One of the most anticipated rivalries in pro basketball history reached a new chapter. The battle between the Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx has been the grand finale for the WNBA season for the passed two years. For the 2018 season, it was the first act of the WNBA Playoffs with the Sparks dashing out the reigning WNBA champs 75-68, eliminating them in the first round.
“I think our rivalry has risen the league,” said veteran guard Lindsay Whalen. “The league has had to get better to keep up with our two teams.”
The game marks the end of Whalen’s 15-year career in the WNBA, after helping Minnesota secure four championships and have one of the best in-season records for eight seasons.
Guard Chelsea Gray matched her career high of 26 points and added six assists. All-Star center Candace Parker led the team with six rebounds. Reigning league MVP Sylvia Fowles anchored the Lynx with a double-double: 18 points and 12 rebounds.
The first quarter battle remained close with run-and-gun possessions from both teams. Fowles led all scorers with six points, lifting the Lynx ahead of the Sparks 16-15 after seven lead changes.
Los Angeles unable to score for two regulated minutes early in the second term. Minnesota then created a seven-point lead by drawing in defenders to kick the ball out to center Temi Fagbenle for points. After reaching an 11-point deficit and making two turnovers, the Sparks made found their rhythm. Gray noted that Ogwumike’s passion to win aided the offensive run.
“It was [Ogwumike] that gave us a lot of energy,” Gray said. “I think that’s what we needed, that energy to push us forward. We were making some of the right reads and we were just right there when getting the stop.”
Los Angeles reduced their deficit to tie the Lynx in a span of four regulated minutes with shots from Ogwumike, Gray and forward Jantel Lavender.
The Lynx offense slowed while L.A. kept the pace fast and stopped double-teaming players. Their defensive push gave the Sparks four steals and three blocked shots. At halftime, the Sparks had a three-point lead.
Minnesota made two offensive fouls while Gray and Williams land two three-pointers each. With 4:57 left I the third quarter, LA had a 13-point lead. Fowles ad Moore made baskets. Whale and Augustus returned to the field to help, reducing the Lynx deficit to five. At the end of the third quarter, the Sparks had a 46.7 three-point shooting percentage.
Williams kept LA offense alive, but the Sparks missing baskets in the fourth quarter. Guard Alana Beard helped by grabbing a jumper and an offensive rebound. Fowles scoring shoots with Gray rebutting her. Moore made a bad pass and missed shot. Fagbenle finished Whalen’s missed shot to put the lynx three points behind the Sparks. Free throws from Ogwumike and Williams would lift the Sparks to the win.
“We controlled things a little bit better today,” Sparks head coach Brian Agler said. “Got the ball in the right people’s hands, got the ball in space. Sometimes in the guts of the game you can try to do too much, and you don’t want to do that.”
The Sparks face off against the Washington Mystics in round two of the WNBA Playoffs on August 23 at 3:30 PST.