Here are two takeaways for the Lynx from Sunday’s one-sided, 97-81 loss to Los Angeles at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.:
First, playing a talented team like the Sparks without center Sylvia Fowles is a much different thing than doing so against a winless team like New York.
Second, Crystal Dangerfield can’t do it all by herself, though she really, really tried.
In statistically the worst defensive performance in franchise history, the Lynx (5-2) let the Sparks shoot 65.5% overall and 13-for-22 on three-pointers. That broke a Lynx record set in 2007, when Los Angeles shot 62.3%.
The Lynx hit the end of a four-game winning streak.
With Fowles missing her second game because of a sore calf, and with mainstays Napheesa Collier and Damiris Dantas combining for one field goal and five points in the second half, a 29-point, four-assist, two-steal game by Dangerfield was wasted. She became the fourth rookie in Lynx history to score at least 29 points, and the first since Monica Wright had 32 against Washington in 2010. The others: Seimone Augustus and Betty Lennox.
But, thanks to the defense, it wasn’t enough.
“Our closeouts,’’ coach Cheryl Reeve said. “We’d have a player that would pick it up just over halfcourt and be able to throw a skip pass all the way to the other sideline without us being able to get there. We just didn’t have a lot of great, timely positioning. … We just didn’t execute a lot of what we wanted to do. But you have to give L.A. credit. L.A.’s a good team.’’
The Sparks (4-3) had Candace Parker come one assist away from a triple-double. Augustus, facing her old team for the first time, scored 13 points. Riquna Williams added 21 points off the bench.
Bridget Carleton scored 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting; she and Dangerfield made six of the Lynx’s 10 three-pointers.
“I told [Dangerfield] how much I appreciate … I mean, she’s little in stature but the size of her heart is massive,” Reeve said. “She’s tough. She’s unafraid. I can chew on her a little bit. She can miss a shot, she can make a turnover, but she’s coming right back at you. I told her and Bridget how much I appreciated what they gave us today.’’
Those two almost turned the game’s tide.
The Lynx were down 10 at the half, but Dangerfield had nine points and Carleton eight as the Lynx opened the third quarter on a 23-11 run, taking a 61-59 lead on Dangerfield’s drive with 2:37 left in the quarter. But L.A. scored the final seven points of the third quarter and the first five of the fourth and was in control the rest of the way.
Dangerfield wasn’t done. She scored 15 of her team’s 20 fourth-quarter points.
“Just… be aggressive,’’ she said of her performance. “They’re an aggressive team, so we wanted to attack that kind of mind-set, that kind of play. Keep them on their heels like they wanted to do with us on the defensive end.’’
Problem is, the Sparks did it better, especially down the stretch, making 12 of 15 fourth-quarter shots. The weak-side jumper was open most of the game, and the Lynx struggled with help defense. It’s difficult guarding a team that can put five shooters on the floor at once. But still …
“I know defense is something we pride ourselves on, and it wasn’t there tonight,’’ Carleton said.
Reeve, too, was direct.
“We basically played the game without a big three tonight,’’ she said. “That’s hard. Syl doesn’t play, Phee plays a little bit less than we’re used to and Damiris really struggled.”
The Star Tribune is not traveling to Florida for NBA and Lynx coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.