Lynx, Sparks pre­pare to fin­ish elec­tric Fi­nals

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Jon Krawczyn­ski

MINNEAPOLIS >> Sei­mone Au­gus­tus was a 13-year-old girl when she watched the Hous­ton Comets win the first WNBA cham­pi­onship in 1997.

The Comets would win the first four ti­tles in the league, prov­ing to basketball-lov­ing girls across the coun­try that there was a place for them to pur­sue their dreams. And Au­gus­tus couldn’t get enough of them.

Two decades later, Au­gus­tus and the Min­nesota Lynx stand on the precipice of join­ing those trail­blaz­ing women. A vic­tory over the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 5 of the WNBA Fi­nals on Thurs­day night would give the Lynx their fourth ti­tle, ty­ing them with the Comets for most in league his­tory.

“That’s just mind-bog­gling to me,” Au­gus­tus said. “We grew up watch­ing the Hous­ton Comets and those won­der­ful women the kind of set the prece­dent for what WNBA basketball is all about. They’ve mo­ti­vated and in­spired us. Now we could be the new Hous­ton Comets of this era if we do what we need to do.

They know it will not be easy. Through the first four games of the se­ries, the Sparks and Lynx have pushed each other as far as they can go, which is ex­actly what the league hoped would hap­pen when it changed the play­off for­mat to seed teams based on record and not ge­og­ra­phy. Los Angeles won Game 1 in Min­nesota and Game 3 back home. The Lynx have re­sponded to each loss with a vic­tory of their own to find them­selves right back where they were a year ago — need­ing a win in Game 5 at Tar­get Cen­ter to bring home a ti­tle.

Last year the Lynx dis­patched the In­di­ana Fever in front of 17,000 fans, then par­tied all night long at Prince’s house to cel­e­brate ti­tle No. 3. An­other rau­cous crowd is ex­pected this time around in what would be the crown­ing achieve­ment for the league’s model fran­chise, first backto-back cham­pi­onships in the league since the Sparks re­peated in 2002.

“You couldn’t ask for any­thing more,” said Lynx star Maya Moore, who scored 31 points in Game 4 to keep Min­nesota alive. “It’s been def­i­nitely a dra­matic se­ries and one that will go down as one of the best, I think.”

The Lynx have been here five times in the last six years, but this has been their most dif­fi­cult fi­nals test. League MVP Nneka Oqwu­mike, Can­dace Parker and Kristi To­liver present a star-stud­ded trio to ri­val Min­nesota’s, and they have been ev­ery bit their equal through four games.

The Sparks are chas­ing ghosts of their own. A vic­tory Thurs­day night would give them their first cham­pi­onship since Lisa Les­lie led them to their sec­ond in a row in 2002, and that may have played into their de­feat on Sun­day. They were so ea­ger to fin­ish the se­ries on their home floor that coach Brian Agler said they have turned their fo­cus in the wrong di­rec­tion, and it cost them.

“I think ev­ery­one out there was play­ing to win a cham­pi­onship and not to beat the team we were play­ing,” Og­wu­mike said. “I told coach yes­ter­day in the air­port that’s ex­actly how I felt when he put it in that per­spec­tive. Hav­ing that with a good bal­ance of fo­cus and aware­ness and ef­fort is ex­actly what we need.”

After­ward, Lak­ers leg­end Magic Johnson ad­dressed the crest­fallen play­ers, telling them to put the loss be­hind them and be ready be­cause the se­ries was not over.

“You could hear a pin drop,” To­liver said. “Ev­ery­body was just re­ally locked in to what he was say­ing. When he’s talk­ing, ev­ery­body lis­tens and that was ex­actly what we needed to hear in that mo­ment be­cause in that mo­ment, your emo­tions are all over the place. He kind of just brought ev­ery­body back in and re­fo­cused ev­ery­one.”

MARK J. TERRILL — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Min­nesota Lynx guard Re­nee Mont­gomery, left, shoots as Los Angeles Sparks for­ward Can­dace Parker de­fends in Game 4 of the WNBA Fi­nals on Sun­day.

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