Plenty of basketball fans are waiting in anticipation of the start of the NBA season next Tuesday. But the WNBA Finals offered a winner-take-all Game 5 on Thursday between the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx that rivaled any game in any league for excitement and drama.
A back-and-forth series culminated in a thrilling final two minutes between the two Western Conference powers. (The WNBA reseeds playoff teams after each round regardless of conference affiliation.) The biggest stars on the court took over and came through with plenty of big-time highlights, though not without legitimate controversy.
The result came down to the final few possessions. A Candace Parker lay-up with 19 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter put the Sparks up 75-74 and forced the Lynx into calling their final timeout. Minnesota quickly got the ball to star Maya Moore, who buried a jumper to grab the lead right back.
It did not last long. 2016 MVP Nneka Ogwumike’s followed up a block of her own shot from Sylvia Fowles and with an off-balance fadeaway to put the Sparks up for good and clinch the franchise’s first title since Lisa Leslie’s heyday in 2002. Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen attempted a half-court heave at the buzzer but missed high to cinch the result.
It was the first WNBA Finals appearance for both Ogwumike and Parker, a legend of the sport who has undergone a challenging season that included the death of mentor and Tennessee coach Pat Summit and USA Basketball’s decision not to include her on the Olympic roster for Rio de Janeiro.
This back-and-forth game brought on plenty of excitement from other basketball stars, including LeBron James and Kobe Bryant:
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 21, 2016
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) October 21, 2016
Minnesota Timberwolves stars Ricky Rubio and Karl-Anthony Towns were in attendance at Target Center, too. They and many other Lynx fans likely left the arena wondering how one big call was missed.
Ogwumike nailed a jumper with the shot-clock winding down at the 1:12 mark of the fourth quarter to give the Sparks up 73-71. However, replays indicated that the ball was still in her hand when the clock hit zero.
Rules allow officials to look at replay immediately after the shot to determine if it should count, but that option was not taken on what looked like a very questionable call in the moment. It’s not clear if the game would have proceeded in the same fashion had the bucket not counted, but the Lynx have an excellent case that they were the victims of a game-changing decision. Head coach Cheryl Reeve did not mince words in her post-game press conference, blaming the league for shoddy officiating throughout the season and demanding fixes.
Cheryl Reeve going HARD on WNBA officials… https://t.co/ZEYMgo0BDU
— Nate P (@NateP_SBN) October 21, 2016
Instead, the Sparks ended the night in glory. Parker earned Finals MVP honors with 28 points and 12 rebounds, while Ogwumike added 12 points and 12 boards. Parker was very emotional after the game, particularly when speaking of Summit.
Moore added 23 points and 11 assists to lead the Lynx, who had won three of the previous five WNBA titles.
– – – – – – –