Chelsea Gray watched her highlight when family members texted it to her, and again when it popped up on her Twitter feed. But the point guard hardly indulged in her game-winning moment.
On Monday, a day after knocking down a jump shot with two seconds remaining to lift the Sparks to an 85-84 victory over the Minnesota Lynx in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, Gray offered an alternative ending.
“It was a great shot,” she said. “But I also saw that there were two people on me, so one person was open. I could have probably hit somebody to win it as well.”
Gray might get the chance on Tuesday as the Sparks continue their pursuit of consecutive WNBA titles in Game 2 of the Finals, where last-second shots have become customary.
Against the Lynx in the best-of-five series last season, guard Alana Beard hit a game-winner in Game 1, and forward Nneka Ogwumike hit a last-second shot in Game 5 to clinch the championship.
Gray’s willingness to take the game-winning shot Sunday, along with her desire to pass, is why teammates encouraged Sparks coach Brian Agler to get the ball into her hands after a final timeout.
“The confidence that they give her in that kind of way allows her to make those kind of plays,” Agler said.
Said Ogwumike: “She makes plays and she doesn’t back down.”
“She had it going,” said forward Candace Parker, who scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. “She carried us down the stretch.”
Gray, a third-year player from Duke, was an unlikely hero on a team that features Parker, a two-time WNBA MVP and four-time All-Star, and Ogwumike, last season’s WNBA MVP. Gray gained the trust of her teammates with her reputation for resiliency — she overcame two serious knee injuries at Duke — and her ability to endure tough coaching from Agler.
“He wants to get a lot out of me,” Gray said. “It’s hard sometimes in the heat of the moment.”
Said Parker: “Brian was so hard on her last year and he is still hard on her this year. She’s calm, doesn’t get rattled.”
Agler says Gray doesn’t take his coaching personally, a key to her success.
“She wants to be held accountable,” Agler said. “She wants to be looked at as somebody that can keep getting better and improving.”
Ogwumike said Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin inspired the Sparks to remain in the locker room.
“People had different ideas about what they wanted to do,” Ogwumike said, adding, “But everyone agreed on going into the locker room.”
The Lynx remained on court, locking arms.
Parker said the demonstration was not meant “to be a show,” but was to make everyone on the team feel comfortable, regardless of their stance.
“We’re solid, we’re a unit, we’re not divisive,” Parker said. “We’re for equality.”