A physical, emotional game breathes life into the Lynx-Sparks rivalry

'That rivalry, that tension is still there ... You never want to lose games like that'

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In a rivalry matchup that gave viewers a little bit of everything—high emotions, technical fouls, injuries, strong displays of athleticism—the Minnesota Lynx secured their fourth win of the season, beating the Los Angeles Sparks 80-64 on Saturday night. The Lynx are starting to look like the team many expected them to be, despite continuing to struggle with turnovers and occasional miscues.

Emotions were high before anyone stepped on the court. The Lynx were 19-20 all-time at home against the Sparks and hungry for another win. The Lynx were 28-51 in all-time matchups against L.A.

The matchup was also the highly anticipated first time that four-time WNBA champion Seimone Augustus was not in a Lynx uniform at Target Center. The former Lynx No. 1 overall draft pick joined the Sparks’ coaching staff at the beginning of the season and added another piece to the historic rivalry.

Although the Lynx-Sparks rivalry runs deep, the current Lynx players showed their love and respect for three-time Olympic gold medalist Augustus by wearing her jersey as part of their pregame attire.

Right before tipoff, it was announced that Augustus’ jersey number would be retired alongside that of record five-time WNBA champion and current Lynx assistant coach Rebekkah Brunson. Both jerseys will be retired next season, becoming the second and third numbers to be officially retired after former Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen’s No. 13 was retired in 2019.

After concluding the pleasantries, it was time to play. After winning the tip-off, the Lynx began the game with a 6-0 run, starting with guard Kayla McBride hitting a deep two within the first 15 seconds. Center Sylvia Fowles’ opening minutes were a symphony of her strengths: she immediately added a block and rebound to her stats sheet less than a minute into the game and shocked many with a long two-pointer for her first points of the game. Fowles then turned her first steal of the game into a fast break score, capping off the Lynx opening run. 

Fowles would finish the game with 15 points, nine rebounds and five steals, becoming the third Lynx player to record at least four steals and at least four blocks in the same game, joining Nicky Anosike (three times) and Devereaux Peters (once).

“I thought we did a really nice job in the first half executing what we were trying to get done,” Lynx general manager and head coach Cheryl Reeve told reporters postgame. The Lynx finished the first half leading the Sparks 49-35 and shooting 50 percent from the field and 100 percent on free throws. Their bench outscored the Sparks’ bench 21-0.

On defense, the Lynx outrebounded the Sparks 20-13 and held the Sparks to 34.3 percent shooting from the field in the first half. Although the Lynx finished the the half with 11 turnovers, they held the Sparks to just nine points off turnovers. 

In the second half, the Sparks clawed their way back in, outscoring the Lynx 22-8 and capitalizing on the Lynx’s eight turnovers for six points in the third quarter. Emotions began to boil for the Lynx over after refs failed to call a foul in Fowles’ favor, resulting in a Cheryl Reeve technical foul. In true Lynx fandom fashion, the crowd began to chant “Cheryl” as Sparks guard Kristi Toliver shot the technical free throw, showing their support and appreciation of the Lynx coach.

When asked about the crowd’s involvement in the game, Lynx guard Rachel Banham told reporters, “Minnesota fans are amazing. They have our back no matter what.”

Turnovers continued to plague the Lynx as they ended the third quarter with a total of 19, including four unforced turnovers due to Lynx players losing control of the ball or throwing a bad pass out of bounds. The Sparks added eight points to their comeback off of Lynx turnovers and closed out the quarter tied 57-57.

Tensions carried over into the fourth quarter as the Lynx continued to struggle with unforced turnovers, opening the quarter with two out-of-bounds bad passes. But a Banham 3-pointer kicked off an 8-0 run for the Lynx to help put them back on top. Banham would conclude the game shooting a perfect 4-for-4 beyond the arc.

Despite moving ahead, emotions ran high for the rest of the game, including some pushing and shoving between Lynx forward Napheesa Collier and Sparks center Amanda Zahui B. after Sparks guard Arella Guirantes was called for a foul against Collier. Double technicals were awarded to each team. “I’m glad Phee stuck up for herself,” Reeve said of the rare moment fans saw Collier engage in an on-court scuffle. 

“Phee, she’s not gonna let anybody push her around,” Lynx point guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “At the end of the day, it’s basketball and it’s gonna get that way sometimes, and I think we responded the right way.”

The Lynx outscored the Sparks 23-7 in the fourth quarter, limiting the Sparks to just 17.6 percent shooting and zero free throw attempts. The Lynx had their largest rebound advantage of the season, outrebounding Los Angeles 43-27. Despite an impressive finish, the Lynx recorded a season-high 22 turnovers.

“We are talking to our team a lot about not giving up extra possessions. A lot,” said Reeve. “And so now we’re starting to hold them accountable. If that means we have to sub, we have to sub.”

Although the Lynx continue to struggle with turnovers, they came out on top against their top rival and are looking more like the team many expected them to be. It could be that now, a little over a third of way though the season, enough time has passed for the Lynx to find their flow. Or it could be that the intensity of a rivalry matchup helped set the Lynx up to do whatever it took to win.

“I think that rivalry, that tension is still there between the teams. It’s different players playing, but you never want to lose games like that,” said Dangerfield, who finished the game with 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting beyond the arc.

Unfortunately, the game did include worrisome injuries for both teams. Lynx forward Natalie Achonwa left the game in the second quarter after an apparent leg injury and forward/guard Aerial Powers appeared to have dislocated the thumb on her shooting hand. Sparks guard Erica Wheeler sustained a head injury in the third quarter and did not return. Neither team had an update on the injuries postgame, but it will certainly be a point of concern if these players aren’t available for future matchups.

A rivalry that runs deep and always brings the promise of intensity on both sides, the latest matchup between the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx lived up to the hype. Although the Lynx committed a season-high 22 turnovers, they finished the game with a +16 advantage on the glass, and for the 27th time in franchise history, the Lynx bench scored 40+ points in a game.

The Lynx will next face the Chicago Sky, who are fresh off a two-game winning streak and welcomed star forward Candace Parker back into their lineup this week.