Balance, 'vintage Lynx basketball' move Minnesota past L.A.

MINNEAPOLIS -- It wasn't one dominant performance that sent Minnesota to the WNBA's Western Conference finals for the fifth straight season.

No Maya Moore show was necessary. No Seimone Augustus show was required.

No, instead it was a sum-of-their-parts effort Tuesday night at the Target Center -- or as coach Cheryl Reeve called it, "Vintage Lynx basketball" -- that led to a 91-81 win over Los Angeles to close out a first-round playoff series in the deciding Game 3.

Reeve has been waiting for this. Through this summer of missing one player or another, seeing Augustus and Lindsay Whalen sitting on her bench for long, crucial stretches, working to integrate Sylvia Fowles -- who arrived only July 27 -- into the fold, Reeves kept envisioning the complete effort that finally arrived against the Sparks in an elimination game.

"And the longer this team plays together, the better we are going to get," Reeve said.

Which might be bad news for everyone else still playing in the WNBA playoffs, which continue Wednesday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET) as New York and Indiana open the East finals.

When Minnesota plays complete and cohesive, a dangerous mix of talent and hustle, they make for a very tough out.

"We really came together tonight, especially at the hardest points of the game," Whalen said.

Minnesota's team win sets up another compelling series between the Lynx and Phoenix, which is rested after sweeping Tulsa and waiting to continue its title defense when the West finals open at the Target Center on Thursday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).

Minnesota's box score was a testament to teamwork. Five players scored in double figures, and Anna Cruz added nine points. Moore finished with 20 points but was 6-for-21 from the floor. Augustus added 16 points (6-of-16) and Whalen 14 (4-of-10). But other players came up big.

Cruz, a speedy guard, had a key stretch in which she contributed offensively, including a big 3-pointer in the third quarter that pushed Minnesota back to a double-digit lead as the Sparks began to whittle away.

Devereaux Peters came in to replace the tentative minutes the Lynx were getting from Fowles and hit 5 of 7 from the floor for 12 points to go with five rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots.

"Devereaux was fierce tonight," Augustus said. "She's not known as a scorer on this team, but we put her in position to be successful and she knocked down shots."

And Fowles found her footing and scored nine of her 13 points in the final quarter, pulling down some key offensive rebounds and coming up with a fate-sealing block on the Sparks' Kristi Toliver with 30 seconds to go.

"We are really hard to stop when we play like that," Peters said. "We need to play with that flow in the next series, as well."

Moore, who was averaging 30.0 points through the first two games of this series, said it's fun to play with so many contributors.

"It gives everybody that extra lift of confidence, that individually we don't have to do anything alone," Moore said. "The more we experience that, the more momentum we are going to build."

Reeve said the team went into its film session talking about the players that the Sparks did not want to have to guard while they focused their attention on Moore, Augustus and Whalen.

"They didn't want to have to guard Cruz and Peters and [Rebekkah] Brunson, and we needed those players to get involved and take the load off," Reeve said. "And we had great aggressiveness from everybody."

Minnesota outscored Los Angeles 22-4 in second-chance points, with a 16-7 advantage on the offensive glass.

"Getting second-chance points was something we talked about all during this series, just crashing the boards for the whole 40 minutes," Fowles said. "Out of the three games, this was the game that we had it all together. It feels so good to know that all of our teammates stepped up tonight."

Fowles was particularly grateful for Peters' effort.

"She set a different tone and she made me want to go out there and do the things she was doing," Fowles said.

Minnesota was aggressive on the defensive end, as well, scoring 20 points on Sparks turnovers and doing a good job in the first half of denying the ball to Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks' two leading scorers.

And Minnesota withstood the Sparks' charges in the third and fourth quarters, including Los Angeles' run to cut the Lynx lead to 65-64 early in the fourth quarter. The Lynx responded with a 9-0 run. The Sparks were within two possessions with less than a minute to go, but Minnesota forced a huge five-second turnover on the in-bounds play to nail down the win.

Reeve said her team learned important lessons from its Game 2 loss on Sunday in Long Beach, California.

"The experience that we've had, with our starting group getting a chance to play together, they are gaining confidence in each other," Reeve said. "Our core group, when they are engaged, like they were today, people are going to have a tough time stopping us."