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Lynx lose to Sparks in heartbreaker at the buzzer

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Lindsay Whalen willed this team for three quarters, but they came up short due to turnovers. Alana Beard hit a buzzer-beater to break the tie in the end, 78-76.

WNBA: Los Angeles Sparks at Minnesota Lynx Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The team had another extended break this season, as they hadn’t played since last Sunday when they closed out the Mercury in Game 3 of the semifinals. They were patiently waiting for the Sparks to close out their series, which they did in Game 4 to allow for the first ever All-Western Conference WNBA Finals. That’s a mouthful, but at least we get to see the two best teams in the league go at it in a five-game series.

The star power in this Finals is over the top. The Sparks roll out Nneka Ogwumike, the MVP of the league, Candace Parker, former MVP of the league, and Kristi Toliver, one of the top 3-point shooters in the league. You know who the Lynx have, so this matchup was always going to be highly anticipated.

It delivered in Game 1, much to the dismay of Lynx fans. After the team held a 71-68 late in the game, untimely turnovers led to their demise. The Sparks were able to go on a 6-1 run where the Lynx had two turnovers, shot 0-2 from the field and 1-2 from the stripe.

They were down 76-74 when Rebekkah Brunson came up with a defensive rebound and immediately found Maya Moore. She took it down the length of the court, drove baseline and finished at the rim in between Parker and Ogwumike to tie the game at 76.

With about 24 seconds remaining, LA had the final shot. Chelsea Gray, one of two bench players to get minutes for the Sparks, handled the ball as they waited for the clock to tick down. Brunson and Sylvia Fowles did a great job defending, preventing any penetration in the lane. Gray waved off a screen and drove to the hoop. When the defense clamped down, she kicked it out to Alana Beard who was wide-open. She hit it as the buzzer sounded and the home players were stunned.

“We knew exactly what they were running. We were ready. We got caught over-helping, and they made a good pass. We didn't get a deflection, and they knocked down a shot,” Cheryl Reeve said of the shot after the game. It was a hard fought and heartbreaking loss for the team that now gives up their home-court advantage.

After playing against (and sweeping) the defensively maligned Mercury, the Lynx had their hands full in this one. The Sparks forced 16 turnovers and held Moore scoreless in the first half. They were doing a good job of trapping off screens, preventing open midrange shots the Lynx love so much.

Ogwumike and Parker were killing it on offense with backdoor cuts early. Brunson was uncharacteristically caught looking on several occasions but thanks to Lindsay Whalen, the Lynx held a 36-34 halftime lead. Whalen willed this team the first three quarters, scoring six points in each one, and they wouldn’t have been there in the end without her.

That’s when Moore took over. After scoring no points in the first half, she turned it on the second, finishing with 18 points. 10 of those came in the fourth and her play was incredible down the stretch once they lost their lead. She did have a pretty bad turnover, when Beard stole the ball away with 1:32 to go and the Lynx down two.

“Give them some credit. I think Maya just took a little bit to kind of understand how they were playing her, and yeah, I think she forced some stuff. As a team, we weren't as good offensively,” Reeve said of Moore after the game.

It was back and forth the entire game until Beard’s final shot. It’ll be interesting to see how LA holds up throughout the series. As I said, they only played Gray and Sixth-Woman of the Year in Jantel Lavender off their bench. “So a lot has to do with matchups. A lot has to do with just gut feeling on my behalf feeling like what we have to do. Tuesday could be different. Tuesday we might go nine or ten deep. We just have to wait and see,” LA coach Brian Agler said after the game.

We will have to wait and see and the Lynx need to respond with a win or it will be a tough time coming back, though they do have experience losing Game 1 of the finals. “Obviously we've got to look at what we can do better from today, but it's a long series, like you said. It's one game. We were in this position last year. You know, you regroup, you see what you can do to recover and get back for Tuesday night,” Whalen said after the game.

Fowles finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Moore had 18 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Whalen had 18 points and six assists. The bench had limited production with eight total points, six of those from Jia Perkins.

Ogwumike finished with 19 points, nine boards and two steals. Parker had 14 points and nine rebounds while Toliver chipped in 19 points.

The teams will see each other again Tuesday night at Target Center.