Gray’s last-second shot sends Sparks past Lynx in Game 1

Minnesota's Maya Moore attempts to drive to the basket but is shut down by Los Angeles' Candace Parker in the first half of Game 1 of a WNBA finals matchup between the Minnesota Lynx and the LA Sparks at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. The Sparks won 85-84. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)
Minnesota’s Maya Moore attempts to drive to the basket but is shut down by Los Angeles’ Candace Parker in the first half of Game 1 of a WNBA finals matchup between the Minnesota Lynx and the LA Sparks at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. The Sparks won 85-84. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

Minneapolis – For a moment at Sunday, it looked like the Minnesota Lynx were going to pull off the improbable.

They had come back from a 26-point first quarter deficit to tie the score twice in the fourth period. But Sparks guard Chelsea Gray, who broke the second tie with a jump shot, delivered another dagger shot with 2.9 seconds remaining to send the defending champions to an 85-84 Game 1 Finals win Sunday.

Gray led all five Los Angeles starters in double figures with a career-high 27 points, while Odyssey Sims scored 16 points and Candace Parker had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

The Sparks have made their living on big shots in the Finals the last two years, with Alana Beard’s last-second jumper giving them the win against Minnesota in last year’s Game 1, and Nneka Ogwumike’s put-back for the title win. But before Sunday’s game winner had gone through the net, Gray was already getting back on defense.

“I was like, ‘they still have time on the clock’……they are capable of doing that,” Gray said. “We were just like, ‘get a stop, get a stop.’ Adrenaline was just running through me. I’m just happy we got the win and they didn’t make a halfcourt shot.”

To say the game was a rollercoaster ride would be an understatement.

Los Angeles sent the Lynx reeling in the first quarter with a blistering 28-2 start that featured their trademark lockdown defense. Minnesota didn’t score a second field goal until a Sylvia Fowles layup with 1:49 remaining, and the team had no rebounds for the period. A Lindsay Whalen half-court shot at the buzzer didn’t count, and the Sparks led 32-11.

The Lynx twice trimmed the lead to ten points in the second quarter, and took that same deficit into halftime. Both teams were about statistically dead even in the third period, which saw Minnesota trim the lead to as little as five on two occasions before Los Angeles blew it back up to 12.

Candace Parker elevates over the defense to score. Photo by Brian Few Jr./TGSportsTV1.
Candace Parker elevates over the defense to score. Photo by Brian Few Jr./TGSportsTV1.

But it was in the fourth quarter that the Lynx ignited, with Maya Moore scoring ten of her team-high 27 points. They capitalized on a series of missed shots and turnovers by the Sparks midway through, and were able to convert and score. Minnesota tied the game at 78 with 2:10 to go, and again at 79 less than a minute later.

Sylvia Fowles had 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Lynx, while Seimone Augustus added 19 points.

Sparks coach Brian Agler said he was happy with his team’s ability to respond to Minnesota’s pressure.

“We had the ability to keep matching them, that was the big thing,” he said. “When they made their runs, it took them a lot of possessions to do that. I was pleased with a lot of things we did. I think both teams are probably going to look at this game and say, you know, there’s a lot of things we can clean up and get better at.”

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said her team’s scoring run wasn’t the most important aspect of their game.

“I know everybody is going to talk about what a great comeback it was, etc., but that’s not the world we live in. That means absolutely nothing to us. It’s more what we did in the early part of the game that we’re focused on; that obviously was disappointing that happened.”

Fowles said the Lynx lost focus at various times during the game, which is something they’ll have to fix.

“Just being aware of what’s going on and knowing this is the playoffs, and how we started was unacceptable,” she said. “Just being focused and staying poised was the difference.”

Game 2 is Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT.

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