Minnesota Lynx get a chance to settle a score when they “roar for four” this upcoming Sunday.
Lynx Maya Moore was sent to the line after the Los Angeles Sparks was called for a defensive three in the key. After making the single free throw Lynx were down 71-64 with 2:49 remaining in game 5 of the WNBA Finals at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Retaining possession Moore hit a three off an inbound pass, 71-67. Lynx defense suffocated the Sparks forcing Candace Parker to rush a three point attempt to avoid a shot clock violation. Moore grabbed the rebound and took it down court. Driving to the paint Moore threw a tight pass to Rebecca Brunson who scored off a fade away to put the Lynx within two with 2:05 remaining. Sparks called a timeout. Right off the inbound pass Lindsay Whalen stole the ball and scored two off the fastbreak.
Just like that, the deciding game of the 2016 WNBA Finals was tied on the 20-year anniversary of the league.
With the game tied at 71 Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumkie caught the ball near the post and released a shot to put the Sparks up two but the release came after the shot clock buzzard sounded. Unfortunately for the Lynx Ogwumkie’s shot was not reviewed. Seimone Augustus responded with a two-point jumper to tie the game at 73.
Lynx eventually took the lead 74-73 off a Brunson free throw with 23.4 remaining. Nearly four seconds later Parker responded, Sparks were up 75-74. Then Moore struck back with a fade away two, Lynx were up 76-75 with 15.4 seconds remaining.
Ogwumkie rebounded a miss from the Sparks, then was blocked in the lane by Lynx Sylvia Fowles but Ogwumkie retained the ball and made the second attempt, 77-76. With 3.1 left, Whalen shot near half court but put too much on the bank shot.
Sparks players jumped around on the hardwood of Target Center as the final buzzard sounded winning their third WNBA Finals in franchise history, adding another ring to owner Magic Johnson’s collection. But the one point win was controversial because they received two points from a shot that should have been called a shot clock violation, which the league sent out an apology for admitting they got the call wrong the very next day.
“The referees did not hear the shot clock. [And] when they put the ball in play the play was no longer review-able…it is really unfortunate to the players,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said during the post-game press conference before shouting, “it is not enough to apologize and send out a memo that they got something wrong…just get the simple things right.”
A year later and the Lynx get a chance to settle this. Both teams have been undefeated this playoffs. Lynx finished the regular season 27-7 with the best record in the WNBA and Sparks came in second at 26-8. This will be the Minnesota Lynx sixth WNBA Finals appearance in seven years. Both franchises are tied with 3 WNBA Championships with this rematch being a tie breaker to see what team ties the Houston Comets for most WNBA titles in history with four.
Head-to-head Sparks won the regular season series 2-1, taking the last two games played against the Lynx. While the Sparks will be defending their title Lynx will hold home court advantage and they also have this year’s WNBA MVP on their side.
Fowles received 35 out of 40 votes to win MVP ranking fifth in scoring (18.9 ppg), second in rebounds (10.4 rpg) and tied for second in blocked shots (1.97 bpg). She was named Western Conference Player of the week five times and player of the month three times this season.
But its going to take more than Fowles to win a championship.
“We’re going to have to play exceptional defense,” Reeves told the Lynx after winning the Semi-Finals in the locker room. “You win your home games and we’re the WNBA champs. We lost two home games last year [in the finals], two!”
After winning game 3 of the Semi-Finals to advance to the WNBA Finals in the locker room Parker told the Sparks what they need to do going forward.
“One thing I love about this group is we stay together. It didn’t matter, we stayed together in every huddle, every possession down the stretch. That’s what we got to do going forward to the finals,” Parker said. “Together on three.”
And all the Sparks players said “together.”
Game one of the WNBA Finals will tip off 3:30pm EST Sunday, September 24, in Minneapolis at Williams Arena.
By Gino Terrell