It was the fourth straight year Los Angeles and Minnesota have met in an elimination playoff game – with each team winning the past two WNBA championships. The Lynx hadn’t been eliminated in the first round since 2004.
After Minnesota guard Maya Moore missed two free throws with 1:56 remaining, Gray sank a long jumper to extend Los Angeles’ lead to 70-65. Minnesota turned it over on its next possession and Nneka Ogwumike hit two free throws.
Temi Fagbenle made an open corner 3-pointer to pull Minnesota to 72-68 with 52.4 seconds to go, but Moore was off on a contested 3-pointer on their next possession and Ogwumike sealed it at the free-throw line.
Sixth-seeded Los Angeles (20-15) will play at No. 3 seed Washington on Thursday.
Ogwumike added 19 points for Los Angeles and Riquna Williams scored 17. Candace Parker was held to two points.
Gray and Ogwumike combined to score 23 of Los Angeles’ 25 second-quarter points. The Sparks closed the half on a 15-3 run for a 40-37 lead.
Sylvia Fowles had 18 points and 12 rebounds for her 21st playoff double-double for seventh-seeded Minnesota (18-17). Moore added 14 points and Fagbenle scored a career-high 15 points. Four-time WNBA champion Lindsay Whalen, who announced her retirement earlier this season, scored nine points in her final game.
Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook sat courtside, as did Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo.