Chelsea Gray propels Sparks to victory in Finals game one, Los Angeles tops Minnesota 85-84
Photos © Lee Michaelson, all rights reserved.
For the first ten minutes of game one of the WNBA Finals, it seemed as if the Los Angeles Sparks would come away with a rare lopsided rout of the top-seeded Minnesota Lynx. While the Sparks prevailed with an 85-84 victory in front on 11,823 fans at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, the outcome of the game was not certain until the last two seconds when guard Chelsea Gray nailed a pull-up jump shot to give her team the hard-fought win.
“I think all athletes dream of that moment,” said Gray of the game winner. “You know, especially at this magnitude and at this stage, I think you dream of hitting that shot. Last year it was Alana and then it was Nneka. I’m glad it went in. I think we drew up a good play, and my teammates had confidence in me once I got the ball and I knocked it down.”
Gray, who had a postseason career-high 27 points plus six assists, was a major force in the game from the outset. Her three-point shot at 7:33 in the first quarter gave the Sparks their first double-digit lead and capped a 12-0 run to start the contest.
The Lynx had an abysmal first quarter, going the entire period without a single rebound in contrast to 13 by the Sparks. While Los Angeles shot 60 percent from the field in the first quarter, the Lynx’s field goal percentage was a depressing 26.7 percent. Los Angeles headed into the second quarter with a 32-11 lead.
Foul trouble for three Sparks players hindered the team in the second quarter as last year’s league MVP, forward Nneka Ogwmike, and Alana Beard had three each by the end of the first half. Los Angeles center Candace Parker had four fouls at the break.
The Lynx increased their field goal percentage to 56.3 percent in the second quarter and outscored their opponent 22-11. Minnesota also managed to outrebound the Sparks 12 to 6 in the second period. Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles stepped up big for the Lynx as well on the scoring end. Moore had nine points in the second ten minutes while Fowles had eight plus five rebounds. However, the Sparks still had a ten-point advantage heading into halftime, 43-33.
During the third quarter, the teams were neck and neck in just about every category. The Sparks only outscored the Lynx 25-23 and the Lynx pulled down one more rebound than Los Angeles. With four personal fouls haunting her, Parker played less than seven minutes in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was a showcase for Gray and the Lynx’s Moore. They were the only two players to score in double figures in the last ten minutes, Gray with 11 and Moore with 10.
The Lynx overcame a 12-point deficit in the last period by shooting 60 percent from the field compared to 38.9 percent by the Sparks. After a 23-9 run from the Lynx in the fourth quarter, the game was tied up at 79 when Fowles hit 1-of-2 free throws. She missed an opportunity to put her team ahead by missing the second free throw but Seimone Augustus followed up with a three-point shot to give Minnesota its first lead in the entire game with 49.8 seconds left in the contest.
However, Ogwumike quickly followed with a jump shot to put the Sparks up again 83-82 but the lead was short-lived as Maya Moore completed a layup with 6.5 seconds left on the clock. After a 20 second timeout, the tables turned again and the Sparks laid the groundwork for Gray to take her winning jumper. The last quarter had four lead changes.
In addition to Gray, the rest of the Sparks starters also scored in double figures. Odyssey Sims had 16 points plus four rebounds and five assists. Parker finished with a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds plus four assists and three steals. Ogwumike scored 11 points and pulled down six rebounds. Beard added 10 points.
Sparks head coach Brian Agler attributed his team’s hot start to defense.
“I thought we defended them well,” said Agler. “They didn’t hit shots. That was a big part of it. They hit shots and we didn’t. I know that sounds simple and elementary, that’s pretty much what it was. They had a couple turnovers and we got out on transition. You know, they upped their intensity at the defensive end and really started pressuring us and made us stagnant. Over time, even in the first half, they got themselves back within striking distance.”
Minnesota’s offense was led by Moore’s 27 points and Fowles’ 22 points and 13 rebounds (her fifth Finals double-double). Augustus also finished in double figures with 19 points plus eight rebounds and four assists.
Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve put her team’s mindset postgame in perspective.
“I know everybody is going to talk about what a great comeback it was, etc., but that’s not the world we live in,” said Reeve. “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.”
Her team had no issues with effort, it was the execution that was the issue.
“It’s never effort with this team,” said Reeve. “I don’t have to ask them to play hard. We play hard, and execution was definitely the problem.”
She did praise the play of Gray, who posed a problem for the Lynx.
“I think Gray made some really good plays. You know, some of the things we were trying to get done, we got done, and she still would make a play.”
Game two is set for Tuesday, Sept. 26 in Minneapolis at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN 2.
- Los Angeles continued their current winning streak with 11 straight games (4th in the postseason) and took a 1-0 series lead over Minnesota.
- Los Angeles finished off the first quarter with a 21-point lead, 32-11. 32 points ties the second most posts by a team in the first quarter of a WNBA Finals game (32 – Los Angeles vs. Minnesota, October 14, 2016) and the most scored in the first quarter for the Sparks this postseason.
- The Sparks led by as many as 26 points (28-2) in the first quarter and is the largest lead at any time for the Sparks this postseason.
- The Sparks 25 points in the third quarter is a postseason high this year.
- With Maya Moore’s 27 points, Moore now has 1,001 career playoff points.
- The Lynx’s 11 points in the first quarter is a postseason low this year.
- Minnesota scored a playoff high 51 points in the second half of game one.