Alana Beard’s buzzer-beater gives Sparks 1-0 edge in WNBA Finals vs. Lynx

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The Los Angeles Sparks beat the Minnesota Lynx 78-76 Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis in the first game of the best-of-five WNBA Finals. With 24.7 seconds left in regulation and the score tied, Los Angeles exited a timeout and ended the game with a buzzer-beating jumper from guard Alana Beard to secure the victory.

The game was close all four quarters with 10 lead changes and neither team leading by more than five.

“I thought it was a very competitive game,” Sparks head coach Brian Agler said. “We know that we have a very worthy opponent we’re up against, and just proud of how we handled things down the stretch, gave ourselves a chance to win, making plays both offensively and defensively. Moving forward to Tuesday, we have to make sure we keep our same focus and same energy out there on the floor because we know that they’re a hungry team. They’re trying to make history, and they’re going to come after it.”

While Los Angeles had a hot start scoring the first four points, the Lynx was never far behind. The Sparks had a three-point lead 21-18, at the end of the first quarter but the Lynx outscored them 18-13 in the second period. At the break Minnesota led 36-34.

The second half was just as tightly contested. The Lynx had a four-point advantage, 60-56, heading into the last period that quickly evaporated.

“L.A. came in here and beat us,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said. “They won the game. They had a great deal of energy and passion about what they were doing across the board. They handled adversity well, and we just couldn’t get over the hump. We thought we had some good stretches. I think we were up four, had a couple chances to extend it, and we just made some bad plays that cost us.”

In the last quarter, the two teams went back and forth until the last shot, the winner from Beard.

“I don’t think I’ve ever hit a game winner, so it’s pretty cool,” Beard said about the shot. “Pretty cool. But this is only one game, and that’s how we think about it. We came in and did what we wanted to do.”

Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver led the Sparks with 19 points each. Ogwumike also had nine rebounds. Candace Parker added 14 points plus nine rebounds. Chelsea Gray came off the bench for 12 points.

Three Lynx players scored 18 points: Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. Fowles had a double-double due to her 13 rebounds. Moore collected six rebounds while Whalen dished out six assists.

Reeve gave an extensive analysis as to why her team lost the game.

“We didn’t play a clean game offensively in terms of passing the basketball, cutting and moving,” Reeve said. “A lot of our passes were deflected, which you can’t do. Again, give L.A. credit, especially somebody like Beard who really prides herself on her defense.”

“But we lost the game at the foul line and turnovers,” she continued. “We couldn’t defend without fouling. I don’t know that we got necessarily much benefit of the whistle. I’ve got to look at some of that stuff. But I thought there was a tough stretch there where it seemed like everything we did was a foul. But nonetheless, but I think it was that stretch, too, when we were up four and we kind of let them get back in it and then they hit a couple big shots. And then obviously give Beard credit for knocking it down. She was open. That was certainly a good play by them. We got caught over-helping, and she made a big shot.”

The series resumes on Tuesday in Minnesota at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN 2.

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Photos: © Lee Michaelson, all rights reserved

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