Four lead changes in the final two minutes. Was it the sixth game of last year’s Los Angeles-Minnesota WNBA Finals? “We wanted to come out like it was game six,” Lynx center Sylvia Fowles told the MSR after Sunday’s 85-84 loss to give the visiting Sparks a 1-0 advantage in this year’s championship series.
At first the first quarter was nothing like a pre-billed matchup between the league’s top two clubs — a 22-point Los Angeles lead after seven minutes of play showed the Sparks as the freshest, while host Minnesota looked rusty and like the team with the league’s oldest roster.
But the rest of Sunday’s contest lived up to the pre-game hype: two ties, and two lead changes that ended with Chelsea Gray’s 14-footer pull-up jumper with two seconds left.
Maya Moore’s backcourt travelling turnover a second later killed any chance of a possible Minnesota game-winning shot — she earlier missed a crucial layup that would have gave the Lynx a one-point lead with 18 seconds left, but the ball rolled in and out.
“There’s no question that the championship is going to be won with that kind of stretch that we allowed in that first quarter,” Moore bemoaned. She and Gray tied with game scoring honors with 27 points each.
“It was tough to swallow at the beginning,” Onetha Taylor of Minneapolis, who was among the announced attendance of 11,823, told the MSR afterwards. “The Sparks in the end came up one point [better].
Game 2 is Tuesday in Minneapolis
“We got to start out like we played the last 75 minutes” of Sunday’s contest in the second game of the series, states Fowles, who added 22 points after a slow start – she didn’t get her first touches until midway into the first quarter as Los Angeles triple-teamed her, and Minnesota’s inability to open up the lane for her because of missed shots.
The whole world is talking
The Sparks players did not stand for the National Anthem before Sunday’s game — the team stayed in the locker room until afterwards. The unannounced protest was in response to President Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about Black athletes this weekend.
“We want to be able to be on this main stage and lead our communities and set an example,” stated Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike.
Led by the Minnesota Lynx wearing protest T-shirts last summer, the WNBA players have been on the forefront of protests against the injustices in this country, long before Colin Kaepernick, who have garnered more attention, however.
League President Lisa Borders during her Finals press conference was asked about this by ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel and this reporter:
“Our players have been very open…I think they are more insightful,” Borders told Voepel.
When I asked Borders what the league’s response would be if a W player, a group of players or the entire team, refused a White House invitation, she replied, “We support our players and their right to express themselves freely and fully. So [the league] supporting it is just the right thing to do. This is the culture that we have created: one that is inclusive and enjoys spirited debate and perspective from every point of view,” Madame President stated.
“I would say the players will decide as an organization, as they always do, at the franchise level, whether they will go or whether they will not go, and we will support our players,” reaffirmed Borders.
Minnesota: Must stretch the floor offensively — making outside shots is one way, which can open things up for Fowles. If they don’t, the lane will continue to be clog.
Reserve guard Jia Perkins only scored six points but they all came in the third quarter, when Minnesota started to close the deficit. The Sparks players, especially Nneka Ogwumike took particular notice to her play.
But the Lynx must get more from Rebekkah Brunson, who uncharacteristically struggled all night (1-for-6 shooting and only two rebounds) and Renee Montgomery (1-for-7, 0-for-3 in threes). Also, the team failed to make stops when they really needed it, especially the decisive fourth quarter.
“They are going to push back,” stated Ogwumike.
“The Lynx are going to recover,” predicted Taylor.
Los Angeles: Their defense on Fowles was suffocating but can they keep it up for the entire series? The Sparks was also able to get runouts early, which not only helped build their lead but also took the home crowd completely out of it. All five starters finished in double figures, and were able to get clear looks at the basket. Can this balance continue on Tuesday?
“It is going to be a battle,” reiterated Taylor.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more photos of Game 1 action by Chris Juhn below: