What is making the 2016 WNBA Finals a special one is the level of competition — it's off the charts.
No longer shackled by the demands of having an Eastern and Western Conference representative in the best-of-five series — for the first time, the WNBA seeded its top eight teams regardless of conference — means the league's two best teams, the defending champion Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks, are in the final.
The Sparks, who hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, can dethrone visitin gMinnesota with a victory in Game 4 Sunday night at Staples Center.
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The Lynx will be desperate to force the series back to Minneapolis, while Los Angeles would love to wrap up its first championship since winning back-to-back WNBA titles in 2001 and 2002.
“Right now we have a mindset that is focused on playing well, playing together and getting wins,” said Sparks forward and league MVP Nneka Ogwu
mike. “It's not over till it's over, obviously. But we've put ourselves in a great position, and want to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Lynx forward Maya Moore said it won't take much to tip the outcome toward either team.
“Every championship game, in the WNBA, each team has the chance to win. It's a league that's the most competitive in the world. The smallest details separate winning and losing. And in a series like this, (overlooking) small details can have explosive results.”
Despite the Spark's blowout win on Friday and the Lynx's lopsided victory on Tuesday, both teams are practically even in talent. You can't throw a bounce pass on the court without hitting a player on either roster who hasn't won an NCAA, WNBA, international league, FIBA or Olympic championship.
“We saw it during the season; both teams play offense and defense very well,” said Lynx center Sylvia Fowles. “That's something we can both tip our caps to. It's just a matter of coming out here and putting it together for 40 minutes each night.”
“Both teams are very familiar with each other on a lot of levels,” noted Sparks guard Kristi Toliver. “I think there are no more secrets. It's just a matter of a will to win, and whose will is greater.”
Candace Parker had 24 points and nine rebounds and Ogwumike scored 21 points as Los Angeles rolled to a 92-75 home win on Friday to move within a victory of the title.
“It's exciting,” said Parker. “We're happy to be matched up with them in the finals, because in year's past it's been the Western Conference semifinals. We're excited to be in the position we're in, and we'll see what happens tomorrow. But this also speaks to the women's game. It's evolving. I think the players of each generation have added another dimension to the game.”
Cheryl Reeve, who has coached Minnesota to its three WNBA titles, including 2015, was asked if this final series felt unlike any other for her.
“Statistically, yeah, that's absolutely the case,” Reeve said. “In some of the other finals we've played in, whether we won or lost, there was a glaring difference in the teams statistically. But this time you have a case that these were the best two teams.
“I can't say yet if this is a watershed mark for the women's game. But I think this is something we might look back on as the start of something.”