MINNEAPOLIS — One team in Thursday's Game 5 of the WNBA Finals is trying to keep a dynasty alive. The other is trying to start one.
The Minnesota Lynx are looking for their second straight WNBA crown and what would be their fourth title in the last six years. That would match an all-time record for most team titles in league history.
The Los Angeles Sparks, meanwhile, are looking for their first championship since 2002, when they won the second of their back-to-back titles. The Sparks had run into the Lynx in the playoffs in recent years and haven't played in a Finals since 2003.
After trading wins through four games, everything hinges on Thursday's finale at Target Center.
“We each won on each other's home court, and that's not easy to do, when you look at the home court that we have and our fans and you look at what exists here,” Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve said after Game 4. “… Now it's Game 5, which is what everybody was asking for, hoping for, and here we are.”
Two of the four games so far in the series have been very one-sided. The Lynx handily won Game 2 by a 19-point margin, while the Sparks dominated in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead after a 17-point victory.
Los Angeles escaped Game 1 with a two-point win thanks to a buzzer beater by Alana Beard and some tough defense down the stretch. Minnesota forced a Game 5 with a win Sunday, fueled by a 31-point effort from Maya Moore.
Moore, a former WNBA MVP, has averaged 22.3 points through these playoffs. As she has gone, so too have the Lynx.
“Obviously Maya Moore hit some big shots, made some big plays, both ends of the floor,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said following Los Angeles' loss in Game 4. “Got a lot of respect for them. They're a championship team. They're well-coached.”
Rebounding was key for Minnesota in Game 4. The Lynx out-rebounded the Sparks 41-25, including 14 offensive boards. Minnesota was the third-best rebounding team in the league all season, while Los Angeles ranked third-to-last in that category. The Sparks will have to find a way in Game 5 to account for Sylvia Fowles, who alone had 13 boards — six on offense — for the Lynx.
A bonus for both teams is that they should be plenty fresh for Thursday's showdown. Game 5 takes place four days after Sunday's Game 4 in Los Angeles, giving each ample opportunity to rest and prepare.
“Both teams will have had a chance to get their legs back underneath them,” Agler said. “I think it'll be competitive again on Thursday. That's what I anticipate.”
The two Western Conference foes have gone back and forth all series, from quarter to quarter and game to game. So far, the series has lived up to the hype as the top two seeds in the playoffs have had the opportunity to go toe-to-toe.
Now it's a matter of which team can land the last punch.
“Obviously it's been a great series, lots of ups and downs, and two great teams battling it out,” said Lynx veteran guard Lindsay Whalen. “There will definitely be a lot of energy for both sides on Thursday.”