As Cheryl Reeve studied Friday's score sheet, the Lynx coach found plenty to like about her team's defensive performance against Los Angeles. The Lynx held the Sparks' potent offense to 37.5 percent shooting, outrebounded them 35-30 and scored two more field goals.
The view from the sideline, however, was much less satisfying. Reeve groaned, winced and shook her head through a dismal third quarter in a 70-64 loss at Xcel Energy Center, and she took only small comfort in a fourth-quarter rally. Withering under a fierce Sparks defense, the Lynx scored eight third-quarter points on 4-for-18 shooting, which led to a double-digit deficit too deep to overcome.
Reeve rued her team's inability to match Los Angeles' aggression until the final 10 minutes. By that time, the Sparks held a 15-point lead, and a crowd announced at 11,533 began heading for the exits. Rebekkah Brunson's stouthearted performance in the fourth quarter brought her team within 66-63 with 48.5 seconds left, but the rally stalled there.
Sylvia Fowles led the Lynx with 17 points and 13 rebounds, despite being double-teamed by Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker. Sparks guard Chelsea Gray scored a game-high 23 points, and Parker, who netted only two points in the Sparks' loss to the Lynx on July 6, finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
"Clearly, our problem was our offense in the third quarter,'' said Reeve, whose team absorbed its second loss in three games. "It kind of snowballed.
"Give L.A. credit. They were very, very physical, and we didn't respond very well. We just couldn't find our flow.''
The 64 points were a season low for the Lynx, who beat Los Angeles by 11 the first time the teams played this season. Reeve noted that the Sparks did nothing to surprise her; in fact, during their preparation for the game, she reminded her team how rough it was likely to be.
It didn't help that guard Lindsay Whalen remained on the sidelines with a broken left hand. Whalen got some good news earlier Friday —one week after her surgery — when a follow-up exam showed enough progress in her healing to allow her to resume working out. Whalen was able to swap the bulky cast and sling she had been wearing for a small splint, and she sat behind the bench Friday.
The only help Whalen could provide was to share the notes she had taken at practice. Her teammates fared well enough without her in the first half, rolling to a six-point lead in the second quarter. The score was tied 20-20 after one quarter and 36-36 at halftime, but a hint of trouble emerged when the Lynx scored only one field goal in the final 5:31 of the half.
That was nothing compared to the third quarter. The Lynx missed six of their first seven shots before Reeve was called for a technical foul, which the Sparks converted into a 42-38 lead on Ogwumike's free throw and Odyssey Sims' three-pointer. They committed four turnovers, misfired on layups, forced bad passes and went more than 3½ minutes without scoring as the deficit grew to 57-44.
"L.A. was determined to play really aggressive defense, and we just didn't get it done,'' said Maya Moore, who had two points in the quarter and 12 for the game. "It hurts when you have self-inflicted wounds.''
The Lynx finally pushed back harder in the fourth quarter. Brunson, who played the entire quarter with four fouls, paced the comeback with eight points and three rebounds.
"The fourth quarter was pretty good for us,'' Brunson said. "But it wasn't enough. You have to play a complete game.''