Lynx edge Sparks 80-79 to reach WNBA finalsBy BETH HARRIS, AP Sports Writer Sunday, Oct 7, 2012
LOS ANGELES (AP)—Candace Parker banked in a 3-pointer from 30 feet, giving the Sparks a two-point lead late and sending their fans into a tizzy.
“I said to myself, `We’re OK, we have time,”’ Minnesota’s Maya Moore said. “We don’t get too high, we don’t get too low.”
The Lynx got where they wanted in the end, claiming an 80-79 victory for a 2-0 sweep of the Western Conference finals.
“WNBA finals, here we come,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.
Reserve Monica Wright answered Parker’s theatrics with a 3-pointer to put the Lynx back in front, 80-79. She singlehandedly outscored the Sparks’ bench, 8-0.
“It was the perfect three,” Moore said. “I screamed, double fist-pumped and said, `Yes, Monica.”’
Alana Beard missed a 16-footer at the final buzzer for the Sparks as Parker pulled her jersey over her face in anguish.
“I really wanted this championship,” said Parker, who in five seasons has yet to make the WNBA finals. “It hurt after we lost because I think this was a championship team, but the ball didn’t fall our way.”
The Lynx, who won the series opener by 16 points, await the Eastern champion, either Connecticut or Indiana.
Parker had 33 points and 15 rebounds playing all 40 minutes, and joined retired Sparks star Lisa Leslie as the only players with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds in WNBA postseason history. Kristi Toliver added 16 points and Beard 15.
“It’s going to sting for a while,” said veteran DeLisha Milton-Jones, who won two titles with the Sparks earlier in her career.
Minnesota got two 3-pointers from Moore to close to 70-67 before the Sparks committed three turnovers. Whalen made two straight baskets to put the Lynx back in front, 73-72, for the first time since early in the third.
The Lynx extended their lead to 77-74 before Parker scored consecutive baskets. She banked in the 3 from nearly the top of the key with 1:31 remaining, giving the Sparks a 79-77 lead and putting a big smile on her face.
“It’s up to us to come back and execute and make another great play,” Beard said, “and unfortunately we didn’t.”
After a timeout, the Sparks scrambled to make their final play, when Parker didn’t touch the ball.
“We were going to drive and Candace was going to follow to the rim,” Sparks coach Carol Ross said, “or Beard the option to get it to Parker on the pick and roll. It wasn’t a good play or it wasn’t executed too well.”
In the third, the Sparks used a 17-0 run to lead 65-57. The Lynx went more than 5 minutes without a basket while Los Angeles took its first lead since the start of the game.
“We’ve been in those type of situations before and had to make those huge comebacks,” Moore said. “We have to keep playing. Some shots had to go for us and they did.”
The Sparks trailed by 12 points early in the second quarter, when they outscored the Lynx 22-15, to trail 40-39 at halftime. Parker keyed a 17-9 spurt with eight points, including a fast-break driving layup that got Los Angeles within one. She had 18 points and 10 rebounds in the half. Beard and Toliver each had four points in the spurt. The Lynx forced 10 turnovers in the half, when they got outrebounded 19-12.
Before the game, the Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike was honored as WNBA rookie of the year and Ross was chosen coach of the year. Ogwumike finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.
“It’s an honor, but I think it’s also a reflection of our team success,” she said. “Individual awards don’t come without team success, so I think that that showed, especially with some of the other accolades that my teammates got. It’s reflective of how hard we worked.”
Ross, in her first season with the Sparks, guided them to a 24-10 record, including a 16-1 mark at Staples Center. She previously was an assistant with the Atlanta Dream and coached 16 years at Florida and Mississippi.
But she ended the season with two losses.
“I don’t feel like the coach of the year,” she said.