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Sparks hand Lynx 1st first-round playoff loss since 2004

The league’s premier rivalry matched up in the first round of the WNBA playoffs.

WNBA Finals - Game Five Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

There’s nothing in sports like an elimination game, and for the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks to be paired together in a single elimination showdown in the first round of the WNBA playoffs is basketball beauty. Tuesday night was no different.

The Lynx have won championships every other year since 2011 and defeated the Sparks in Game 5 of last year’s Finals to win the title. Los Angeles, though, won a championship in 2016 after taking Minnesota to Game 5, too. These two teams are inseparable, for the best reasons. They continually block each other’s path to gold, and this year is no different.

On Tuesday night, the Sparks won maybe what will be the last battle between this rivalry as we know it. The Lynx had as much as an 11-point lead in the first half but a Chelsea Gray takeover in the second quarter was too much to eventually overcome. The Sparks will now face the Mystics on Thursday in another single-elimination game.

Sparks 75, Lynx 68 - Final

Another instant classic between these teams and the final time we’ll see Lindsay Whalen play for the Lynx. Chelsea Gray led all scorers with 26 points. Sylvia Fowles had 18 for Minnesota.

Sparks 72, Lynx 68 - 52.4 4Q

Temi Fagbenle just hit a much needed three-pointer to try and keep the Lynx in this one.

Sparks 70, Lynx 65 - 1:23 4Q

Maya Moore just missed two free throws and then Chelsea Gray came down and hit a jumper to extend this lead to five points.

Sparks 66, Lynx 63 - 3:41 4Q


Sparks 58, Lynx 52 - End of 3Q

Did you really think Minnesota would go away quietly? Of course not. The Lynx ended the third on a 9-1 run and now we have a six-point game heading into the final 10 minutes.

Sparks 54, Lynx 41 - 4:57 3Q

We are now in the middle of a 33-9 run for the Sparks and Chelsea Gray is absolutely lighting Minnesota on fire. She’s got 20 points.

Sparks 40, Lynx 37 - Halftime

These two teams literally never disappoint. Chelsea Gray caught fire in the second quarter, scoring 11 of her 14 points in the last 10 minutes. Ogwumike and Gray have 30 of the Sparks 40 points.

Lynx 34, Sparks 29 - 3:03 2Q

The lead was as much as 11 but Chelsea Gray and Nneka Ogwumike have come alive late. Ogwumike has 14 points and Gray now has four assists and they try and rally in the second quarter.

Lynx 24, Sparks 17 - 7:43 2Q

The Lynx have now opened up their biggest lead of the game so far with a 10-2 run of their own. Maya Moore the way with seven points.

AND! Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo are sitting court side!

Lynx 16, Sparks 15 - End of 1Q

Did you expect this game to be any different? Of course it’s going to be this close. Sylvia Fowles leads all scorers with six points.

Sparks 11, Lynx 8 - 2:53 1Q

A 7-0 run by the Sparks gives them a slight advantage towards the end of the first quarter.

Lynx 8, Sparks 7 - 4:32 1Q

This one has been a little ugly to start as both teams look tense. No surprise there since this is such a typical finals matchup finding themselves in a single-elimination battle.

The Sparks have been the slightly better team this year with a record one game better than the Lynx. They have also thoroughly outplayed Minnesota in head-to-head matchups this season, with a 2-1 record that includes a 22-point win over the Lynx in August. In the season-opener, the Sparks were without a handful of players, including star Candace Parker, and still came back to beat Minnesota with a game-winner from Chelsea Gray.

It’s true that the Lynx haven’t been their normal championship selves this season. With an aging team and a new bench, it’s been a down year of sorts. And on top of it all, future Hall of Famer Lindsay Whalen recently announced her retirement. It was something that was expected considering Whalen is also now the head coach for the Minnesota Gophers women’s basketball team.

This is a championship team though, and it’s hard to write them off just yet. Now, it’s up to Minnesota to end Whalen’s career on a high note, not with a loss to a rival, and give this dynasty one last push. Although the Sparks will have much different ambitions.

Since it’s a single-elimination setting with all the chips on the table, anything is possible. That’s why Lynx vs. Sparks to start the playoffs and end one of their seasons is a bite-size chunk of basketball brilliance. No matter what kind of regular season they’ve had, this is sure to be an instant classic.

There’s no better matchup you could setup. And with everything at stake, it’s sure to be a good one.