This is the fourth time in team history Minnesota Lynx have dropped game one of the WNBA Finals, and twice they lost the series.
Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks face each other in a rematch WNBA Finals. Sparks took control early in game one starting the game off with a 28-2 lead, Sunday. However, Lynx chipped away at the lead taking the game down to the wire. But the Sparks managed to win 85-84 off a game winning shot from Chelsea Gray scoring with two seconds remaining. She finished with a career high 27 points in Minneapolis.
Winning home games was the focus for the Lynx coming into this series, Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve told reporters Thursday, September 21, after practice.
“Why on earth would you work so hard all regular season to get the top seed and home court advantage and blow it the first game? We did, three times,” Reeve said.
Despite dropping game one, this game could provide some momentum heading into game two as the Lynx nearly overcame a 26 point deficit.
Late in the fourth quarter Maya Moore hit a jumper at the top of the key to bring the Lynx within two. Shortly after, Moore stole the ball from the Sparks, sprinted down court to tie the game with a layup. It was the first tie of the game since it was 0-0. Lynx were on a 12-0 run.
Sparks and Lynx traded a free throw to keep the game tied at 79. Gray broke the tie scoring off a fade away to put the Sparks up 81-79, with 59.7 seconds left.
Lynx Seimone Augustus responded with a three to give the Lynx the first lead of the game. Then Sparks Nneka Ogwumkie scored two, with 26 seconds remaining.
After a missed Moore layup Lynx fouled Essence Carson. The 88 percent regular season free throw shooter missed both free throws. Lynx got the rebound and eventually Lindsay Whalen found Moore to finish off the fast break with a layup. Timeout called with 6.5 seconds remaining with the raucous crowd cheering to “The Hey Song” as the Lynx were up 84-83.
But unfortunately for the Lynx, history repeated itself.
Last year in game one Sparks Alana Beard hit the game winning shot with time dwindling down in game one to push the Sparks past Lynx. This time it a was Gray with the game winner. They left two seconds left for the Lynx but Moore got called for a travel and Sparks for the second year in a row take game one in the WNBA Finals.
How did the Sparks allow Lynx to come so close after leading by 26 to open the game?
“We got away from what we were successful at…we just have to comeback with our poise and our aggressiveness,” Gray said after the game.
Moore, who scored 27 points in game one, said Lynx have to improve from last season.
“We’re gonna have to be better than we were last year,” Moore said after Wednesday’s practice. “I want to play the best…and obviously the history from last year makes it more exciting.”
As the Lynx learned early on in game one, they have to find a way to score points. Lynx done so scoring 51 points in the second half of game one but in the first quarter they were limited to 11. They also have to keep an eye on Beard, who was named the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year.
“She’s one of the most destructive players with her activity on the ball and just her quickness and her strength,” Moore said of Beard. “She’s really good at getting a low center of gravity and trying to disrupt the ball handlers…just a smart player, she’s a vet.”
Although the Lynx know this series against the Sparks will be a challenge, they are playing exactly who they wanted.
“We assumed it would be us two in the finals again,” Augustus said prior to game one. “We’re happy that we do face the Sparks and [will] try to get some redemption from last year.”
While the team have put last year’s WNBA Finals behind them they have been watching film of this season’s series against the Sparks with the Sparks winning the series 2-1, says Augustus.
Understanding both teams are playing for their fourth WNBA Championship this series won’t diminish Lynx legacy, Augustus said.
“Six finals in the last seven years, that’s unheard of, of any WNBA team,” Augustus said. “Win or lose I feel we put ourselves up there with the great teams of this league.”
By Gino Terrell