LOS ANGELES (AP) — Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike came up big to move the Los Angeles Sparks within one win of repeating as WNBA champions.
Ogwumike had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Parker had 13 points and five steals to help the Sparks beat the Minnesota Lynx 75-64 in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on Friday night.
“Good players have to make big plays,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said. “Tonight was our night.”
The Sparks had double figures from four of their five starters, with Odyssey Sims scoring 16 points and Chelsea Gray adding 14. The bench produced 11 points.
The Sparks have taken a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five game series and can become the first team since Los Angeles in 2001-02 to win consecutive WNBA titles.
The Lynx face elimination on Sunday. A win would push the series to a fifth and final game at Minnesota on Wednesday.
Maya Moore led Minnesota with 16 points, all of which came in the second half. She picked up her third foul in the second quarter and fouled out with 37 seconds left.
Sylvia Fowles added 15 points for the Lynx. Starters Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus were held scoreless on a combined 0-for-6 shooting.
“It’s hard to win a WNBA Finals game without your star players,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. “In the series, we’ve seen the team that has the stars that outplay the other stars wins the game. We do find that important.
“However, I’m really appreciative of the group that was in there battling and giving us a chance to win the game. Our defense gave us a chance for sure. We had a rookie point guard in there (Alexis Jones). We had to go small. I have an appreciation for what that group did to give us a chance to be in the game.”
The Sparks led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, but the Lynx pulled within one in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles held on, outscoring Minnesota 17-7 after the Lynx got within 58-57.
“We were able to get stops on the defensive end. They are a great team,” Parker said. “They hit some big shots down the stretch. We just wanted to make things tough for the big-time players. We didn’t let them get a lot of second-chance opportunities.”
The first two games came down to the final seconds. This was another close one, but the Sparks never trailed.
For the second straight game, Parker was held scoreless in the first quarter and had just five points by halftime. The Sparks built an 11-point lead in the first quarter, but led just 32-26 by halftime.
Ogwumike was whistled for her third foul with 8:18 left in the third quarter and played through it in 29 minutes.
The Sparks left the court before the national anthem in silent protest. The Sparks did the same in Games 1 and 2 at Minnesota and were booed when they returned to the court. They were not booed in Los Angeles.
The Sparks outrebounded the Lynx 34-27 after making a concerted effort for a better performance on the glass. Parker didn’t have a rebound in the first half of Game 2. She finished with seven rebounds. Ogwumike had a team-best 10. For the Lynx, Fowles had a team-high 11 rebounds, but no other starter had more than three.
Minnesota’s Rebekka Brunson, who averaged 6.7 rebounds in the regular season, finished with just two. Moore had three rebounds.
“By getting to the ball before we did,” said Moore, explaining the Sparks’ dominance on the glass. “Rebounding is sometimes about luck, but 99 percent is about effort. That’s definitely not a secret about winning championships. You get extra possessions with rebounds. It’s something we know we have to get done. Something we can do because it’s been our identity all year.”
The Sparks can hoist the trophy in Los Angeles with one more win. They won last year in Minnesota.
“I think this team is mature enough to realize how important it is to play possession by possession,” Parker said. “We can learn from our experiences in the past. We’re mature enough to know you can’t go out there and try to swing for the fences and hit the home run.
“We could’ve come home 0-2 or 2-0. Nothing is guaranteed. I think that’s the way we’re going to approach it. They’re a team that plays well when their backs are against the wall.”
Magic Johnson, co-owner of the Sparks, attended the game. So did musician Snoop Dogg.
Fowles was named to the All-WNBA first team with 39 of 40 votes for 195 points. Parker was also on the first team with 137 points, along with Moore (127). Ogwumike and Gray were on the second team.
The Sparks can clinch the WNBA championship with a win in Game 4 Sunday at Staples Center.
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