MINNEAPOLIS — In possibly one of the greatest WNBA games in recent history, the Lynx came up just short of winning their fourth title in six years. It didn’t come without a little bit of controversy though in an otherwise perfect game for a league that is trying to grow its fan base.
With 1:14 remaining in the game, Nneka Ogwumike hit a baseline jumper to give Los Angeles the 73-71 lead. I knew immediately that she didn’t get the shot off in time from where I was sitting and as the game continued, I wondered when or if they would even have time to review it. Seimone Augustus erased that lead on the ensuing possession so all seemed to be right again for the team. After that, Kristi Toliver missed a three-point attempt and the Lynx called a timeout.
Surely, this is when they would go to the replay. Alas, they did not, as the rules require play to be stopped immediately when reviewing a shot-clock violation in the final two minutes. Cheryl Reeve drew up a flawless play for the team where Maya Moore came off two screens for an open shot. She missed, but the rock in Rebekkah Brunson was on the far side for the rebound and she was fouled trying to put it back up. She made one of two with less than 24 seconds to go.
Candance Parker scored a layup to retake the lead, and Moore responded with a turnaround jumper with 15.9 seconds remaining. On the Sparks last possession, Ogwumike corralled the offensive rebound off a Chelsea Gray miss and recovered her shot where she was blocked (and fouled) by Sylvia Fowles. She hit the final make of the night on one foot with 3.1 seconds remaining.
Lindsay Whalen missed a half-court attempt to win it and the team had lost 77-76, failing to repeat as WNBA champions. “I'm not taking anything away from LA. Please know that. It takes hustle plays to win championships on the road, and they made hustle plays. But it's unfortunate that we're even having this discussion. The number of people that have contacted us and said that shot was no good. It's unfortunate,” Reeve said after the game.
I agree with her, it was unfortunate such a great game ended like that but they were simply outplayed in the second half. Getting outscored in the paint 36-20 and getting outrebounded 19-9 doesn’t bode well for a team that doesn’t score from outside consistently. Over the third and fourth quarter, the Sparks went on a 24-10 run that ended with three minutes left, giving them a 71-63 lead. The formerly raucous crowd was brought to a murmur as the Sparks were having their way on the offensive end.
The Lynx responded with a miraculous 8-0 run in just over a minute. LA could have pulled away but mental lapses allowed it to be a close game again. Ogwumike got a defensive three second call against her and Moore hit the free throw, followed by a 3-pointer on the possession. Brunson hit a two, then Whalen stole the inbound pass after a Sparks timeout and rumbled down to tie it up.
Moore in particular was stellar throughout the game. She had 23 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and three steals in over 36 minutes of play. If Reeve could afford to play her all 40 she would, especially considering the only Lynx players that were negative in plus/minus were the bench players.
Fowles played more than 37 minutes and she suffered a hand injury early in the third quarter when she blocked a shot. She had 10 points and nine rebounds but she was nearly shut out in the first half as they gave her no space to work. If Moore was ever out, it was Augustus filling in, as she had 17 points.
Parker ended up winning Finals MVP honors and she shined tonight. She had 28 points and 12 rebounds along with three steals. For a player that is sometimes criticized for not showing up in big games, she shut up the haters tonight. “I've never been around somebody that has been critiqued so hard, and I've not ever been around anybody that I'm more happy for than Candace tonight, for what she's gone through this season. It's been unbelievable,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said after the game.
Ogwumike had 12 points and 12 boards in only 31 minutes due to the five fouls she accrued. Toliver was limited to eight points for the same exact reason, making the LA win that much more impressive. Two of their best players nearly fouled out and they still won the game against the defending champs, sporting four Olympians.
It was a sad ending for the home team, but what’s next?
“I don't know, they just said stick a fork in us last year, and all we did was get back to the Finals and have the best record in the league. Maybe you guys should start writing how we're old and washed up and maybe it motivates them. I don't know,” Reeve remarked after the game.
Let’s see if the Lynx can continue their tradition of winning titles in odd years. See you in 2017.