MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Lynx hosted the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday in Game 1 of the 2016 WNBA Finals — and fans at the Target Center weren’t disappointed.
The two best teams in the league bounced back and forth throughout the whole game, with neither able to pull away from the other. Even down to the final seconds, it was still anybody’s game.
Los Angeles survived, though, drilling a buzzer-beating two-pointer to give them a 78-76 win in Game 1.
“[Los Angeles] came in here and beat us. They won the game,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. “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.”
The Sparks took the opening period by storm, thanks to guard Kristi Toliver’s seven first quarter points. Los Angeles ended the period up 21-18, and shot more than 53 percent from the field. Most importantly, though, they held Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus scoreless.
The Lynx rallied back, holding the Sparks to just five points in the first six minutes of the second half to tie the game up. Minnesota regained the lead at halftime, thanks to Lindsay Whalen’s 12 first half points, giving them a 36-34 lead at the break.
The Lynx rally, though, was fueled off the glass. Minnesota outrebounded Los Angeles 23-13 in the first half.
The game stayed incredibly tight in the third quarter, with both teams bouncing back and forth. But Moore finally made her move, dropping eight points in the period — her first of the game — to boost the Lynx up by four.
With less than 90 seconds left in the game, Nneka Ogwumike made a post move for a layup to put the Sparks up by four points. However, Augustus answered almost instantly for the Lynx, bringing them back within two points. Then, with 24.7 seconds left in the game, Moore drove baseline for a layup to tie it up 76-76.
The Sparks held for the final shot. Guard Alana Beard, who was held to just two points in the first three-quarters, was spotted up in the short corner. And as time expired, Beard drilled the go-ahead buzzer-beater, giving the Sparks the two-point win.
“I saw that Minnesota did a great job of taking away the options [we had], which was expected, and Chelsea kind of rejected the screen and drove to read the defense,” Beard said. “At one point, however many seconds left on the clock, you kind of have to take that shot, so I threw it up.”
Sparks coach Brian Agler said that wasn’t his first look in the final seconds, and that he wanted to attack the rim.
“Yeah, that wasn’t option one, that was option two,” Agler said. “Option one was try to get Kristi a look, try to get some cutters to the rim, and it didn’t develop. [Minnesota] did a good job of blowing that up”
Ogwumike and Toliver led the Sparks with 19 points each. Candace Parker had 14 points, and Chelsea Gray ended the game with 12. Moore, Whalen and Sylvia Fowles each finished with 18 points for the Lynx, and were the only players in double-figures.
Game 2 of the WNBA Finals will be held on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
And after getting a road win to kick off the finals, the Sparks have definitely stolen the momentum from Minnesota early in the series.
“[This first win is] very important,” said Gray. “It gives us a lot of momentum heading into the next game and the games after that. We can still do some things better, though.”