With both teams winning on each other’s home courts, the WNBA Finals are headed to a decisive fifth game for the second straight year.
And just like a year ago, the Minnesota Lynx will be at home with a chance to win a record-tying fourth title.
They earned their third by beating the Indiana Fever last year. Now, they’ll try to finish off the Los Angeles Sparks in the deciding game Thursday.
“We have created a tough place to play at Target Center. I’m expecting 15,000-plus fans for Game 5,” Lynx guard Seimone Augustus said. “They’re going to bring the energy and we’re going to bring the pain.”
The Sparks hurt themselves with turnovers in the waning minutes of an 85-79 loss in Game 4 on Sunday night.
With Kobe Bryant and Sparks co-owner Magic Johnson watching courtside, Maya Moore scored 31 points and the Lynx dominated in rebounding and fast-break points to even the series.
“This is what a Finals game should look like, both teams leaving it all out on the floor,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.
Lindsay Whalen added 13 points, Augustus had 12 and Sylvia Fowles had 10 points and 13 rebounds for Minnesota.
Chelsea Gray led the Sparks with 20 points off the bench. She was 6 of 11 and made all four of her free throws.
Minnesota’s defense clamped down on the Sparks’ powerful duo of Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker, whose stellar resumes are missing only a WNBA championship. They were held to single-digit scoring in the first half.
Ogwumike, the league MVP, finished with 11 points on 5 of 10 shooting, while two-time MVP Parker had 14 points and made 6 of 7 free throws for the Sparks, who are seeking their first title since 2002.
Los Angeles opened the series with a two-point victory at Minnesota. The Lynx responded with a 19-point victory in Game 2 before the Sparks returned home and rode a big first-quarter to a 17-point win in Game 3.
Kristi Toliver, who finished with 15 points, expects the deciding game to be as unpredictable as the others.
“It’s going to be a dogfight. It’s going to be up and down. It’s going to be physical,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll learn from this experience of knowing how to close out a series.”
The teams have three days until Game 5, the longest rest of the Finals. The Lynx head home on Monday, while the Sparks depart on Tuesday.
“We didn’t lack desire to win or a will. We competed hard enough,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said. “We’ve just got to put that back together and play with more poise.”
The Sparks outscored the Lynx 10-4 to open the fourth quarter, tying it at 69-all on Parker’s driving bank shot as she fell out of bounds. Los Angeles went 6 of 9 from the free throw line in that span.
Whalen scored two straight baskets to put the Lynx back in front 73-69 on turnovers by Ogwumike and Toliver.
Gray’s fourth 3-pointer drew the Sparks to 77-75.
They were down 79-77 when Parker was called for a shooting foul on Rebekkah Brunson, who made both free throws for an 81-77 lead. Ogwumike scored once more to pull the Sparks within two before Moore sealed the victory with a pair of free throws.
“I don’t know if we’re going to see the results on Thursday, but this game is really going to help us because it’s the first time this team has been in this kind of environment,” Agler said. “Of course we’re playing against a great opponent that’s been there several times, and you could tell the difference in both teams. Going through this, I could just sort of tell from our facial expressions in the locker room, this was new for them.”