Look, there’s only one takeaway that matters from Game 1 of the WNBA Finals: the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks playing each other is basketball on drugs.
Every damn time it happens, these two teams find ways to have even more thrilling finishes, or more absurd comebacks. On Sunday, the Sparks held on to beat the Lynx 85-84 thanks to a Chelsea Gray game-winning jumper. It only happened thanks to a wild back-and-forth final minute after Minnesota roared back after trailing by as many as 26 points.
It was sensational basketball.
This series is a rematch of last year’s Finals, where the Sparks took home their third championship in franchise history in dramatic fashion. In that series’ opening game, it was Alana Beard who hit a game-winning jumper with Gray assisting.
This time, Gray took that shot herself: a silky fallaway jumper from the extended elbow that splashed home with two seconds left.
That’s an I’m-not-messing-around-with-y’all-anymore shot right there. That’s ice. That’s an absolute dagger to the heart, especially since the Lynx had taken their first lead of the game just a minute earlier. And of course it was Gray with the game-winner, since she dominated the entire game with 27 points and numerous clutch shots.
It ruined what would have been the go-ahead bucket for Maya Moore off an expertly run fast break.
What a game, and what a start to this series. Please sign me up for four more matchups just like this, please.
This game was basketball absurdity
With four minutes left in the game, Los Angeles led, 78-68. Then those four minutes happened and my pulse is still trying to normalize.
It took less than two minutes for the Lynx to tie the game. It went: Lynx layup, Sparks turnover, Lynx layup, Sparks missed shot, Lynx layup, Sparks missed shot, Lynx made jumper, Sparks turnover, Lynx layup. The score was 78-all in about 1:40 of game time.
The two teams traded split pairs of free throws, tying things at 79. And then we got this sequence:
- 0:59 — Chelsea Gray made pull-up jumper, Sparks up 81-79
- 0:49 — Seimone Augustus made three-pointer, Lynx up 82-81
- 0:26 — Nneka Ogwumike hook shot, Sparks up 83-82
- 0:18 — Maya Moore misses a shot
- 0:13 — Sparks miss two free throws
- 0:06 — Maya Moore made layup, Lynx up 84-83
- 0:02 — Gray hits that icy fadeaway jumper, Sparks win 85-84
That’s five lead changes in 59 seconds in the first game of the Finals, after a 10-point comeback in the fourth quarter that gave a team their first lead of the game.
Honestly, the game was directly reminiscent of last year’s Finals Game 5, which had one of the best endings to a championship series of all time. These Lynx-Sparks games, man. Even if you could script basketball, you wouldn’t, because these games are drugs all by themselves.
Chelsea Gray was completely unstoppable
The hero of the day had a team-high 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting, nailing four threes and dishing six assists for good measure. It was her timely buckets that helped the Sparks survive a few aggressive Minnesota scoring outbursts, both in the second quarter and later in the game, too.
Gray’s a three-year vet and coming off a breakout season, where she doubled her career scoring by averaging nearly 15 points per game. She shot a blistering 48 percent on three-pointers during the year, but showed she can clearly work inside the arc with that game-winner, too.
Though Gray would sometimes finish games last season, she emerged as a full-time starter and crucial cog on the Sparks — a team that is literally the WNBA’s reigning champions. It’s nice to be at the top, ya know?
Minnesota has to start quicker
The Lynx beat the Sparks 73-53 in the final three quarters. You just can’t lose the first 10 minutes by 21 points and except to be OK.
One thing that would help would be starting Maya Moore on Candace Parker right away. Parker only scored 15 on 5-of-14 shooting, but most of that came in the opening flurry of scoring from Los Angeles. Once Moore moved onto her — she’s an All-WNBA second-team defensive player — things changed dramatically. Certainly, the Lynx would rather Gray taking tough shots than Parker or Ogwumike, because she probably won’t be this hot all series.
With another game at home, the Lynx should bounce back. We’ll see on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, when Game 2 tips off.