After facing off in each of the last two WNBA Finals, these rivals squared off in a setting entirely new to both franchises, but with the same Game 5 feel — a single-elimination opening round playoff game.
Nneka Ogwumike (16 points, five rebounds) returned to the starting lineup for the Sparks after missing Sunday’s regular season finale due to illness. The Lynx faithful did not receive good news on their injury report, however, as starting power forward Rebekkah Brunson missed her seventh consecutive game as she continues to recover from a concussion suffered in an August 5 game against the Atlanta Dream.
Minnesota jumped out to a 34-25 lead in the second quarter as the Sparks struggled to get anything going offensively. Chelsea Gray (26 points, five rebounds, six assists) keyed an 11-0 run, getting out in transition and looking to attack in the pick and roll as Minnesota missed five straight jump shots.
Gray continued to go to work in the third as the Sparks built a double-digit lead. The All-Star guard flashed another layer to her game, drilling two 3-pointers off the bounce. She continued to call for ball screens and hunt her own shot, canning two jumpers over Temi Fagbenle as Minnesota fought late into the fourth to stay within striking distance.
On a night in which Candace Parker shot just 1-of-6 with four turnovers, Gray proved to be the player that can carry her team to victory in a win-or-go-home game.
Lindsay Whalen scored nine points in 29 minutes, her final WNBA game. The legendary point guard announced that the 2018 season would be her last. It was only fitting to see Whalen get to square off one last time in this rivalry that has drawn so many new viewers to the league.
With the win, Los Angeles will hop on a flight to the east coast to face the third-seeded Washington Mystics on Thursday in round two. The other second round matchup will feature a rematch from last season as the Connecticut Sun host the Phoenix Mercury.