LOS ANGELES-The Los Angeles Sparks played Game 4 of the WNBA Finals as if something was owed to them. As a result, the Sparks were handed the keys to a 85-79 defeat at Staples Center. On a night the Sparks had a chance to close out the Minnesota Lynx to win their first championship since 2002, they went into entitlement mode.
With Maya Moore going off the racks for 31 points and giving the defending WNBA champions Lynx a reprieve from an embarrassing Game 3 loss at USC Galen Center, the Sparks played like they had already celebrated their coronation to the 2016 title.
The defensive energy that galvanized the Sparks to spanking the Lynx with a 17-point whipping in Game 3, came up in the missing in action category. Unforced shot attempts and turnovers at the most inopportune moments of the game turned out to be the theme for the Sparks in Game 4.
Instead of finishing the deal on a 2-1 advantage, best-of-five series lead, the Sparks gave Moore and the Lynx one more opportunity to claim a second straight championship. Playing with their heads in the clouds could be one reason. Another thought could be a failure to execute down the stretch when it mattered most.
The more pressing and bigger issue is how is it that 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike only scores 11 points in 33 minutes of play? When did two-time league MVP Candace Parker decide to take the night out with her 14 points in 34 minutes of action? That kind of production from Parker and Ogwumike won’t get it done against Minnesota, especially on the road.
The only way the Sparks can beat Minnesota with Ogwumike scoring 11 and Parker dropping 14 points is if guard Kristi Toliver channels her inner Steph Curry and rain down 50 on the Lynx. At least their minds will be in Game 5. That cannot be said about Game 4.
That’s because everything before and during what was supposed to be a closeout game for the Sparks, seemed a bit too much. There was all the hype, the pre-game festivities and all, the interviews, the celebrities, the pageantry and all of that entertainment stuff.
It seemed like a pre-ordained coronation was taking place before the Sparks had even hit the floor to see if they could step on the throats of the Lynx to win the WNBA title. It was a feeling that winning the championship is supposed to happen for the Sparks.
It is their destiny. Why wouldn’t it be? The Sparks have the best player in the league in MVP Nneka Ogwumike. The Sixth Woman of the Year Jantel Lavender rides shotgun on the Sparks’ bench, patiently waiting her turn to get on the court to light up the scoreboard.
Alana Beard, the Sparks’ Game 1 hero, can lock up anybody on the court as her WNBA All-Defensive First team credentials will attest. Parker, already a two-time league MVP, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Ogwumike in elite status. And better yet, Lakers legend Magic Johnson, is the team’s boss.
Being in Los Angeles, you know the celebrity star power is real, so having backup would not be a problem to come out and witness history. Kobe Bryant and his family sat courtside, parked just a couple of chairs away from Cedric the Entertainer as the party was ready to get started.
But then they actually played the game, and the Lynx, especially Moore, went about their business to be real party wreckers. Just plain haters. So no balloons streamed down from rafters. There was no confetti (There may be one after Game 5). The championship trophy is now back in Minnesota.
If the Sparks want to get their hands on that trophy, they’re going to have to play like they are a little hungry. Minnesota is not going to give up their title without a fight. The Sparks are not going to win this title thing if they think they are owed the championship because of all the individual awards they’ve been honored with this season.
That’s not how it works.
Nobody is owed anything. Nothing is guaranteed. That’s true in life. It is no different in sports. In order to win Game 5, the Sparks have to go and ball out. It’s that simple. Making poor decisions won’t cut it. Playing without discipline will not work. An attitude adjustment would help.
If the Sparks come out and play with conviction instead of going on the court feeling entitled to a title, there should be a parade around Los Angeles sometime in the near future.