If you are a Minnesota Lynx fan — or a fan of fair basketball — you should be pretty peeved at this.
In a statement, the WNBA conceded the officiating crew for the fifth and deciding game of the Finals not only blew a crucial call in the final two minutes, but failed to even review it, in effect costing the Lynx their record fourth championship in five years and delivering the Los Angeles Sparks the title.
“After reviewing postgame video, we have determined that Nneka Ogwumike’s shot with 1:14 remaining in regulation time should not have counted due to a shot-clock violation, and that the referees improperly failed to review the play under the instant replay rules.”
Let’s set the scene: The Lynx and Sparks were knotted at 71-71 when L.A. guard Alana Beard grabbed an offensive rebound with 1:28 remaining. With a 14-second shot clock winding down, Ogwumike — the league’s reigning MVP — rattled home a turnaround jump shot to give the Sparks a two-point lead.
Only, by the WNBA’s own admission, that shot should not have counted. There was some confusion as to whether the officiating crew called for a review in the immediate aftermath, which was their right. “I thought I saw them do this,” Lynx star Maya Moore told reporters afterward, imitating the signal, “but they didn’t.” Indeed, the review never came. Added Moore: “It doesn’t mean anything now.”
But it could’ve meant a whole lot. While we cannot be sure the remaining 1:14 would have played out as it did, Lynx forward Seimone Augustus answered Ogwumike’s jumper with one of her own. Following a Sparks miss on the other end, Rebekkah Brunson added a free throw to give Minnesota a 74-73 lead that may have been three points had the correct call been made earlier. The two teams traded baskets from there, until Ogwumike’s last-second layup finally gave Los Angeles a 77-76 victory.
Obviously, the Sparks would have had a different shot selection had they trailed by three instead of one twice in the final 20 seconds, and while we cannot be sure whether they would have made those attempts, there is no doubt this blown call had a direct and immense influence on the final moments.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeves recognized this in the immediate aftermath during a candid interview:
“It’s not fair to the players,” said Reeve. “It’s not enough just to apologize and send out a memo that they got something wrong. These players are so invested, and something must be done about the officiating in this league, because it isn’t fair to these great players.”
Hear Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve sound-off on the officials following Game 5's heartbreaking loss. pic.twitter.com/6MaVxNAsV2
— Ryan Shaver (@RShaverSports) October 21, 2016
Sure enough, the WNBA released its memo on Friday afternoon, so you can imagine how Reeve feels.
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Perhaps most unfortunate in this mess, though, is that instead of one of the greatest games in league history — capped by an MVP’s game-winning, series-ending, title-clinching shot to unseat a defending champion — the WNBA is forced to address one of the most consequential blown calls in memory.
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