Sparks topple Lynx to win WNBA Championship, victory seals a banner season for Ogwumike and Parker

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Photos © Lee Michaelson, all right reserved

The Los Angeles Sparks won the 2016 WNBA Championship, 77-76, on a shot from MVP Nneka Ogwumike with 3.1 seconds left in the Game 5 of the best-of-five Finals Thursday night at the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis. The victory gives the Sparks their first championship since 2002 for a total of three titles.

With the series tied 2-2, the Sparks managed to overcome a poised Lynx veteran squad, manage foul trouble and upset a sell out crowd of 19, 423 Minnesota fans.

Ogwumike’s shot came after she collected two offensive rebounds with the time winding down. Her shot attempt after the first rebound was blocked by Lynx center Sylvia Fowles. However, Ogwumike got control of the ball again and hit the mark the second time off of one foot as she faded away from the baseline.

With 24 lead changes, neither team was dominant during the entire game as they went back and forth throughout the quarters. The Sparks led by as much as eight while the Lynx pulled ahead by six right before halftime, 34-28. Los Angeles came out of halftime on a mission to even up the score. The Lynx had a one-point edge, 55-54, heading into the last period.

Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve was blunt in her assessment of what went wrong for the Lynx in the second half.

“There’s no question the second half they scored at will in the paint. We had them at 34 percent in the first half. I thought defending our tails off, and then in the second half we didn’t get that done. They scored in the paint at will. You guys watched it. How many shots did they hit? We go look at a shot chart right now, it’s not going to be pretty. We understand that’s where LA wants to be, and we didn’t get that done, and then they had 14 offensive rebounds. So they turned the tables on us.”

She also criticized her team’s offensive efforts.

“But in the end there was a stretch there, we struggled offensively. They got separation. We stormed back and put ourselves in position to win, and we just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Candace Parker led the Sparks with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Ogwumike finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds, her third postseason double-double. Chelsea Gray was also in double figures with 11 points.

Maya Moore paced the Lynx with 23 points, six rebounds and 11 assists. Seimone Augustus contributed 17 points while Fowles and Lindsay Whalen had 10 points each. Fowles also pulled down nine rebounds while Whalen dished out five assists.

A Good Year for Nneka

The win sealed a banner season for Ogwumike. In addition to being named the league’s MVP, she is the Associated Press Player of the Year and was a unanimous selection to the All-WNBA First Team. She was also voted to the WNBA All-Defensive First Team and was recently voted president of the WNBA players’ union executive council, a post she will hold for three years.

Ogwumike finished the regular season third in the league in scoring (19.7 ppg) and rebounding (9.1 rpg) and as the most efficient shooter in the history of professional basketball. She had a 66.5 field goal percentage and shot 16-of-26 from 3-point range (.615) and 146-of-168 from the line (.869).

In the playoffs she averaged 17.9 points on 62.5 percent shooting along with 9.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

A Season of Redemption for Candace

For Tennessee alumna Candace Parker, the season had a sour note early on when it was revealed that she was not selected to the 2016 U.S. women’s basketball Olympic team for the Rio Games. Last week she was also left off the squads for the All-WNBA First and Second Teams. On a tragic note, she had to deal with the death of her college coach, the legendary Pat Summitt, in late June.

Sparks head coach Brian Agler played “Rocky Top” in Parker’s honor during her post-game presser.

“I had to do that,” said Agler, “and it’s nothing other than 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. She stayed on the high road, fought through everything, stayed with it, was persistent, and sort of like – she went through sort of like what our team went through, the ups and downs. We’re really happy with how we played tonight, showed a lot of resiliency and perseverance and made plays down the stretch.”

Parker also talked about the ups and downs of the season.

“I can’t even describe this journey that this team has been on. I mean, everybody on this team has a story, and this last year has been really tough for me personally, and my teammates and my coaches were always there for me. I think I’m excited because we won a championship, but the journey to get here, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anybody else, with any other team, any other coaches. It’s amazing when you surround yourself with great people how fun it is and how exciting it is when you get what you want.”

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