Lynx use pent up frustration to take down Sparks
MINNEAPOLIS — The dark brown, penetrating eyes of forward Seimone Augustus made it evident with every fluid pull-up jumper. Point guard Lindsay Whalen’s scowl after several momentum-gripping buckets accentuated it.
The fun-loving, generally loose Minnesota Lynx weren’t enthused to get another crack at Los Angeles on Friday.
They were furious.
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“I don’t know if it was excitement,” Augustus said after doubling her point production from Minnesota’s lopsided defeat in the Staples Center a week ago. “It might’ve been more anger.”
Forward Devereaux Peters, who came off the bench to score a career-high 14 points, used different terminology.
“I was pretty pissed off” all week, Peters said. “I think everybody had that mindset when we left (Los Angeles). Everyone was extremely upset.”
Minnesota’s 88-64 thrashing came exactly seven days after the Sparks made similar work of their fellow Western Conference contender, a week in which Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve chastised her starting five and lamented a poor practice showing Wednesday.
The mental pruning made way for a complete, retributive turning of the tables.
“I thought it was really important for this team to understand (last Friday) wasn’t acceptable, and we’re not gonna put that in the category of, ‘sometimes things happen,'” Reeve said. “Rough days. Really rough days. They had to endure criticism, but, you know, they understood.
“They want the same thing, which is they want to be successful. If you have anybody that doesn’t want the same thing, then you have a problem.”
Friday’s result also sets up a mammoth grudge match — in the short term — out west Tuesday.
After being pushed to their emotional limit, as Augustus characterized it, Minnesota faces an early-season crossroads in Los Angeles now: stamp out the Sparks for a second time in 12 days and retain an unmistakable foothold on first place in the conference, or remain mired in a fistfight with the group gunning for that top spot.
A pivotal, albeit frustrating, few days revealed the only acceptable route.
“The approach to the game was championship basketball,” Reeve said. “I didn’t expect it to be even remotely close to a week ago. We have a tough history in L.A. … It’s not the ‘L.’ It’s the way that we did it. Like I said, it was unacceptable on every level. What you saw tonight was obviously it was still fresh in our minds.
“This next game on Tuesday should be really interesting.”
The uniform tight-lipped expression on Augustus, Whalen and their comrades’ faces Friday doesn’t appear in any postgame notes or box score. Its fruits, however, can’t be missed.
A stringent and well-communicated matchup defense held the WNBA’s most efficient shooting team to 36.9 percent from the floor and a season low in points. A bitterly aggressive approach from posts Rebekkah Brunson, Janel McCarville and Peters off the bench made for a 47-28 advantage on the boards and 52-18 margin in paint points.
A team that handed the two-time defending Western Conference champs its worst defeat in two seasons trailed by as many as 29, never led and got about as many open looks at the basket as the security guards manning the arena’s front doors.
“We definitely wanted to come out and be more aggressive,” said Augustus, who scored 12 of her 19 points in the first quarter, bolstering Minnesota to a 24-15 lead they only expanded. “You seen how the game went. The refs kind of let us play a little bit, because we came out more aggressive.”
Whalen’s game-high 20 points, including seven straight to open the second quarter and a 16-point lead that never dipped below double digits the rest of the way, didn’t hurt, either.
“She kept saying, ‘I got you, coach,'” Reeve said.
It’s not a common occurrence for a coach dealing with the caliber of players Reeve has to bench her entire starting five, as she did in Los Angeles a week ago, and call them out publicly a few days later.
Her mother even called to express disappointment in her external scolding.
But Reeve knows which buttons to push, Augustus said.
“I think she had us at our boiling point,” Augustus said. “She’s a mastermind at manipulating us and playing with our minds and trying to get us ready for the game. We were probably overly ready for the game.”
The system’s working on all levels heading into the weekend.
Can the disdain keep things humming two time zones away just a few turns of the calendar later?
That’ll be decided at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Reeve’s thermometer, for one, was still spiking Friday even after her squad’s first step toward suitable separation.
“It’s tough for me to talk about L.A. without saying something I might regret,” said Reeve, whose team has lost nine of its last 10 in Los Angeles and faces the Sparks three more times this year. “I always say this: L.A. sports, when you’re not in L.A., everybody hates L.A. and everybody wants to beat L.A.
“It has the makings of a really, really good series throughout the season.”
NOTES: Reserve forward Rachel Jarry left the game with a head injury in the final moments. Reeve said she wasn’t sure on her status but that she was expected to be ‘OK.’ … Minnesota remained undefeated at home this season and extended a franchise-record Target Center winning streak to 13 games. … Center Candace Parker led the Sparks with 17 points and nine rebounds. … The Lynx now own a 1 ½-game lead over Los Angeles and Phoenix in the Western Conference standings.
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