MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Nneka Ogwumike’s short jumper with 3.1 seconds left gave the Los Angeles Sparks a 77-76 victory over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx for their first title in 14 years in the deciding game of the WNBA Finals on Thursday night.
The league MVP joined her teammates in celebration as a stunned crowd slowly filed out after finishing with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Candace Parker had 28 points and 12 rebounds to earn MVP honors of the Finals. It was Parker’s first WNBA title.
Rebekkah Brunson made one of two free throws with 23 seconds left to give the Lynx a 74-73 lead. Parker answered with a layup on the other end that Maya Moore countered with a jumper with 15 seconds remaining. Ogwumike’s first try for the win was off the mark, but she worked her way over to the loose ball for another attempt that she coolly swished.
Lindsay Wahlen’s final shot from just inside halfcourt wasn’t close, setting off Los Angeles’ celebration.
Moore had 23 points and 11 assists for the Lynx, who fell short of matching the WNBA record of four championships. The Houston Comets won four straight titles from 1997-2000.
The Lynx played in the finals for the fifth time in the last six years. They won three.
Parker finally had help with the scoring when reserve Chelsea Gray reeled off 11 consecutive points for the Sparks. Gray capped that run with a smooth up-and-under layup to put them in front 60-59 early in the fourth quarter. Parker’s putback with 3:06 left gave L.A. a 71-63 lead, putting the Lynx in trouble.
But Moore seized the moment with a 3-pointer that brought Minnesota within four points, and Parker forced an off-balance 3 on the other end.
Lindsay Whalen stole the ball from Kristi Toliver and finished the fast break with a layup to tie the game at 71, setting up the final flurry.
On the next play, Ogwumike hit a jumper that appeared to come after the shot clock expired. The officials signaled for a review, but never looked at the basket and Los Angeles led 73-71 with just over a minute left.
The WNBA’s new postseason format with the field ordered by overall record regardless of conference sure worked well, leading to this classic matchup between the two teams that fought all summer for the top seed and featuring several of the league’s biggest stars.
The game was remarkably close, with 11 lead changes and six ties in the first half alone. Moore gave Minnesota its biggest lead of the first 20 minutes with a pair of free throws in the closing seconds of the second quarter to make it 34-28.
The Sparks had an opportunity for a surge when Sylvia Fowles exited with an injury to her right hand, scoring on a fast break while Fowles was wincing in pain by the bench and out of the play and then picking up a bonus point on a free throw for Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve’s technical foul.
Augustus and Renee Montgomery knocked down 3-pointers from the top of the key down the stretch of the third quarter, though, and Fowles soon re-entered the game. She made her presence felt with a powerful take to the rim for a layup and a 53-47 lead.
With the area schools out for fall conferences and the Lynx with the chance to repeat as champions for the first time, the crowd at Target Center was predictably packed to the rafters and bouncing to the blaring hip-hop beats well before tipoff. The sea of green T-shirts displaying the team slogan “Roar,” donned by roughly 90 percent of the fans, produced a deafening soundtrack from start to finish befitting a game for the trophy.
Even Magic Johnson was there, wearing all black while sitting courtside to root for the Sparks team he’s a part-owner of and spoke to after the loss at home in Game 4 on Sunday. His presence was all the more impressive considering the Dodgers, the other pro club he’s invested in, were playing baseball in Los Angeles at the same time in Game 5 of their National League championship series.
The Lynx had celebrity backing, too, with Timberwolves players including Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Cole Aldrich and Nemanja Belica in the seats to support the women they share an arena with.
Ogwumike joined Toliver and Essence Carson with three fouls in the first half and played less than 4 minutes in the second quarter.
If the finals return to Minnesota next year, the Lynx could have yet another place in which to try to pop the corks with a major renovation set for Target Center next summer. They’ll play across the Mississippi River in St. Paul at Xcel Energy Center, the hockey home of the Minnesota Wild.