Sparks avoid collapse, beat Lynx in Game 1 of WNBA Finals
MINNEAPOLIS — Chelsea Gray got a sliver of daylight and let a 14-foot jumper fly — Game 1 of the WNBA Finals and what would have been a dubious piece of history for the Los Angeles Sparks hanging in the balance.
When it splashed through there may have been a few sighs of relief sprinkled in among those celebratory high fives.
Gray’s pull-up jumper with 2 seconds delivered an 85-84 victory on Sunday over the Minnesota Lynx in the kind of edge-of-your-seat finish that no one saw coming when the Sparks led 28-2 in the first quarter.
“I think all athletes dream of that moment,” Gray said. “I think you dream of hitting that shot. … I’m glad it went in.”
Gray scored a career-high 27 points and Candace Parker added 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Sparks, who joined their NFL brethren by sitting out the national anthem. The Sparks led 28-2 in the first quarter and 78-66 with five minutes to play, but gave it all back after a charge from the Lynx.
Maya Moore scored 27 points and Sylvia Fowles had 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Lynx, who roared back from that 26-point hole to take an 84-83 lead with 6.5 seconds to play. A victory would have been the largest playoff comeback in WNBA history, but Minnesota could not get one last stop.
“I know everyone is going to talk about what a great comeback it was, but that’s not the world we live in,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “That means absolutely nothing to us.”
The Sparks beat the Lynx in a five-game thriller last season, and Game 1 had plenty of fireworks even before the opening tip.
With the Lynx locking arms in solidarity, the Sparks quickly left the Williams Arena court just before “The Star Spangled Banner” began to play, joining hundreds of NFL players in opposition to President Donald Trump’s call for NFL owners to fire players who do not stand for the national anthem. As soon as the song was over, they returned to a chorus of boos and then made another emphatic statement once the game started.
They led 12-0 when Gray knocked down a 3-pointer and pushed the lead to 28-2 later in the first quarter, a staggering level of dominance against a star-studded Lynx team playing in the finals for the sixth time in seven seasons. The Lynx did not grab a rebound in the entire first quarter and it took them more than eight minutes to get Fowles, the league MVP, her first shot.
The Lynx started chipping away, trimming the deficit to 10 points at halftime and getting Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Alana Beard into foul trouble. Moore’s defense in the fourth jumpstarted a 12-0 burst that she capped with a steal and layup to tie the game at 78 and Seimone Augustus hit a 3 for an 82-81 lead with 50 seconds to go.
“This is the finals. This is the Minnesota Lynx,” Ogwumike said. “They are going to punch back and we have to be able to respond to that better.”
Moore’s dash to the bucket put the Lynx in front with 6.5 seconds to play, but that was plenty of time for Gray. She used an escape dribble to create a little daylight, and her high-arching jumper splashed through.
Odyssey Sims scored 16 points and Ogwumike had 11 points and six rebounds for Los Angeles.
Augustus finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists for Minnesota.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win the game, but there’s no question that the championship isn’t going to be won with that kind of stretch that we allowed in that first quarter,” Moore said.
Ogwumike said the Sparks were inspired to sit out the anthem by the Pittsburgh Steelers and coach Mike Tomlin, who did the same in Chicago on Sunday. The Sparks said they were not disrespecting the country or the flag, but standing in solidarity with their NFL counterparts.
“Some people may want to kneel, some people may not want to,” she said. “We want to show everyone that a team does as a team does. We wanted to stand in solidarity together and stand by our mission and that’s unity and togetherness. We felt that we wanted to also show our respect for other people who understand how important it is for us to be together at this time.”
Game 2 is on Tuesday night in Minneapolis.
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