MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The 2016 WNBA Finals got off to a hot start.
In a game that went right down to the wire, the Los Angeles Sparks took Game 1 on a game-winning shot at the buzzer, beating the Minnesota Lynx 78-76 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
Here are four takeaways from the game:
A Buzzer-Beating Affair
With just more than 15 seconds left in the game, the Sparks were setting up one final play.
But the first version of coach Brian Agler’s play didn’t work. So they had to improvise.
In comes Alana Beard. The guard, who dropped only four points in the Sparks’ win, nailed a buzzer-beater from the short corner to give Los Angeles the two-point win.
“I was just watching the play, to be honest with you,” Beard said. “I knew what we were looking for. 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. At one point, however, many seconds left on the clock, you kind of have to take that shot, so I threw it up.”
Lynx center Sylvia Fowles said she wasn’t focused on Beard much during that final play, either, but rather just protecting the rim.
“I think we were more so worried about not letting anyone get to the hole,” Fowles said. “I’m not sure exactly what happened on that last play to make her get wide open.”
Beard had the most success on Sunday on the defensive end, coming up with several key stops at the end of the game.
And while fans will remember her final shot the most, it was Beard’s play all around that truly pushed Los Angeles to a Game 1 win.
“She had a lot of plays on the defensive end. That was extremely clutch,” said guard Kristi Toliver, “and obviously [she had] the big shot at the end.
“She had herself a day.”
While the Lynx walked off the court defeated in the final score, there was one battle tonight that they dominated in.
Minnesota out-rebounded Los Angeles 32-24, killing them on the glass throughout the majority of the game. In fact, at halftime, they had 10 more rebounds than Los Angeles.
The majority of them, by far, came from center Sylvia Fowles. Fowles ended the game with a double-double, dropping 18 points and grabbing 13 total rebounds.
Recovering From Game 1
Minnesota had a slight advantage going into the first game of the WNBA Finals. Playing at home for their first two games of the five-game series, the home court advantage the Lynx have is unmatchable.
However, after dropping the first game in the series, Minnesota is in a tough situation. If they don’t bounce back to take the second game, they’ll head into Los Angeles just one loss away from getting swept.
“It doesn’t feel very good, I know that,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. “In that locker room is a very, very competitive group. But I told them, the same way as if we won, you’ve still got 160 minutes to go.
“You’ve got to move on, and you’ve got to get ready for the next one.”
For Beard, who hit the game-winning shot at the end, is taking a well-deserved second to relish the moment. But, she knows the job isn’t done yet.
“I don’t ever think I’ve hit a game winner, so it’s pretty cool,” Beard said. “But this is only one game, and that’s how we think about it. We came in and did what we wanted to do. We wanted to get a win, so now we have another game.”
And while they took Game 1, Toliver and the Sparks aren’t changing how they look at the Lynx. Not even close.
“We know these games will be close,” Toliver said. “We have to keep the same focus and mindset. Just because we won doesn’t mean that they will roll over. They’re the defending champions.”
Maya Moore Late to the Party
Maya Moore was off early Sunday afternoon.
The Lynx forward was held scoreless by the Sparks in the first half, shooting 0-of-4 from the field. And while that’s unusual for the All-Star, it didn’t last long.
Moore came out in the second half hard, dropping eight quick points in the third quarter to get on the board. She then added 10 more in the fourth quarter, keeping the Lynx in the game late. Moore finished the game with 18 total points, and went 7-of-14 from the field.
And while she wasn’t scoring early, Moore was still making her presence felt on the court.
“You know, obviously they’re focused a lot on Maya, so she’s got a lot on her,” said guard Lindsay Whalen, who also finished with 18 points. “But I thought she came out, and she was facilitating really well early and then she got it going in the second half.
“She was ready for tonight, and she’ll be ready for Game 2.”