LOS ANGELES (AP) — Candace Parker has waited her entire pro career to make the WNBA Finals. Now in her ninth year, she has a shot at winning the only major title to elude her and she’s not living up to her lofty standards.
Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks are back home tied 1-1 with the Minnesota Lynx heading into Game 3 on Friday night. The Sparks could close out the series with a pair of victories at home and earn their first league championship since winning back-to-back titles in 2001 and ’02.
But they’ll need a better effort from Parker, who was held to six points on 3 of 12 shooting in a 79-60 loss at Minnesota in Game 2. She had 14 points and nine rebounds in Game 1.
“In the playoffs in years past, I’ve raised my game and been able to be that threat and I want to do that for my team,” she said Thursday after practice. “I’m not talking about just scoring; I’m talking about having a presence. When a play needs to be made, whether it’s on offensive or defensive end, I’m ready to make it.”
The Sparks’ offense runs through two-time league MVP Parker and current MVP Nneka Ogwumike, whose 14 points — including 2 in the final period — in Game 2 also was down from her Game 1 output.
“I want to see that same chemistry that we’ve been seeing the whole year,” Ogwumike said of her and Parker. “I want to see more rebounding and seeing us running.”
So does coach Brian Agler, who was left wondering where the duo’s focus and urgency went in Game 2.
“Just being aggressive. Just being more on their front foot than their back foot,” he said of his MVP duo. “Playing and using the skills that they have, their athleticism, their basketball instincts and their intelligence. They’re elite in those kind of ways. We need to find ways to bring that out.”
The Sparks missed 17 of 20 3-pointers in Game 2.
“A lot of that was because of our energy and effort,” Parker said. “I don’t think we were as focused as we were in Game 1.”
Friday’s game is being played at Galen Center on the USC campus, not far from the Sparks’ home at Staples Center, where the Kings are hosting their NHL home opener. The Lynx lost twice on the Sparks’ home court by three points each in the regular season.
“It’s a control game,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “There’s no adjustment that somebody is going to make that is going to catch somebody off guard.”
Minnesota struck first in the first two games, grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring to start.
“We know they are going to come in and jump on us from the start. We have to be able to stop their run and go own our run,” Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus said. “That’s how it’s going to be the entire night. It’s going to be a heavyweight bout. If they throw a punch, we have to throw a punch right back. No matter what, we cannot give up on our defensive and offensive schemes.”
According to ESPN, the first two Finals games on ABC and ESPN2 averaged 520,000 viewers, a 5 percent increase from last year’s Finals featuring Minnesota and Indiana.
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