minnesota erased most of those worries, routing the Sparks 88-64 to retain the lead in the WNBA Western Conference standings.
“They responded like champions should. I thought we just slapped at them a couple times,” said Los Angeles head coach Carol Ross. “We were not as tough as we need to be.”
Home court has held significantly more influence between the two teams in recent years compared to other match-ups. The effect may only be psychological, but it has produced compelling emotional narratives, including a face-off in the Western Conference Finals last season.
“The refs let us play a little bit because we came out more aggressive than normal,” said Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus.
“It comes down to rebounding and defense,” said Los Angeles forward Candace Parker. “How many times did they get three or four opportunities at shooting?”
Minnesota (7-2) was actually even with Los Angeles (5-3) in second chance points, but that was one of few parallels. Despite their small lineup, the Lynx returned to their familiar dominance in rebounding with a 47-28 edge over the Sparks. Points in the paint was more eye-popping, with Minnesota gaining a 52-18 advantage.
Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve credited those margins to her “shell” defense, a mainstay of her system that involves shielding the interior to force opponents into either tough shots inside or relying on a perimeter assault.
The Sparks could get neither in rhythm, neutralizing most of their talented starters.
“We really focused on boxing out, crashing the boards,” said Minnesota forward Devereaux Peters. “The guards were getting in there and tipping stuff out.”
“They switch a lot and there are situations where we feel like we could take advantage,” Augustus said. “I had Lindsey Harding guarding me. Height difference, size difference. I want to try to attack. When we didn’t have it, the posts did a great job with ducking in and sealing.”
Lindsay Whalen led all players in scoring, getting 20 points and six assists for Minnesota. Augustus followed with 19 points, and Peters put in her first notable effort of the season with 14 points and nine rebounds.
The Lynx led for the entire game and their largest margin was 29.
Parker led Los Angeles with 17 points and 11 rebounds and Kristi Toliver added 14 points.
The two teams meet again on Tuesday at Los Angeles, where the Sparks hope to execute a better defensive scheme.
“They back-cut us and we weren’t denying the high post like we wanted to,” Parker said.