The Minnesota Lynx watched as the Los Angeles Sparks celebrated on their home court. Candace Parker was the Finals MVP. She couldn’t hold back the tears of joy and the pain of having lost her college coach, Pat Summitt, a few months before hand. Maya Moore could only watch the champagne carts taken to the visitors’ locker room for a celebration. It was an epic battle that came down to a last second shot, in a winner-take-all Game 5. There is no way it would be a sequel, could it? One thing we knew coming into this season, Moore and the Lynx wanted to redeem themselves with a championship title. However, they wanted a rematch with the Sparks for “all the marbles”. Both teams play in the Western Conference and thanks to a new playoff format last season, teams are seeded regardless of conference. The Lynx finished the season 27-7, one game better than the Sparks, ensuring home court throughout the playoffs again. Both teams breezed through their competition to reach the Finals again. For the second time in league history, the WNBA Finals will feature a rematch. The number one seed Lynx vs the number two seed Sparks. The series would feature 11 former All-Stars and four former MVPs. What more could you ask for?
The Sparks showed why they were the second best team in the WNBA right out the gate. They started Game 1 on a 28-2 run. They would lead the first quarter 32-11. It looked like the series was over, much less the game. The Lynx dug deep and showed the heart of a previous champion. They mounted a comeback that would have them with the lead with 6.5 seconds left to go in the game. It is no way the Sparks would have such an epic collapse. Thanks to Chelsea Gray, they didn’t. Just as Alana Beard did for the Sparks in Game 1 in 2016, Gray hit a game-winning 14-foot jumper with 2 seconds left. This gave the Sparks an 85-84 victory in Minnesota. Gray finished the game with a career-high 27 points and Parker added 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Sparks.
In a best of five series, Game 2 was do-or-die for the Lynx. They couldn’t get swept on their home court and give the Sparks two chances back in L.A. to close out the series. The Lynx took a page from the Sparks in Game 1 and they came out on fire. They had a 28-10 lead after the first quarter. True to form, the Sparks were not going to give the game away. They battled back and cut the lead to two with 33 seconds left in the game. Moore missed a jump shot that would have sealed the game. Now the Sparks had a chance to tie it up or win with a three-pointer. They couldn’t inbound the ball in time and turned it over. The Lynx turned the ball right back over to the Sparks. Nerves for both teams was at an all-time high. That’s when Rebekkah Brunson came up with the game saving steal in the final seconds to preserve the 70-68 victory.
If you weren’t entertained already, the series now shifted to sunny California. Going into Game 3 the Sparks just needed to hold court. They win the next two games at home and they are WNBA champions again. It seemed very possible because they were a record 15-1 at home during the regular season. That one loss was to the Chicago Sky by two points back in July. Sparks took an early 17-8 lead that helped them eventually win the game. They Lynx managed to make the game interesting by getting the lead down to one in the fourth quarter. The Sparks just found a way to pull away late in the game for a 76-64 victory. Four of the five starters for the Sparks scored in double figures. Nneka Ogwumike and Odyssey Sims both finished with 16 points. Parker finished with 13 points and five steals.
The Lynx were again in unfavorable waters, their backs against the wall for an elimination game. The Sparks had the champagne in the Staples Center fridge. They were ready to celebrate on their home court this year and repeat as champions for the first time since their titles in 2001 and 2002. However, the league’s MVP, Sylvia Fowles, wasn’t ready to let them do that. She and the Lynx built up a 19-point lead during the game. They allowed the Sparks to trim it to eight late in the fourth but it wasn’t enough. Fowles led all scorers with 22 points and 14 rebounds for her fourth-consecutive double-double, as the Lynx won 80-69.
Another classic, winner-take-all Game 5! If you know anything about a sequel, it’s usually hard to one-up the original. This series between the Lynx and Sparks lived up to the hype. Would the Sparks be back-to-back champions? Could the Lynx actually lose another Game 5 on their home court? The Lynx took a 21-19 lead after the 1st quarter and a six-point halftime lead. Neither team was going to go quietly. The Lynx built a 79-67 lead with 2:32 left in the game. It’s time to pop bottles. Not so fast. The Sparks go on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to only three with 34 seconds left. This time Moore wouldn’t let the past pain of last year repeat itself. Her jump shot with 26 seconds sealed the game. After a couple of misses by the Sparks and some free throws by the Lynx, the game was over. Finals MVP Fowles finished the game with 17 points and broke her own Finals record with 20 rebounds. Moore finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Lynx could now properly celebrate their 85-76 victory on their home court. This would be Brunson’s fifth title, giving her the most all-time in WNBA history. The team would tie the Houston Comets with four titles. The Lynx have been in six of the last seven WNBA Finals, and have won four of the last seven. What a Finals! Stay tuned next year…for the trilogy?