MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Chelsea Gray’s pull-up jumper with 2 seconds to play helped the Los Angeles Sparks avoid what would have been a stunning collapse and take Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, 85-84, over the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday.
Gray scored a career-high 27 points and Candace Parker added 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Sparks, who joined their NFL brethren by sitting out the national anthem. The Sparks led 28-2 in the first quarter and 78-66 with five minutes to play, but gave it all back after a charge from the Lynx.
Maya Moore scored 27 points and Sylvia Fowles had 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Lynx, who roared back from that 26-point hole to take an 84-83 lead with 6.5 seconds to play.
But Gray got free to knock down a pull-up 14-footer, touching off a wild celebration by the defending champions, who are trying to become the first repeat winners since 2002.
The Sparks beat the Lynx in a five-game thriller last season, and Game 1 had plenty of fireworks even before the opening tip.
With the Lynx locking arms in solidarity, the Sparks quickly left the Williams Arena court just before “The Star Spangled Banner” began to play, joining hundreds of NFL players in opposition to President Donald Trump’s call for NFL owners to fire players who do not stand for the national anthem. As soon as the song was over, they returned to a chorus of boos and then made another emphatic statement once the game started.
They led 12-0 when Gray knocked down a 3-pointer and pushed the lead to 28-2 later in the first quarter, a staggering level of dominance against a star-studded Lynx team playing in the finals for the sixth time in seven seasons. The Lynx did not grab a rebound in the entire first quarter and it took them more than eight minutes to get Fowles, the league MVP, her first shot.
The Lynx started chipping away, trimming the deficit to 10 points at halftime and getting Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Alana Beard into foul trouble. They were still in deep trouble down 78-66 with five minutes to go, but Moore’s defense jumpstarted a 12-0 burst that she capped with a steal and layup to tie the game at 78 and Seimone Augustus hit a 3 for an 82-81 lead with 50 seconds to go.
After Ogwumike’s hook shot gave the Sparks back the lead, Moore missed a layup. Essence Carson had a chance to give the Sparks a three-point advantage, but she missed two free throws with 13.7 seconds remaining.
Moore’s dash to the bucket put the Lynx in front with 6.5 seconds to play, but that was plenty of time for Gray. She used an escape dribble to create a little daylight, and her high-arching jumper splashed through.
Minnesota, with no timeouts left, couldn’t a final shot off.
Odyssey Sims scored 16 points and Ogwumike had 11 points and six rebounds for Los Angeles.
Augustus finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists for Minnesota.
Not long after they sat out the anthem, the Sparks issued a statement from Ogwumike, the WNBPA president, and union reps Chantel Lavender and Chelsea Gray.
“After careful and thoughtful discussion, the players of the Los Angeles Sparks unanimously determined that we would remain in the locker room in solidarity with the many players of the NFL, who took part in demonstrations today all over the country and across the globe. We will use the time to reflect and engage in constructive conversation about our country.
“This demonstration of support is consistent with who we are as individuals, athletes, teammates, citizens. It is consistent with our mission as a union of players and our core values.
“This is our opportunity to unite rather than divide our country. This is our sole focus.”
Game 2 is on Tuesday night in Minneapolis.