As a painful defeat pierced her Wednesday, Sparks guard Odyssey Sims soaked in her team’s frenzied rally in the final minutes and proclaimed, “We had a great season and we’ll be back next year.”
The Minnesota Lynx, avenging a final-game defeat last year, became only the second WNBA team to win four titles by repeatedly stunting the Sparks’ efforts and scoring an 85-76 victory.
Led by Maya Moore’s 18 points and most valuable player Sylvia Fowles’ 20 rebounds, Minnesota won a decisive Game 5 at the University of Minnesota’s raucous, sold-out Williams Arena.
Playing catch-up the entire game in front of the roaring 14,632 in attendance was a wearying effort, but the Sparks mounted a furious comeback, cutting a 12-point deficit to 79-76 in the final minute on Sims’ steal, layup and free throw.
But ultimate glory was denied as the Lynx worked the ball to Moore, who made a running shot from the free-throw line. Then Fowles, after letting the ball slip through her grasp in the final moments last year, collected her 20th rebound on Sims’ missed three-pointer to ice it.
The compelling action of the last two Finals, exemplified by the fact that the teams had each scored 908 points in 12 games before Wednesday’s, was slight solace to the Sparks’ Candace Parker.
“It brought attention to a lot of things. It’s been good for our league and good for the fans,” said Parker, who led the team with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
The Sparks found themselves trying to chase a deficit while being outrebounded 46-29 and making only two of 18 three-pointers.
Compounding that was the loss of forward Nneka Ogwumike, who made the winning Game 5 shot a year ago but fouled out with 5:29 remaining in the fourth quarter after scoring 11 points.
“Rebounding hurt. Obviously, it hurt not having [Ogwumike],” Parker said. “We got back in the game … we didn’t give up. I have to do a better job of drawing contact.”
The Lynx’s persistence on the boards gave them a 34-17 rebounding advantage early in the third quarter, when they expanded their lead to 12 points.
The Sparks’ resilience was seen in Parker bouncing off Moore to bank in a shot and Chelsea Gray’s 15-footer that cut the lead to 60-56 after three quarters.
Minnesota outrebounded the Sparks by 20 in Game 4 and again imposed their inside strength in the second quarter, knocking Gray down in the key without a call, inspiring L.A. coach Brian Agler to pick up a technical foul for arguing an ensuing charging call on Parker.
Ogwumike declined to comment on how the physical play was officiated.
“We fought hard to give ourselves a chance late. We hung around. That’s a credit to our team. … It just wasn’t enough,” Agler said. “We didn’t do what we needed to do on the glass. They were more persistent than we were. And we didn’t help ourselves [from three-point range].”
Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen played her college ball at the same arena and leaned on that spirit to urge her team to build upon its intensity after a first-half collision. It happened on a Fowles putback and Seimone Augustus’ three-pointer.
“I’m the point guard. I’m invested. When you’ve got amazing players beside you, it’s easy to press them like that, and they were good from that point on,” Whalen said.
By the time Whalen drove to the key for more points and Fowles refused to be denied inside, Minnesota led 39-28. Fowles contributed 10 rebounds and eight points in the first half and Whalen finished with 17 points and eight assists.
Keeping the Sparks at arm’s length throughout, Whalen said, was a testament to the new champions’ grit. After winning in the past three odd years, 2015, 2013 and 2011, Minnesota matches the four titles won by the now-defunct Houston Comets.
“I never worry about this team — our will and our want to win — but certain things didn’t go our way tonight,” Sparks guard Alana Beard said.