When the noise settled and the champagne stopped flying, a calm that lasted no more than 30 seconds inside the cramped visitors locker room, Candace Parker ducked into a quiet corner and put her arm around Nneka Ogwumike.
Parker had spent the previous 30 minutes basking in the Sparks’ first WNBA championship since 2002. As soon as the buzzer sounded on the Sparks’ 77-76 win over the Minnesota Lynx on Thursday night, she laid flat on the Target Center floor as her teammates jumped on top of her. She proudly led her daughter, Lailaa, through an emotional on-court celebration. She yelled, “Where are the scissors? That net is coming down!” And then someone appeared with scissors, and it did.
She cried. She smiled. And now, with the weight of the franchise’s title drought lifted off her shoulders, she paused to take it all in.
Nneka Ogwumike got the ball on the baseline and hit a fallaway shot with three seconds on the clock, giving the Sparks a 77-76 win and the franchise’s first WNBA championship since 2002.
The Sparks, who trailed by one after three quarters, grabbed a three-point lead with 7:33 left in the game. Chelsea Gray scored the Sparks’ first six points of the quarter, which included two mid-range jumpers and a double-pump layup in traffic. Ogwumike then crashed the offensive glass to convert a second-chance layup while hanging in the air, and Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve quickly called a timeout.
The Sparks still held a three-point lead with four minutes left, and then Kristi Tolliver hit a falling-down three at the end of the shot clock to stretch that to six. On the Sparks’ next possession, Tolliver missed a three but Candace Parker pulled down the offensive rebound and hit a layup.
Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve then called a timeout with 2:58 left in the game — and the WNBA season. Whatever she said worked, as the Lynx quickly scored six points to pulled within two.
This time it was Sparks Coach Brian Angler calling the timeout, with his team leading 71-69 and 1:52 on the clock. Lindsey Whalen stole the inbound pass and scored it, tying the game. Then Ogwumike nudged the Sparks ahead by two with a jump hook from thee baseline. On the Lynx next possession, Seimone Agustus hit a mid-range jumper to knot the score at 73-73.
After Tolliver missed a three, Reeve called another timeout to set up the Lynx offense with 35.8 seconds on the game clock. Maya Moore missed a jumper, but Rebekkah Brunson grabbed the rebound and was fouled going up. She then split the free throws, giving the Sparks the ball with 23.8 seconds left.
The Sparks worked inside right away, and Ogwumike found Parker for a layup. The Lynx called a timeout with 19.7 seconds on the clock, and then Moore hit a jumper.
On the other end, Ogwumike grabbed a rebound the loose ball before hitting a fallaway shot on the baseline. Seconds later, Whalen’s half-court heave didn’t fall and the Sparks jumped off the bench in celebration.
The Lynx ended the second quarter on a 6-0 run, and Candace Parker ended that by hitting a three to start the third. But the Lynx stayed in an offensive rhythm, and it was until head coach Cheryl Reeve picked up a technical foul that the Sparks clawed back into the game.
Candace Parker led the Sparks’ charge back into the game, scrapping on the defensive glass and notching 19 points with a layup in transition. But the Lynx regained control after Jia Perkins stole the ball in the backcourt and found Renee Montgomery for a three. Sylvia Fowles then hit a jump hook over Parker to stretch the Lynx’s lead to six points and, after four straight points by the Sparks, hit rolled to the basket for a layup.
But the Sparks, with a lineup thinned by foul trouble to three starters, used a Chelsea Gray three to inch within a point heading into the fourth quarter.
The Sparks trail the Lynx, 55-54, heading into the fourth quarter. First time I’m saying this since leaving
The Sparks and Lynx traded leads for much of the second quarter, but then the Lynx went on a late run to earn a 34-28 halftime lead.
Maya Moore led the Lynx in the first half, scoring a game-high 12 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out five assists. Candace Parker was the Sparks’ most consistent offensive option, scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds.
Both teams were cold after the first-quarter break, and Nneka Ogwumike scored the first points of the second with 8:43 on the clock. The mid-range jumper gave Ogwumike, the WNBA’s most valuable player, her first points of the game. Ogwumike didn’t play much more in the second, and jogged into halftime with just four points.
The teams then traded one-point leads for close to five minutes, and then Maya Moore hit a turnaround jumper to stretch the Lynx’s lead to three at 28-25.
The Sparks’ offense, as it has for much of the five-game series, ran through Parker in the second. With three minutes left in the first half, Parker wrestled with Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson before an in-bounds pass. She then found a sliver of space on the right wing and hit a turnaround jumper as the shot clock expired. That gave her nine points in the game, while no other Sparks player had more than four.
Ten minutes of Game 5 are in the books, and the Lynx lead the Sparks, 18-17, after one quarter.
The Lynx nudged ahead, 12-8, thanks in part to two long mid-range jumpers by Maya Moore. The Sparks had made just three of their eight attempts before a timeout at 4:39, and then Candace Parker hit a three to quiet the Target Center crowd and draw her team within one.
The Sparks were at their best when they pushed the pace in the first, which usually came off defensive rebounds. They struggled to find a rhythm in the half court, but had enough fast-break opportunities to stick with the Lynx for 10 minutes.
Moore hit a turnaround baseline jumper to stretch the Lynx’s lead to three in the final minute of the quarter, and Sparks center Jantel Lavender answered by stroking a mid-range jumper.
Courtesy: Los Angeles Times