Los Angeles, CA— Well, Game 4 was about as exciting and as controversial as you could get.
The Minnesota Lynx escaped the Staples Center on Sunday night to force a Game 5 in the WNBA Finals after defeating the Los Angeles Sparks, 85-79. But this game will undoubtedly become one of the most discussed in league history following a controversial and potentially series-altering missed call.
While these two teams were evenly matched for 39 minutes, the final 30 seconds are arguably what swung the game in Minnesota’s favor. With 24 seconds left, Minnesota held on to a two-point lead. After Candace Parker lost the ball on an attempted move in the lane, the Lynx were able to recover, but were stifled by LA’s tough full court defense.
Minnesota eventually pushed the ball across the timeline, and got it to Rebekkah Brunson in the paint. Parker fouled Brunson on her shot attempt, and as a result two free throws lengthened Minnesota’s lead to four points with 12 seconds remaining. Written out, this seems like a typical end of game scenario (particularly in a close game). It is one that both teams have likely practiced over and over again throughout the season. However, this time, it was anything but typical.
As the broadcasters began reviewing the footage, it was clear that Minnesota did not get the ball across half court in eight seconds-- Seimone Augustus still had the ball in her hand at the 16-second mark on the shot clock.
While it was evident to the broadcasters and the Los Angeles Sparks, it remained unclear to the referees. When asked whether or not she thought Minnesota got the ball across mid-court following the loss, Kristi Toliver was adamant about what she saw.
“Absolutely not. I mean, I thought we were very aggressive. They were moving the ball. I think they forgot they had to get the ball across the line,and from my point of view, I feel pretty confident that they didn't get it across,” Toliver said.
Had the referees seen the shot clock, or reviewed the footage, it would have been clear that the Sparks should have regained possession. But half court violations are an unreviewable play, according to league rules.
Basketball is, of course, a game of chain reactions. If Minnesota was called for that violation, there’s a chance LA could have tied the game or gone ahead. Brunson’s free throws never would have happened.
Perhaps the Sparks would have hoisted the trophy on their home court tonight; instead, both teams will now prepare to travel back to Minnesota for a decisive Game 5 on Thursday night.
Let’s not take away anything from the Lynx. Moore carried the team when they needed her most tonight. Her 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists were undoubtedly fueled by her experience and championship mentality.
Whenever Los Angeles would begin to rally, or Chelsea Gray would hit a ridiculous shot en route to a team high 20 points, Minnesota always found their footing rather quickly. They have experience when it comes to winning big games, and you cannot easily count them out in win-or-go- home playoff scenarios.
Yet, something about this unreviewable play feels different. It seems like this is a case of referees unintentionally deciding the outcome on the WNBA’s biggest stage. Perhaps tonight will serve as the impetus to change the rules on reviewable plays before next season. That will, of course, be little comfort to the Sparks right now. Yet Toliver expressed an accountability after the game and that points to the fact that LA will likely come to Minnesota ready to work on Thursday night.
“[T]hat's life. You have to kind of roll with it. We can't leave it up to the officials to determine a series.
“We have to go take it, and that's what we plan on doing in Game 5,” she said.
In a play-or-go-home Finals game, one would hope that each team’s fate is decided by the players, not the officials. That wasn’t the case at the Staples Center on Sunday night.